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Piano Basics

How Does A Piano Work – Functioning Of Piano Components

Inside of a piano

Learn about the intricate working of a piano. How do the various parts function and how the sonorous sound of the piano is created.

Its actually a great idea to know how you piano works.
When you know whats happening inside this beautiful instrument, you actually get more pleasure in playing it.
And when you know what the components of a piano are, you can take care of it better as well. So here goes. Let us explore this wonderful instrument.

The acoustic piano looks a lot more un-assuming than its digital counterparts. However, this is far from the truth. The digital keyboards can look highly complex with the knobs and buttons and the neon indicators and LCD screen.

However, the design and working of the acoustic piano is nothing short of remarkable and based on extreme precision. In fact, if you look at it, the digital keyboards only replicate the sound of the piano. If the piano has not been constructed the way it was, there would be no “piano sound” to replicate and reproduce. The piano has undergone a lot of refinements over the years. Owing to which the sound and the pleasure one gets from playing it has only improved. Along with the improvements the machinery involved in the working of the piano has also become more refined and complex at the same time.¬†We will save talking about the transitional history and development of the piano for another post and concentrate on the inner functions of the piano in this one.

Piano design started with the Harpsichord.

The basic concept of the piano comes from a harp. Somewhere in the 14th or the 15th century someone thought of an idea that instead of having to play the harp by fingers, what if the strings were hit by a set of hammers. The idea for a harpsichord was born and over the next few centuries this design was implemented and bettered and changed again. This is still the basic principle of how a piano makes it sound. A set of hammers hit the strings inside the piano whenever the keys of the piano are pressed.

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source: pianoforall.com

Harpsichords were the predecessors of the piano. However, there were some crucial differences between the harpsichord and the piano that was developed later.

  • One of them was that the harpsichords had a metallic, unvarying sound. They could not be played loudly and softly as a piano can, and their string; were plucked by mechanical quills, not struck with small felt hammers as a piano’s strings are.
  • The key colors on the keyboard of the harpsichord were also reversed. The bottom keys were black the raised keys were white in colour.

The first form of the piano as we know it now took shape somewhere in the 18th century by the hands of man named Christofori (spellings may differ in different publications).

The foremost change that he made to the existing string instruments was that the string inside the piano were ‘struck’ by a set of hammers rather than being plucked. This allowed the piano to have a varying volume at which it could be played.

Christofori’s invention was called the PianoForte.This is a combination of 2 italian words Piano (Soft) and Forte (Loud).

Somewhere over the years the Forte bit was dropped and the instrument is now only known as the Piano. Unlike the harpsichords, the pianoforte could play softly, loudly, and with many shades of volume in between.

The fact that the instrument was named over the feature that it could play in different volume means that this was an important and remarkable development. And it was. Even now, when we recount the advantages that the piano has over other musical instrument, we speak of the dynamic range of the piano. In such, that it is capable of playing both really soft and really loud music.

Another feature of the piano that was developed by Christofori in his piano was called the ‘escapement mechanism’. This is still called by that name. This mechanism allows the hammers to bounce right back after hitting the strings even if the key on the keyboard id kept pressed. It is owing to this bounce back mechanism that the strings can vibrate after being struck by the felt covered hammer.

There is a 3rd mechanism a called the dampeners play an important part in creating the sound of piano. Dampeners are also felt covered levers like the hammers. They are placed next to the piano strings. There job is to stop the string from vibrating and continuing to sound as soon as the pressed piano key is released. If you continue to keep pressing the key the sound of the note will keep resonating till the time that the string keeps vibrating on its own. As soon as you release the key, the dampener next to string falls on it and stops. is from vibrating.

This is where the pedals of the piano deserve a mention. There are 3 pedals in a full piano and one of them is the sustain pedal. The job of the sustain pedal is that once pressed, it keeps the dampeners away from the strings even when the piano key is released, thus allowing that note to resonate while the player plays other notes on top of it.

The mechanism of producing the sound from the piano is called ‘piano’s action’, right from pressing the keys, hammers striking the strings, dampeners coming in to play and the pedals being used to alter sound.

The piano consist of 6 basic parts. These are:

  1. The keys of the piano keyboard. These are actually levers that trigger off a very precise and complicated action inside the piano when pressed.
  2. The hammers. These are felt covered and lie at the end action of the piano keys. There job is to strike the piano strings as hard or as softly according to the pressure applied when pressing the piano key.
  3. The Dampeners. The function of the dampeners is to stop the string from vibrating as soon as the key if released.
  4. The strings. There are usually 3 strings for each note or key on the piano keyboard. There could be less in an upright piano to conserve space. The function of the strings is to vibrate to the note they have been tuned to when the respective key is pressed.
  5. Soundboard. Often thought of as the most important part of the piano. Actually all parts are crucial but this component is extensive, takes time to make and is hard to replace. The soundboard of a piano is responsible for creating the resonance inside. That is the reasons why we hear the full sound of a piano outside it. Without the soundboard, the piano sound would lack body and volume.
  6. Pedal Mechanism. The pedals serve different functions. Sometime the function may even differ depending on whether you are playing a an upright or a grand, whether there are 3 or 2 pedals and even the manufacturer. However, the most common function of the piano is to sustain all or selective notes.

We will speak about each of these components in detail. Another thing we will discuss is the different kinds of pianos.

Broadly speaking, there are 2 types, the grand and the upright piano. Even between these 2 there are different designs, sizes and makers.

But now you have a basic idea of how piano works. Continue reading the other posts in this category to learn about the working of the piano in more detail. We hope that the more you learn about this ageless musical interment, the more excited and inspired you are going to be in learning to play it.