Grand Piano Research Paper

Since the beginning of time, musical instruments have played a major role in society, especially the piano. Throughout its lifetime, the piano has grown and changed greatly as well as gained popularity extremely fast. “The pianoforte […] became, by the last quarter of the eighteenth century, a leading instrument of Western art music” (Powers, Wendy). Over the last three hundred years, the piano has kept the same look, but has developed immensely in tone and power. Before the invention of the piano, there were two instruments that had similar keyboard-like features; the Harpsichord and the Clavichord.

Until the mid-eighteenth century, the Harpsichord was the keyboard instrument that was indispensable in concert music, opera and chamber music” (Abbot, Graham). The Harpsichord, similar the piano now, was an instrument that, ultimately, was used to tie each musical piece together. In order to construct their own individual sounds, the Harpsichord and the Clavichord had two completely different techniques. “The Clavichord made music by striking metal strings with hammers attached to the key” (Team, Dna Web).

On the other hand, the louder of the two, the Harpsichord, had strings that were plucked by a plectrum when an individual key was touched. The strings are an extremely important part of both instruments. Whenever the keys are tapped, the strings are plucked and they vibrate in order to construct each beautifully crafted sound. The longer the strings, the lower the sound. In turn, if the strings are shorter, the pitch is higher. Both instruments were widely used across the country, but the Harpsichord was the main focus in the long run.

The Harpsichord was such a considerably outstanding instrument that it was the most popular instrument used throughout that seventeenth century (Piano). It was the instrument that a best-known and used instrument of today’s time was constructed based off of it: the piano. A man from Padua who went by the name Bartolomeo di Francesco Cristofori, later came into the picture and invented the first piano around the year 1700 (Powers, Wendy). Cristofori built his piano in resemblance to the Harpsichord. To improve the piano and make it his own creation, Cristofori added better volume control and more power to the instrument. Abbot, Graham). The piano was known as “gravicembalo col piano e forte”, which means “Harpsichord with soft and loud” (Powers, Wendy).

The name comes from the fact that Cristofori was able to figure out ways to improve the dynamics, also known as volume, of the piano just by a simple touch. The dynamic changes often depended upon how hard or soft the person playing would press the keys (Ouellette, Jennifer). Therefore, Cristofori, or the person playing the piano, could go from playing pianissimo, which means very soft, to playing fortissimo, which means very loud, just by pressing one key or chord harder than the one before.

This is where the pianos suspected actual name of “pianoforte”, also known as soft then loud, ultimately comes from. The lower notes, also known as the bass notes, are on the left side of the keyboard. As you go to the right, the keys get higher; these are the soprano notes. Alto and tenor notes are in the middle of the two. Unlike the piano now, which contains eighty-eight keys, Cristofori’s piano only had fifty-four keys. The modern piano now has seven octaves, whereas Cristofori’s piano only had four octaves. The Clavichord, like the Harpsichord, was a major inspiration for the piano.

Keys and strings were paired in a striking instrument in the clavichord, which led directly to the invention of the pianoforte or fortepiano” (Piano). It had only forty-nine keys, which is only four octaves. After some development of the piano, when Beethoven started playing, two more octaves were added, giving the piano a total of 73 keys. Beethoven wanted to be able to show off a greater amount of skill and to also experiment more with the piano’s dynamics and ranges. Therefore, Beethoven asked the manufacturers if they were willing to give the piano a wider range.

Also, Beethoven had the manufacturers add a foot pedal for the sustain instead of using his knee (Abbot, Graham). A sustain foot pedal makes it so that the notes can be held out longer and the keys can vibrate freely. “By the end of the nineteenth century, the piano had developed a greater size, tone, and power” (Abbot, Graham). For instance, one example would be the square piano. Although it has not changed much in looks, when it comes to size and power, the square piano has grown immensely (History of the Piano). Another example would be the early upright grand piano.

When the upright piano was first invented, the strings connected to the keys would rise straight up from the keyboard. Later on after being developed by many manufacturers, the whole end of the piano was brought to the ground almost (History of the Piano). This enhanced the upright grand piano’s power greatly and allowed its music to be heard clearer. Each piano developed their power and tone in many different ways. There are multiple different types of pianos that have stemmed from the Harpsichord, each of which displaying their very own unique styles.

The main types of pianos, though, would be the upright piano, the grand piano, the square piano, and the electric piano. The upright piano was made around the mid 1800’s (History of the Piano). It was one of the smaller pianos, which made it easily affordable. Since they were so affordable, these pianos were found in many different schools and homes across the country (History of the Piano). The upright piano has four completely different styles; pyramid, bookcase, giraffe, and lyre. The pyramid style upright piano has a triangular base with a flat top (History of the Piano).

This style is not extremely common because of the fact that the man who designed it, Leopold Sauer, mainly just made pyramid and upright grand pianos and very few of his instruments have survived throughout the years (History of the Piano). The lyre style upright piano ultimately just evolved a little bit from the pyramid style. Instead of its strings going vertically, though, they ran obliquely (History of the Piano). The giraffe style upright has the same basic structure as the pyramid style upright. In contrast, the giraffe style skews more to the left, whereas the pyramid just goes straight up.

Just like the lyre style upright piano, the giraffe style’s strings are oblique to the keyboard for a more elegant sound. The bookcase style upright piano is one of the largest pianos. It is enormously tall and rectangular, like an extremely large box (History of the Piano). The piano contains shelves, almost like a bookcase, that can hold things such as books and other decorative items. The shelves that can hold books is the reason that this style can be found in many schools. As obviously shown, the upright piano is the most diverse when it comes to the different styles, which is completely opposite of the grand piano.

The grand piano has basically kept the exact same style it has had since it was invented. In size, it can be relatively anywhere between four and a half foot wide to eight-foot-wide; sometimes even getting up to eleven-foot-wide (S. , Suzy). The strings of the grand piano are designed to be horizontally perpendicular to the keyboard (S. , Suzy). This is just a mechanically advanced technique that is used in order to enhance the sound quality of the piano. “In general, the larger the grand piano, the longer the strings are the greater the timbre or sound quality it produces” (S. Suzy).

An additional way to enhance sound quality of the grand piano would be to simply just open the lid. This feature is the reason that the grand piano is mainly used in concerts or for performances in large facilities. Instead of the sound just coming at the pianist, the sound is shot towards the audience. Therefore, the grand piano is the piano that is the most ideal when it comes to sound and performance power. The power of it is an extremely important aspect of the piano. The square piano, on the other hand, is the complete opposite when it comes to a quality performance.

The square piano was invented around the year 1777 by a man who goes by the name Sebastien Erard (S. , Suzy). When Erard first invented the square piano, it was not actually a square shape, but rather a rectangular shape (S. , Suzy). Just like the grand piano, the square piano has strings that are horizontal and are displayed at right angles to the keyboard (History of the Piano). Unlike the other pianos, though, instead of being more closely related to the Harpsichord, the square piano is actually more directly related to the Clavichord (History of the Piano).

This is because of the way that the strings are attached to each of the keys. In the year of 1871, a company called Steinway & Sons modified the design of the square piano. “The lid weighs more than those of most grand pianos. This design, with a full iron frame, is probably the most powerful type of square piano ever built” (History of the Piano). The power comes within the fact that when the lid is raised, the sound is aimed towards the person playing the piano. The only downside to that is that if it was being played at a large event, the audience members would not be able to hear anything.

The square piano is meant more for salon type music with a smaller audience rather than huge, full on concert halls and large performances (S. , Suzy) . Lastly, after almost one hundred years of change and improvement, technology comes into play in order to help in the invention of the digital piano. With the development of advanced technology, there comes the invention of the smallest of all styles of the piano: the electric, or digital, piano. The first electric piano was invented around the year 1946 (S. , Suzy).

An upside to this newer invention would be that it would be easier to record the music for an album or simply just a song. “Modern electric pianos are purely electronic instruments that have high-quality recorded sounds on an internal hard drive” (S. , Suzy). On every electric piano, there are buttons that are capable of changing the settings of the sounds produced. This means that the electric piano can go from sounding like an authentic piano to sounding like a guitar or a saxophone just by the push of a button. This also comes in handy when a person is writing a song or an album.

Although the style and look of the electric piano is quite different from a regular grand piano, the keys are made so that it feels as if the person playing is actually playing a traditional piano (S. , Suzy). The electric piano has around seven hundred strings that help bring the sound quality to life (S. , Suzy). Although it has many fancy features, the electric piano is the definitely the most affordable piano because of the size and because it is not an antique-like item. Another reason it is so affordable is because of the fact that it can be found almost anywhere and in any store.

Therefore, the electric piano is played mainly by those who are just beginning to learn how to play the instrument. Each style of the piano has individually gone through many changes over the past three hundred years. “The modern piano […] is now so good, acoustically, that it probably won’t change much in the future” (Ouellette, Jennifer). There is not really much more room for any style of piano to grow anymore. Although all of the changes and improvements have not exceedingly affected the actual look of the pianos, it has still developed the tone and power tremendously.