Nearly everyone knows exactly what a piano is, what it sounds like, and has heard the music it creates. Most have seen an artist working at the keyboards first hand, even if they are considered an amateur. Yet relatively few know how a piano works, what type of instrument it actually is or even when it was invented (hint: it wasn’t that long ago). These interesting facts will teach you a bit about the history of the amazing piano and give you a few interesting facts that you can share with your friends so you can both enjoy a new sense of appreciation for the instrument you have decided to learn.
Top 10 Most Interesting Facts About Piano
King of the Instruments
The piano is known by most to be the King of Instruments because it can produce the full range of sounds in an orchestra from the deepest bass to the highest piccolo. It is unique in that it can play both melody and harmonizing accompaniment at the same time, a feat which a clarinet can’t do and a guitar can only minimally perform.
Now that keyboards have added so many capabilities to this already amazing quality, they can take over the job of an orchestra almost entirely, with the quality of the sampling being the only real limitation. Of course, nothing can truly match the sound of a full symphony orchestra, but some very well-designed workstations come very close.
Thousands of Working Parts
Pianos contain more than 7,000 working parts, each of them necessary to produce the overall sound of the instrument. Consider the parts attached to just one note on a piano: the key is connected to a hammer which in turn hits a string.
The string’s resonance is either dampened or sustained by the food pedals and then the tone is carried out by the internal acoustics of the cabinet itself. Tiny screws, nuts and bolts adjust tuning and tighten loose strings, and this is just for one single note on the piano. Now multiply this by 88 and add all the other tiny working parts. Pianos are the single most complex percussion/string instrument on the planet.
It’s a Fairly Recent Invention
The earliest precursor to the piano was invented in 1709 by an Italian harpsichord maker named Bartolomeo di Francesco Cristofori. It was basically a version of the harpsichord that had touch sensitive keys. This was a remarkable invention, however, because the harpsichord was capable of only making one volume of sound. It was a very simple instrument compared to the modern piano. Of course, now most would not recognize it as a piano at all. They did not begin to take their true form, the one that we recognize today, until the 1800’s.
The Largest Piano
It took 4 years for Adrian Mann to build the world’s largest piano. It’s almost 6 meters long, weighing in at at astonishing one and a half tons and is not the easiest piano in the world to play. It sounds pretty awesome though, since Adrian is quite the talented piano tuner.
Technically, It’s a Percussion Instrument
Although a piano has strings, it is played by hitting hammers against the taught strings. This is why pianos are always located in the percussion section of a symphony. Most people, despite this technical distinction, consider a piano to be a percussion/string hybrid. Which begs the question, how do we classify a digital baby grand piano?
Grand Pianos and Upright Pianos are Very Different
Grand pianos have horizontal sound boards and use the force of gravity to return their keys to the resting position. Upright pianos were invented to save space, so their soundboards are built in a vertical position. This means that they must rely on spring loaded mechanisms to return their hammers back to the resting position, ready to be struck again.
Because the mechanisms of sound production are so different, grand pianos can be played much, much faster than even the best quality upright. After all, there is no more evenly distributed force of nature on Earth than gravity. This is what makes baby grand pianos such a marvelous investment.
Some Pianos Had 97 Keys Before We Settled on 88
They were pretty hard to play.
Ragtime Made the American Piano Industry Boom
The population of the United States in 1911 was a mere 93 million, yet more than 364,000 pianos were built and sold in America that year. That translates to roughly one purchase for every 255 people in the country, or one for every 63 households. That is an unbelievable boom in production. Now, there are only four piano makers in the U.S., and they only produce roughly 5,000 American made instruments per year.
Part of the reason for this is that many of the pianos built during the turn of the century are still operational. Thankfully for those who own these fine products of American history, the makers had not yet discovered the concept of planned obsolescence. A well-built piano will last for a couple centuries or more if properly cared for.
Along the Same Line of Facts as Above…
The first pianos invented in Italy in the 1700s were so expensive that only the richest families in the world could afford to purchase one. Now, although they are still somewhat expensive, they are within the reach of most families. Digital keyboards have brought the art to even more because of their comparative affordability.
The Acoustic Piano is a Dying Breed
In the year 2007, roughly 54,000 pianos were sold in the U.S. (most of them not made in America). Despite that our population is four times what it was in 1911 when more than 364,000 pianos were sold. Comparatively, over 121,000 digital pianos were sold and over 1.2 million portable keyboards. Those numbers make it pretty clear in which direction this instrument is moving. However, let us make the case for continued use of the acoustic.
Even if a digital piano perfectly duplicates the action and sound of an acoustic, logic dictates that the acoustic will still last longer. After all, the electronic parts in keyboards and electronic pianos break down over time. And unlike the makers of the pianos from the early 20th century, the makers of electronic keyboards have the art of planned obsolescence down to pure mastery.
Now you know even more facts about the piano; some cute, some fascinating and some that are just downright sad. Why not share these interesting tidbits with your friends and take a little time to discuss an instrument that has become a centerpiece of modern American music? Perhaps as you progress in your lessons to play “the King of Instruments,” you can become part of a revival of the art. After all, there will never be a musical instrument as dynamic and artful as the 88 key baby grand.