A Mechanism Description of the Piano

A piano is an instrument with a keyboard and strings which is designed to produce a vast range of musical tones. What are the origins of the piano? What are the main parts of a piano? What are the parts' functions in the piano to create such glorious music? These questions will be answered in the following sections while looking at one form of piano - the grand piano, which is the largest and most regal of pianos. Two other piano forms are the square piano and the vertical piano.

The word "piano" is derived from the Italian word "pianoforte", short for clavicembalo con piano e forte, meaning "harpsichord with soft and loud". The piano is almost 300 years old. In fact, keyboards before the thirteenth century did not have any flat or sharp keys (the black keys). The history of the piano goes way back to the zither, played like a piano, which existed in the Bronze Age around 3000 BC. Then came the dulcimer, which is similar in structure to a harpsichord. The dulcimer's mechanism that controlled its hammers was adapted into the modern mechanism of the piano. The first pianos were designed by two gentlemen in two different countries at the same time. In 1711, Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua created the pianoforte with an effective hammer mechanism, while an English monk made a pianoforte in Rome. In 1717, a German eighteen - year old independently invented a pianoforte as well. The pianoforte did not change much until the beginning of the nineteenth century. The growth has been rapid since the beginning of the nineteenth century, and the structure of the piano forte became less ornate and more practical. Pedals were added to the pianoforte, the tail of the grand piano was lengthened up to nine feet, and the tone quality improved with better technology in piano design, mainly in the manner the parts work together.

The main parts of the piano, in particular the grand piano, are the cast iron frame, the pin block, the bridge, the soundboard, the case, the keyboard of 88 keys - 52 white and 36 black, the action, and the pedals as shown in figure 4, as well as the 220 to 240 strings.

The cast iron frame sits on top of the piano bed. If you open the top of a grand piano, the first thing you will see is the cast iron frame. Right underneath the frame is the pin block. The pin block protects the action so that its parts to not get damaged, and gives support to the front end of the frame. The bridge is located between the frame and the soundboard. The bridge fits into the ridge of the frame, and holds the back end of the piano bed together. The soundboard itself is the bottom of the piano bed. The strings are pulled across the soundboard from the action to the bridge. The case is the external covering of the piano, and is usually of high quality wood. The keyboard sits on the front end of the case, with the white and black parts of the keys open to performance. The action is the part of the piano that is the most fascinating. The action consists of the interior parts of the key, the hammers, and the points of action inside the mechanism.

The way all of these parts work is very intricate. The first thing that occurs is the depression of a key by the pianist. The pressing of the key causes the mechanism to lift levers and depress points of action, leading to the hammer striking the string. The string then vibrates and the sound is heard for a period of time, depending on what pedal is being pressed by the pianist. The three pedals, from left to right, are una corda, dampener, and sostenuto. The una corda softens the music by shifting the action. The action is usually shifted to the left. The dampener shortens the length of time a note is heard by quickening the attack and shortening the sustaining of the note. The sostenuto lengthens the time of sound heard. The sostenuto is mostly used when playing many bass, or lower end, notes, to hold the sound longer while the higher - pitched keys seem to sound at the same time as the lower - pitched notes. The strings vibrate across the soundboard to the bridge. The soundboard, cast iron frame and the case hold the sound as it flows through and then out of the piano. With the top up, the sound coming out of the piano has not only high tone quality, but also has great resonance. The resonance is affected by the wood used in creating the piano. If the wood is of high quality the resonance is great, but if the piano is poorly constructed with a weak wood the resonance of the sound will also be of poor quality. If the top of the piano is down, the music is certainly quieter but also has more resonance.

In conclusion, the piano, an intricate mechanical device, is a wondrous instrument that can express music in a most articulate way. Pianists of all genres can express themselves, either "interpreting works of the great composers, firing the sound of a jazz group, or playing at the heart of a blues or pop performance." (Crombie, 1995) The piano of preference in professional performances is the grand piano, since they are of top quality. From personal perspective, Steinway and Sons, Inc. makes the most beautiful and definitely most expensive grand pianos. Steinway and Sons, Inc. has always made excellent pianos since the Steinway Model D Concert Grand Piano in 1859. This piano has over 12,000 parts and takes a year to create. The action in these high quality pianos is truly remarkable.

Works Cited

Crombie, D. (1995). Piano: A Photographic History of the World's Most Celebrated Instrument. New York: Balafon.

Take a look at one of the largest grand pianos.

<< Go Home


1997-2004 K. Wolfe
Last Updated 24 Jun 2004

Hosting by WebRing.