How The Piano Came To Be: Know Thy Evolution

As a piano lover, I have often wondered about how the instrument came to be. Understanding this imaginative musical instrument includes a lot more than just playing its black and white keys. To this day, I cannot walk past a pristine grand or a battered,thriftshop,hand me down without being compelled to think about its story. Quite simply, the piano has been on one exciting trip; being shaped by evolving knowledge,public musical preference and available materials through the years. Our modern day piano has little in common with it's earlier precursor; the harpsichord.

The “guts” of the instrument are are an impressive feat in engineering including 12,000 parts, 10,000 of which are moving. There are approximately 18 tons of pressure being exerted by the stretched steel piano strings. In a concert grand, it is closer to 30 tons of pressure. The average string feels about 160 pounds of tension and there are about 230 strings inside a typical piano.


The pressing of a key makes the felt covered hammer strike onto the strings of steel. This causes the vibrations of strings at various resonating frequencies. These vibrations get further transmitted towards sounding board that processes the acoustic energy to be audible as pleasant sound.


The term ‘piano’ is actually derived out of its formal name of ‘pianoforte’. The ancient French piano known was merely an inverted wrest-plank that looked like an elaborately festooned soundboard. In the consequent years, the modern version of the instrument was incepted by the efforts of an Italian named, Bartolomeo Cristofori. He established the contemporary fundamentals of piano design that was based on the concept of a diffused hammer striking the string.

The business of piano-making gained further impetus during the later years of 18th century, under the patronage of Viennese school of musical instruments. These pianos were made up of and had two strings allocated per note along with leather-wrapped hammers. They had the modern-like keys with natural ones being black and the accidental ones being white. These instruments had soothing, soft and clear sounds but were much less sustaining than the modern ones.

Pianos saw a considerable change from the period of the 1790s to 1860s. The precursor to the modern form was changing due to the effects of the Industrial Revolution, and its relevant technological advancement, piano wires were upgraded to steel material and rose past five octaves to seven and more.

One of the major highlights of the post-Industrial Revolution was the development of a sturdy iron frame, also known by the name of plate. This was located on the top of the soundboard and served as the principal barricade in opposition to the string-tension force. This gave strength to the structural integrity of piano, facilitating more numbers of strings. Some other innovations that found place in the piano were usage of the felt-covered hammer in place of leather; use of more consistent materials, better dynamic ranges; and increased strings tension.

The system of duplex scaling emerged in new pianos. In these, various piano components of stringed-vibrations were managed by fine-tuning their minor parts in octave coordination in tandem with the varying sound lengths. In 1840s, square pianos were devised that had an iron frame strung over a wood-framed structure. They became popular because of their reasonable price and easy construction. But they had negative features of being limited in activity along with closely packed strings.

Finally, the modern pianos developed their present structure and forms towards the later years of the 19th century, with many improvements introduced in their manufacturing process. The pianos became heavier and stronger and evolved into the form they have today: 88 keys (7 ½ octaves), usually three pedals, and cast-iron frames with two or three strings per note, some of them in the lower ranges wrapped around to make them heavier and stronger.

The piano became the parlor instrument of choice in the 19th century. Every middle-class home had one for their daughters to perform on. Early parlor pianos were square, some were upright, some were small grands. Unlike stringed or wind instruments, anyone could strike a note and make a sound that did not offend the ear, which was probably one reason why keyboard instruments were so popular. And music—playing the piano or spinet or singing—was an accomplishment that was expected of a marriageable young lady.

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