The Piano

The Piano is a very versatile instrument and produces wonderful sounds.
It is suitable for children from five upwards, although some may start earlier. The three key Piano types are Grand, Upright and Digital Pianos. Many people use the Digital Piano to start with. If you do, please ensure that it has levels of touch sensitivity. The Piano can take a lot of time and practice to master, but once you do, you will find that it is worth it. Upright and Grand Pianos are expensive and take up a lot of room.

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More information about the Piano

The Piano is a stringed music instrument derived from the harpsichord and the clavichord and is played by pressing keys on a Piano keyboard.
It is one of the most popular and versatile instruments in the world, used in classical music, for solos, chamber music, ensembles, accompaniment and also popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal. The instrument was made famous in its early years by many classical composers, including Hayden, Mozart and Beethoven and 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 multiplies the acoustic energy to the air. When the key is released, a damper stops the string from vibration.
The word piano is a shortened form of the word pianoforte, which derives from the original Italian name for the instrument, Clavicembalo or Gravicembalo col piano e forte (harpsichord capable of playing at the normal level, and more strongly). The musical terms "piano" and "forte" are usually interpreted as "soft" and "loud", but this is not strictly what they mean in Italian. "Piano" here means plane or level, suggesting the normal level of playing. "Forte" would mean a stronger, more powerful level of playing, effectively louder than usual. This refers to the instrument's responsiveness to keyboard touch, which allows the pianist to produce notes at different dynamic levels by controlling the inertia with which the hammers hit the strings.

History

The Piano was invented around 1700 by an Italian from Padua called Bartolomeo Cristofori who was a keyboard instrument designer and was employed by the Medici family of Florence. Predecessor instruments of the piano are the clavichord and harpsichord.
The three instruments differ in the mechanism of sound production. In a harpsichord, strings are plucked by quills or similar material, in the clavichord, strings are struck by tangents which remain in contact with the string and in a piano, the strings are struck by hammers but immediately rebound, leaving the string to vibrate freely.
Cristofori's piano action served as a model for the many different approaches to piano actions that followed and while his early instruments were made with thin strings and were much quieter than the modern piano, in comparison to the clavichord, they were considerably louder and had more sustaining power.
Cristofori's new instrument remained relatively unknown until an Italian writer, Scipione Maffei, wrote an enthusiastic article about it in 1711, including a diagram of the mechanism. This article was widely distributed, and most of the next generation of piano builders started their work as a result of reading it.
Gottfried Silbermann, an organ designer/builder in Germany, took Cristofori's exact pianoforte design and added an additional feature the Damper pedal (also known as the sustaining pedal or loud pedal). This mechanism removes all of the dampers from the strings and allows them to freely vibrate. A modernized version of this pedal is still a major component of today's pedals.
Silbermann showed Bach one of his early instruments in the 1730s however, Bach did not like it at that time, he thought that the higher notes were too soft to allow a full dynamic range. Though this initially earned Bach some animosity from Silbermann, the latter did apparently acknowledge the criticism. Bach did approve of a later instrument he saw in 1747, and apparently even served as an agent to help sell Silbermann's pianos.
Piano-making flourished during the late 18th century. The Viennese makers (Johann Andreas Stein who worked in Augsburg, Germany, Nannette Stein daughter of Johann Andreas and Anton Walter) redesigned the piano to have two strings per hammer, leather coverings on the hammers and a wood frame. It was with this style of pianoforte that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart preferred to play and compose his concertos and sonatas. The piano of Mozart's day had a softer, clearer tone than today's pianos, with less sustaining power. The term fortepiano is nowadays often used to distinguish the 18th-century style of instrument from later pianos.

The Modern Piano

After the Mozart era, the pianoforte underwent a series of changes in response to a preference by composers and pianists for a more powerful, sustained piano sound and also as a result of the technological advances from the Industrial Revolution. The strings were replaced with high-quality steel, and iron replaced the wood frames. In addition, the instrument's note range increased from five octaves to seven and a quarter. To separate the design differences between the eras, all pianofortes designed after the 18th century were given the truncated name "Piano."
In the first part of this era, technological progress owed much to the English firm of Broadwood, which already had a strong reputation for the splendour and powerful tone of its harpsichords. Over time, the Broadwood instruments grew progressively larger, louder, and more robustly constructed. The Broadwood firm, which sent pianos to both Haydn and Beethoven, was the first to build pianos with range of more than five octaves: five octaves and a fifth during the 1790s, six by 1810 (in time for Beethoven to use the extra notes in his later works), and seven by 1820. The Viennese makers followed these trends. The two schools, however, used different piano actions: the Broadwood one more robust, the Viennese more sensitive.
By the 1820s, the centre of innovation had shifted to Paris, where the Pleyel firm manufactured pianos used by Frédéric Chopin and the Érard firm manufactured those used by Franz Liszt. In 1821, Sébastien Érard invented the double escapement action, which incorporated a repetition lever (also called the balancier) that permitted a note to be repeated even if the key had not yet risen to its maximum vertical position. This facilitated rapid playing of repeated notes, and this musical device was pioneered by Liszt. When the invention became public, as revised by Henri Herz, the double escapement action gradually became standard in grand pianos, and is still incorporated into all grand pianos currently produced.

Other important technical innovations of the era include: -
  1. The use of Felt Hammer coverings instead of layered leather. The Felt, which was first introduced by Henri Pape in 1826, was a more consistent material, permitting wider dynamic ranges as Hammer weights and string tension increased.
  2. The use of three strings rather than two for all except the lower notes
  3. The Sostenuto Pedal which was invented in 1844 by Jean Louis Boisselot and improved by the Steinway firm in 1874. This allowed a wider range of effects.
  4. The use of a strong Iron Frame that helped to create the sound of the modern piano. Also called the "Plate", the Iron Frame sits on top of the soundboard, and serves as the primary protection against the force of string tension. The increased structural integrity of the Iron Frame allowed the use of thicker, tenser, and more numerous strings. In a modern grand the total string tension can exceed 20 tons. The single piece cast Iron Frame was patented in 1825 in Boston by Alpheus Babcock, culminating an earlier trend to use ever more iron parts to reinforce the piano. Babcock later worked for the Chickering & Mackays firm who patented the first full iron frame for grand pianos in 1843. Composite forged metal frames were preferred by many European makers until the American system was fully adopted by the early 20th century.
  5. The Over strung Scale, also called "Cross-Stringing". This is a special arrangement of strings within the case: the strings are placed in a vertically overlapping slanted arrangement, with two bridges on the soundboard instead of just one. The purpose of the over strung scale was to permit longer strings to fit within the case of the piano. Over stringing was invented by Jean-Henri Pape during the 1820s, and first applied to the grand by Henry Steinway Jr. in 1859.
  6. The use of Duplex Scaling, invented by Theodore Steinway in 1872. This enables the parts of the string near its ends, which otherwise would be damped with cloth to vibrate freely, thus increasing resonance and adding to the richness of the sound. Aliquot stringing, which serves a similar purpose in Blüthner pianos, was invented by Julius Blüthner in 1873.



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Piano History and Musical Performance

The many changes and evolution of the Piano have had its consequences for musical performances. The main issue is that a huge proportion of the most widely admired music for Piano was composed for a type of instrument that is rather different from the modern instruments on which this music is normally performed today. Music of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Schumann, was written for Pianos substantially different from today's Pianos.
A view that is frequently taken is that some of these composers were unhappy with their pianos, and in fact were writing visionary "music of the future" with a more robust sound in mind. This view is perhaps more plausible in the case of Beethoven, who composed at the beginning of the era of piano growth, than it is in the case of Haydn or Mozart.
Others have noted that the music itself often seems to require the resources of the early Piano. For example, Beethoven sometimes wrote long passages in which he directs the player to keep the damper pedal down throughout (a famous example occurs in the last movement of the "Waldstein" sonata, Opera. 53). These come out rather blurred on a modern Piano if played as written but work well on (restored or replicated) pianos of Beethoven's day. Similarly, the classical composers sometimes would write passages in which a lower violin line accompanies a higher piano line in parallel; this was a reasonable thing to do at a time when piano tone was more penetrating than violin tone; today it is the reverse.
Current performance practice is a mix. A few pianists simply ignore the problem; others modify their playing style to help compensate for the difference in instruments, for example by using less pedal. Finally, participants in the authentic performance movement have constructed new copies of the old instruments and used them in performance; this has provided important new insights and interpretations of the music.

Types of Piano

Modern Pianos come in two basic configurations and several sizes: The two types are:-
  1. The Grand Piano and
  2. The Upright Piano.
Grand Piano

In the Grand Piano, the frame and strings are placed horizontally, with the strings extending away from the keyboard. This avoids the problems inherent in the Upright Piano, but takes up a large amount of space and needs a spacious room with high ceilings for proper resonance. Grand Pianos come in different sizes and manufacturers and models vary. 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 have better sound and lower inharmonicity of the strings (so that the strings can be tuned closer to equal temperament in relation to the standard pitch with less stretching), so that full-size Grand Pianos are almost always used for public concerts, whereas Baby Grand's are only for domestic use where space and cost are crucial considerations.

Upright Piano

The Upright Piano is also called the Vertical Piano. These are more compact because the frame and strings are vertical. The hammers move horizontally, and are returned to their resting position by 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.

 

      1. 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.
      2. Console Pianos have a compact action (shorter hammers), and are a few inches shorter than studio models.
      3. 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.
      4. Anything taller than a Studio Piano is called an Upright.

In 1863, Henri Fourneaux invented the player piano, which plays itself from a piano roll without the need for a pianist. Also in the 19th century, toy pianos began to be manufactured.
The Transposing Piano was invented in 1801 by Edward Ryley. It has a lever under the keyboard used to move the keyboard relative to the strings so that a pianist can play in a familiar key while the music sounds in a different key.
The Prepared Piano, encountered in some contemporary art music, is a piano with objects placed inside it to alter its sound, or that 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, or paper, or metal screws or washers, in between the strings. These either mute the strings or alter their timbre.
Developed in the 1920s, Electric Pianos use electromagnetic pickups to amplify the sound of the strings. Playing a note loudly causes the electric signal to clip, and the resultant distortion can be incorporated into the player's expressive range.
Available since the 1980s, 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 the damper pedal is depressed on such an instrument, there are no strings to vibrate sympathetically. Physical models of sympathetic vibration are incorporated into the synthesis software of some higher end Digital Pianos, such as the Yamaha Clavinova series, or the KAWAI MP8 series.
With the advent of powerful desktop computers, highly realistic Pianos have become available as affordable software modules. Some of these modules, such as Synthogy's Ivory released in 2004, 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, increased by additional samples to emulate sympathetic resonance, key release, the drop of the dampers, and simulations of piano techniques like re-pedalling. Some other software modules, such as Modartt's Pianoteq released in 2006, use no samples whatsoever and are a pure synthesis of all aspects of the physicality's that go into the creation of a real piano's sound.
In recent times, piano manufactures have superseded the old fashioned pianola or player piano with new innovative pianos that play themselves via a CD or MP3 Player. Similar in concept to a player piano, the Piano Disc or iQ systems installed in select pianos will 'play themselves' when prompted by a certain file format designed to be interpreted by software installed and connected to the piano. Such additions are quite expensive, often doubling the cost of a piano and are available in both Upright and Grand Pianos.

Keyboard

Almost every modern piano has 88 keys (seven octaves, from A0 to C8). Many older pianos only have 85 (from A0 to A7), while some manufacturers extend the range further in one or both directions. The most notable example of an extended range can be found on Bösendorfer pianos, some of which extend the normal range downwards to F0, with others going as far as a bottom C0, making a full eight octave range. On some models these extra keys are hidden under a small hinged lid, which can be flipped down to cover the keys and avoid visual disorientation in a pianist unfamiliar with the extended keyboard; on others, the colours of the extra keys are reversed (black instead of white and vice versa) for the same reason. The extra keys are added primarily for increased resonance; that is, they vibrate sympathetically with other strings whenever the damper pedal is depressed and thus give a fuller tone. Only a very small number of works composed for piano actually use these notes. More recently, the Stuart and Sons company has also manufactured extended-range pianos. On their instruments, the range is extended up the treble for a full eight octaves. The extra keys are the same as the other keys in appearance.

Pedals

Pianos have had pedals, or some close equivalent, since its earliest days. (In the 18th century, some pianos used levers pressed upward by the player's knee instead of pedals.) The three pedals that have become more or less standard on the modern piano are the following: -

The Damper Pedal also called the Sustaining or Loud Pedal is the most frequently used. It is the rightmost pedal in the group. Every note on the piano, except the top two octaves, is equipped with a damper, which is a padded device that prevents the strings from vibrating. The damper is raised off the strings of its note whenever the key for that note is pressed. When the damper pedal is pressed, all the dampers on the piano are lifted at once, so that every string can vibrate. This serves two purposes. First, it permits notes to be connected (i.e., played legato) when there is no fingering that would make this possible. More important, raising the damper pedal causes all the strings to vibrate sympathetically with whatever notes are being played, which greatly enriches the tone.

Piano music starting with Chopin tends to be heavily pedalled, as a means of achieving a singing tone. In contrast, the damper pedal was used only sparingly by the composers of the 18th century, including Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven; in that era, pedalling was considered primarily as a special coloristic effect.
The Soft Pedal or "Una Corda" pedal is placed leftmost in the row of pedals. On a Grand Piano, this pedal shifts the action to one side slightly, so that hammers that normally strike all three of the strings for a note strike only two of them. This softens the note and also modifies its tone quality. For notation of the soft pedal in printed music, see Italian musical terms.

The Soft pedal was invented by Cristofori and thus appeared on the very earliest pianos. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, it was more effective than today, since it was possible at that time to use it to strike three, two or even just one string per note—this is the origin of the name "Una Corda", Italian for "One String". In modern pianos, the strings are spaced too closely to permit a true "Una Corda" effect—if shifted far enough to strike just one string on one note, the hammers would also strike the string of the next note over.

On Upright Pianos, the Soft pedal is replaced by a mechanism for moving the hammers' resting position closer to the strings. This reduces volume, but does not change tone quality as a true "Una Corda" pedal does.

Digital Pianos often use this pedal to alter the sound of other instruments like organs, guitars, and harmonicas. Pitch bends, Leslie speaker on/off, vibrato modulation, etc. increase the already-great versatility of such instruments.

The Sostenuto Pedal or "Middle Pedal" maintains in the raised position any damper that was raised at the moment the pedal was depressed. It makes it possible to sustain some notes (depress the Sostenuto pedal before releasing the notes to be sustained) while the player's hands have moved on to play other notes, which can be useful for musical passages with pedal points and other tricky situations. The Sostenuto pedal was the last of the three pedals to be added to the standard piano, and to this day many cheap pianos—and even a few good ones— do not have a Sostenuto pedal. (Almost all modern Grand pianos have a Sostenuto; most Upright pianos do not.)
A number of twentieth-century works call for the use of this pedal.

Over the years, the middle pedal has served many different functions. Some Upright pianos have a Practice pedal in place of the Sostenuto. This pedal, which can usually be locked in place by depressing it and pushing it to one side, drops a strip of felt between the hammers and the keys so that all the notes are greatly muted— a handy feature for those who wish to practice at odd hours without disturbing others in the house. The Practice pedal is rarely used in performance. Other Uprights have a Bass Sustain as a middle pedal. It works the same as the Damper pedal except it only lifts the dampers for the low end notes.

Irving Berlin's famed Transposing Piano used the middle pedal as a clutch to shift the keyboard with a lever. The entire action of the piano would shift to allow the operator to play in any key.

Care and Maintenance

Pianos need regular tuning to keep them up to pitch. The hammers of pianos are voiced to compensate for gradual hardening, and other parts also need periodic regulation. Aged and worn pianos can be rebuilt or reconditioned. Often, by replacing a great number of their parts, they can be made to perform as well as new pianos. Older pianos are often more settled and produce a warmer tone.
Piano moving should be done by trained piano movers using adequate manpower and the correct equipment for any particular piano's size and weight. Pianos are heavy yet delicate instruments.
Over the years, professional piano movers have developed special techniques for transporting both Grand's and Uprights, which prevent damage to the case and to the piano's mechanics.


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