Those who professionally learn piano know that it is not any easy instrument to master nor to comprehend. With 88 keys and the maximum range of pitches, playing the piano is a miracle of hand-eye coordination, tune sense, and memory. However, this imposing instrument also has several quirky facts associated with it. Read on, and you will get to know the instrument better with these fun facts on pianos. It might even get less intimidating:

grand piano
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

1. The piano is actually a percussion instrument

Many people suffer under the misapprehension that the piano is a string instrument, but it’s not. It does have strings, but the sound is caused by the individual hammers which strike the string when you press a key. The hammers rebound after striking, and the string vibrates at its inherent frequency. When you release the key, a damper stops the strings from vibrating. Since the hammer causes the emission of sound, the piano falls in the percussion category.

2. The name “piano” actually means “soft”

Odd, isn’t it? But “piano” has Italian origins, with its inventor, Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua, calling his invention uncimbalo di cipresso di piano e forte, meaning “a keyboard of cypress with soft and loud.” Over time, the phrase got abbreviated to ‘pianoforte’, and from then on, to ‘piano’.

3. The piano can cover the entire range of pitches audible to the human ear

The range of frequencies audible to the human ear is 20 Hz- 20,000 Hz. The piano can cover the lowest of these frequencies (which is the pitch of the contrabassoon) to the highest (which can be played on the piccolo). No other instrument has such a spectrum of frequencies, leading to the piano being called “the king of the instruments.”

4. The modern piano strings can take pressure up to 30 tons

They can also be built at string tension of 18-20 tons. This terrific feature is because of a cast iron frame, which can sustain the pressure on the strings as well as the tension. Before the advances in metallurgy, the frame used to be built of wood, and there was a possibility it would bend with the string tension. In order to prevent this, strings were kept at low tension and hence resulted in a low amplitude of the sound.Challen’s Concert Grand is the world’s largest traditional piano

5. Challen’s Concert Grand is the world’s largest traditional piano

The piano was built by the now defunct company Challen for the silver jubilee of the coronation of King George V in 1935. It was 11 feet long and could withstand string tension of over 30 tons. Then in 1987 came David Klavins with his piano model Klavin’s-Piano Model 370, the upright piano named for its 370 cm height. It is situated over two floors, weighs over 2 tons and has a sounding board (responsible for acoustic breadth) over double the size of the concert grand. Due to its unique design, it offers the widest range of acoustical possibilities.

Klavins piano
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

6. The Steinway-Chickering rivalry

Steinway and Chickering were two prestigious piano making firms in America and rivalry between them was immense during the second half of the 19th century. During the American Civil War and after, Steinway shortly overtook Chickering in piano sales, making about 2,000 pianos per year. In 1876, both companies appeared as chief competitors at the Centennial International Exposition in Philadelphia, the world’s first international trade fair. According to journalist James Barron, Steinway received the first prize by bribing one of the judges, and underhand methods were often used at exhibitions by both rival companies to secure the top spot.

7. The piano has 12,000 parts of which 10,000 are moving

President Nixon playing piano
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

70% of the piano is constructed out of wood while the rest is the cast-iron frame. The strings are made of steel to have both strength and flexibility.

8. There is something about US presidents and pianos

Only four US presidents have NOT owned a piano. They are Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Barack Obama, and George Bush Jr. Richard Nixon was probably the most adept at the instrument, actually composing a piano piece titled Richard Nixon Piano Concerto #1 which he then played on the “Jack Paar Program” of primetime TV in 1963. The versatile president also played “God Bless America” at a certain function and accompanied singer Peter Bailey when he came to perform at the White House.

9. The “Player Piano” is a selfplaying piano

pianola structure
Image Courtesy of Technikum29

The pianola, also called the player piano, is an automatically playing piano which operates by a pneumatic mechanism—consisting of air tubes, pedals, and paper rolls with holes punched in them. This was immensely popular before the invention of the gramophone, as it allowed people to hear their favorite music play automatically in their homes.

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