In this blog post we’ll see the answer for some of the most common queries about this extremely popular and diffused instrument.
1. WHEN WAS IT INVENTED?
What are the origins of the piano?
The inventor was Bartolomeo Cristofori, living in Padua (Italy), that wasn’t satisfied with the sound of the harpsichord (the “ancestor” of the piano) and in particular didn’t like the dynamics and the amount of control that a player could obtain using that instrument.
After some research and thanks to his knowledge of the harpsichord internal mechanisms and his craftman skills he then developed the ” un cimbalo di cipresso di piano e forte” (“a keyboard made in cypress with the soft and loud”), that was then shortened in “pianoforte”, “fortepiano” and finally “piano”.
The date of the first one isn’t known, but from an inventory of the palace of the Medici family, a noble family that was in power in his city, we know that there was one of those registered in the 1700.
Knowing that, we can also answer to the common question “did piano exist in medieval times” with a firm “NO”.
2. WHERE DID IT ORIGINATE?
The “place of birth” of this instrument was Padua, as said in the previous section.
3. IS IT A STRING OR A PERCUSSION INSTRUMENT?
In fact, given that the sound originates from strings being hit by the internal hammer mechanism, it is considered a Cordophone (like the Harp and the Lyre) by the Hornbostel-Sachs instruments classification system (born in order to categorize the musical instruments using their particular characteristics).
Beyond that, though, the pianoforte is also considered a percussion instrument, because of the hammers hitting strings.
In fact, today it is considered to be both a string and a percussion musical instrument.
4. ARE THE KEYS MADE OF IVORY?
Not today, because this material was switched with plastic in order to preserve the populations of elephants that were critically endangered by the use of the ivory.
The instrument was, for a fairly long time, made using ivory for the white keys and ebony for the black ones, but this (as well as a lot of other use cases of these 2 materials, though) was causing a critical problem with the population of the elephants and the Diospyros trees (where it can be taken the woods commonly called ebony).
For environmental reason both of those were heavily protected with laws (the one worldwide law that banned the use of ivory was made in 1989, and for the ebony the use is only heavily limited because is still considered endangered).
5. ARE THOSE INSTRUMENTS IN ORCHESTRAS?
Despite being sometime not considered like instruments that can be in orchestra, they are definitely an instrument that is in A LOT of exhibitions (not only classical concerts).
Having a pianoforte in the orchestra, though, depends on the piece and the songs played, so instead of a violin that is nearly in every orchestra performance, the presence of a piano depends on the composition that is being played and there can be some that doesn’t require this instrument.
6. CAN I TUNE A PIANO BY MYSELF?
Yes… if you have a lot of time to learn and the budget for buying a tuner (optional if you have a great ear), tuning wrench, and rubber wedge muters. Consider that this would require a lot of time and also, given that the instruments strings and mechanisms can be very sensible and need a lot of fine tuning, a lot of trial and error (and if done with bad quality tools it can also damage the istrument).
So, for the majority of people, it can be definitely better to call a professional person that is specialised in piano tuning and just handle the job.
If you’re interested in learning this skill, and if you have a lot of patience and the barely minimum budget for some (at least) decent tools for tuning you can read more and find some more interesting insights in this Music.exchange discussion.
7. ARE CHORDS THE SAME OF GUITAR CHORDS?
Chords are always the same, so the answer is yes: they change only where they are played on the two instruments.
Despite that, though, playing a chord on one doesn’t give exactly the same sound as the same chord played on the other one: that is because the instruments have different sound colors and pitches, so they have to be changed accordingly.
- Differences between pianoforte, keyboard, organ and harpsichord: read here
- Online lessons for everyone (a review of Piano For All): read here
- Best Youtube Channels for pianists: read here
- Where to find music scores for pianists: read here
- Most influential Romantic composers: read here
- Modern composers: read here