The grand piano has gone through many different stages before becoming the instrument we know and love today. How much do you know about the fascinating history of the piano?
There are entire books worth of things you can learn about its history, but we’ve put together this essential guide to give you an overview how this instrument came to be.
Whether you’re a musician, an aspiring musician, or just a music lover, you’ll love knowing the interesting story of how the piano as we know it came about. Read on to learn more!
The Amazing History of the Grand Piano
1. Before Pianos
There is a long history of instruments that led up to the piano’s development. Humans have been experimenting with the sounds of various instruments for thousands of years – even before recorded history began.
In 14th century Europe, the first stringed instruments that recognizably came before the piano were developed. First was the dulcimer, which is a shallow box with wires stretched across it that were struck by wooden hammers to make a sound.
Next came the clavichord, which came about in the same century as the dulcimer. After this, the stringed instruments that became the piano went through many different changes. There was the spinet, the clavecin, the virginal, the gravicembalo.
Most of these instruments are things modern listeners have never heard of. But you might be familiar with the predecessor that came right before the piano: the harpsichord.
2. The First Pianos
In Padua, Italy in 1709, there lived a harpsichord maker named Bartolomeo di Francesco Cristofori.
Harpsichords were limited in what they could do. They only had one volume, so songs could not be made louder or softer. This was very limited compared to the other instruments of the time, which allowed musicians to express with volume.
The piano was invented because people wanted a harpsichord with volume that could be changed. A lot of the feeling in music comes from the volume of a certain segment. Loudness or softness and changes between the two can convey all kinds of different emotions.
Cristofori first debuted his update to the harpsichord in 1709, naming it “gravicembalo col piano e forte.” This basically translates to “keyboard instrument that’s soft and loud.” Of course, a name like that wasn’t going to stick for long. It was soon shortened to “fortepiano,” or sometimes, “pianoforte.”
Although the piano of today has a slightly different name, the instrument has not changed all that much from that very first one.
Cristofori’s 1709 invention no longer exists, but a piano of his from 1720 is now displayed at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is amazing to see how similar it is to pianos as we know them now.
3. The Grand Piano
Today, all kinds of artists use acoustic piano, and the king of all pianos is, of course, the grand.
Although the design of a grand piano is very similar to the original 18th century piano, modern technology, and updated materials make today’s instruments even more exquisite.
Different woods can make pianos more durable and can make the sound more pleasant. Engineering knowledge allows people to design pianos that are strong and can maintain their rich, vibrant sound for many years.
The keyboard action has gone through many updates, too. Keyboards today stay in tune longer and feel amazing to play.
There are two sizes of grand piano: the concert grand and the baby grand. Concert grands are the instrument of choice of many composers, songwriters, conductors, and of course, performers.
Baby grands are the more likely choice for a home piano and can sound beautiful and be amazing to play, just like a concert grand.
4. Piano Technology
Of course, piano development didn’t stop with the acoustic grands that we all love to hear.
Digital pianos offer a wide range of options. There are simple, low-functioning keyboards, but there are also completely amazing digital pianos that come close to replicating the sound and feel of an acoustic one.
In fact, many companies selling digital pianos take the sounds for the digital directly from their best regular models. Digital pianos tend to have other sounds and functions programmed in, as well. Songs can be played in the style of many other instruments, some of which sound amazingly realistic.
Connecting to a computer allows digital players to download and store music, record songs, and take piano lessons from home. There’s no telling where the digital technology might take pianos in the future!
5. The Future of the Piano
In spite of the popularity of digital instruments today, the traditional grand piano will always have its place.
There’s just no replacing the true sound and feel of an acoustic piano, no matter how close digital models can come. Having both options available means there is something for every kind of musician.
From upright pianos, which stood the grand piano on its side, to the popular digital relative that is the synthesizer, there have been many updates to pianos as we know them. But the truth is that the grand piano has stayed remarkably close to the very first piano in 1709.
With hundreds of years of popularity behind it, these pianos are sure to be around for years to come.
Ready to Play?
The history of the piano is an inspiring story of creativity and invention. Learning the history of an instrument can be a great inspiration to start playing it yourself!
The piano has maintained its popularity over the years in part because it’s one of the easiest instruments to learn how to play.
Other stringed instruments, like the guitar, require you to use your fingers to create the notes as you play. Pianos, however, have every note laid out in front of you. All you need to do is strike the keys in the correct order, and you have a song.
This makes the piano a great instrument to learn, whether it’s your very first one or you’re looking to add to your musical repertoire.
Ready to try the piano out? Take a look at the lessons we have to offer, and take your place in the storied history of this amazing instrument.