Where the Piano Comes From


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That thing he's playing didn't spring up from the ground

Did you ever wonder how someone came up with the idea of the piano? It’s such an odd instrument, when you compare it to others. Strings which are struck by pressing keys, so big it can’t be carried. The piano didn’t spring from the imagination of a single inventor fully formed. Instead, it was the brainchild of many different innovators, built to address the issues of some of the instruments which came before it.

By the 17th century, keyboard instruments were already fairly common, especially the harpsichord, a keyboard instrument with strings which were plucked. The harpsichord was a well-established and respected instrument – even great composers like J.S. Bach wrote pieces for the harpsichord. But the instrument had one major problem: it was difficult, if not impossible, to play a piece with a variety of dynamics. Pressing a key on a harpsichord resulted in basically the exact same sound every single time.

So people began trying to make an instrument that was like the harpsichord, but also capable of producing loud and soft notes. It was first achieved in Italy by a man named Bartolomeo Christofori, and the piano, or pianoforte (soft and loud) was born.

Born, but not yet popular. Years after it was initially devised, the piano still hadn’t quite caught on. But the idea was exciting, and after someone published a diagram of Christofori’s design more and more people began making pianos, and musicians took notice. By the time Mozart was working in the second half of the 18th century, the piano was common.

But the evolution of pianos didn’t stop there. As the industrial revolution got underway, pianos began to be made of better cast-metal parts that were capable of delivering bigger and better sounds. The piano also expanded, growing from the 5-octave pianos of Mozart’s day to the 7 ½ octaves we know today. Through the 1800s, minor improvements continued to be made until what was left was the instrument we no have: the amazing, versatile, peerless piano. 

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