The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal. Although not portable and often expensive, the piano’s versatility and ubiquity have made it one of the world’s most familiar musical instruments.
Pressing a key on the piano’s keyboard causes a felt-covered hammer to strike steel strings. The hammers rebound, allowing the strings to continue vibrating at their resonant frequency. These vibrations are transmitted through a bridge to a sounding board that more-efficiently couples the acoustic energy to the air. The sound would otherwise be no louder than that directly produced by the strings. When the key is released, a damper stops the string’s vibration. See the article on Piano key frequencies for a picture of the piano keyboard and the location of middle-C. In the Hornbostel-Sachs system of instrument classification, pianos are considered chordophones.
The word piano is a shortened form of pianoforte, the Italian word for the instrument (which in turn derives from the previous terms “gravicembalo col piano e forte” and fortepiano). The musical terms “piano” and “forte” mean “quiet” and “loud,” and in this context refers to the variations in volume of sound the instrument produces in response to a pianist‘s touch on the keys: the greater a key press’s velocity, the greater the force the hammers hit the strings with, and the louder the note produced.
Modern pianos come in two basic configurations (with subcategories): the grand piano and the upright piano.
TYPES OF MODERN PIANO:
In grand pianos, the frame and strings are horizontal, with the strings extending away from the keyboard. The action lies beneath the strings, and uses gravity as its means of return to a state of rest.
There are many sizes of grand piano. A rough generalization distinguishes the concert grand (between about 2.2 m and 3 m/9.84 feet long) from the parlor grand or boudoir grand (about 1.7 m to 2.2 m) and the smaller baby grand (around 1.5 m).
All else being equal, longer pianos with longer strings have larger, richer sound and lower inharmonicity of the strings. Inharmonicity is the degree to which the frequencies of overtones (known as partials or harmonics) sound sharp relative to whole multiples of the fundamental frequency. This results from the piano’s considerable string stiffness; as a struck string decays its harmonics vibrate, not from their termination, but from a point very slightly toward the center (or more flexible part) of the string. The higher the partial, the further sharp it runs. Pianos with shorter and thicker strings, i.e. small pianos with short string scales, have more inharmonicity. The greater the inharmonicity, the more the ear perceives it as harshness of tone.
Inharmonicity requires octaves to be “stretched”, or tuned to a lower octave’s corresponding sharp overtone rather than to a theoretically correct octave. If octaves are not stretched, single octaves sound in tune, but double—and notably triple—octaves are unacceptably narrow. Stretching a small piano’s octaves to match its inherent inharmonicity level creates an imbalance among all the instrument’s intervallic relationships, not just its octaves. In a concert grand, however, the octave “stretch” retains harmonic balance, even when aligning treble notes to a harmonic produced from three octaves below. This lets close and widespread octaves sound pure, and produces virtually beatless perfect fifths. This gives the concert grand a brilliant, singing and sustaining tone quality—one of the principal reasons that full-size grands are used in the concert hall. Smaller grands satisfy the space and cost needs of domestic use.
Upright pianos, also called vertical pianos, are more compact because the frame and strings are vertical. The hammers move horizontally, and return to their resting position via springs, which are prone to wear and tear. Upright pianos with unusually tall frames and long strings are sometimes called upright grand pianos. Some authors classify modern pianos according to their height and to modifications of the action that are necessary to accommodate the height.
- Studio pianos are around 42 to 45 inches tall. This is the shortest cabinet that can accommodate a full-sized action located above the keyboard.
- Console pianos have a compact action (shorter hammers), and are a few inches shorter than studio models.
- The top of a spinet model barely rises above the keyboard. The action is located below, operated by vertical wires that are attached to the backs of the keys.
- Anything taller than a studio piano is called an upright.
3. Other types
The 19th century saw the introduction of the toy piano.
In 1863, Henri Fourneaux invented the player piano, which plays itself from a piano roll without the need for a pianist. A machine perforates a performance recording into rolls of paper, and the player piano replays the performance using pneumatic devices. Modern equivalents of the player piano include the Bösendorfer CEUS and the Yamaha Disklavier, using solenoids and MIDI rather than pneumatics and rolls.
A silent piano is an acoustic piano having an option to silence the strings by means of an interposing hammer bar. They are designed for private silent practice.
Edward Ryley invented the transposing piano in 1801. It has a lever under the keyboard as to move the keyboard relative to the strings so a pianist can play in a familiar key while the music sounds in a different key.
The prepared piano, present in some contemporary art music, is a piano with objects placed inside it to alter its sound, or has had its mechanism changed in some other way. The scores for music for prepared piano specify the modifications, for example instructing the pianist to insert pieces of rubber, paper, metal screws, or washers in between the strings. These either mute the strings or alter their timbre. A harpsichord-like sound can be produced by placing or dangling small metal buttons in front of the hammer.
Electric pianos use electromagnetic pickups to amplify the sound of the strings. Playing a note loudly causes the electric signal to clip, and the player can incorporate the distortion into his or her expressive range.
Digital pianos use digital sampling technology to reproduce the sound of each piano note. Digital pianos can be sophisticated, with features including working pedals, weighted keys, multiple voices, and MIDI interfaces. However, when one depresses the damper pedal (see below) on such an instrument, there are no strings to vibrate sympathetically. The synthesis software of some higher end digital pianos, such as the Yamaha Clavinova series, or the KAWAI MP8 series, incorporates physical models of sympathetic vibration.
With the advent of powerful desktop computers, highly realistic pianos have become available as affordable software modules. Some of these modules, such as the 2004 Synthogy’s Ivory, use multi-gigabyte piano sample sets with as many as 90 recordings, each lasting many seconds, for each of the 88 (some have 81) keys under different conditions. Additional samples emulate sympathetic resonance, key release, the drop of the dampers, and simulations of piano techniques like re-pedaling to augment these conditions. Some other software modules, such as Modartt’s 2006 Pianoteq, use no samples whatsoever and are a pure synthesis of all aspects of the physicalities that go into the creation of a real piano’s sound.
Today, piano manufactures take advantage of innovative pianos that play themselves via a CD or MP3 player. Similar in concept to a player piano, the PianoDisc or iQ systems allow pianos to “play themselves” when the software interprets a certain file format. Such additions are quite expensive, often doubling the cost of a piano. These pianos are available in both upright and grand.