Pianos, whether they are grand pianos, baby grand pianos or upright pianos, are played by means of a keyboard. They are one of the most popular instruments in the world,and are widely used in classical music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music, concertos with symphony orchestras, jazz and rock concerts and accompaniment for a variety of artists. The piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal. Although not portable and often expensive, the grand piano’s versatility has made it one of the world’s most familiar and popular musical instruments.
The Mechanics – AKA Nuts and Bolts.
Striking a key causes a felt-covered hammer to strike steel strings. The hammer must strike the string, but not remain in contact with it because this would dampen the sound. The hammer must return to its rest position without bouncing violently, and it must be possible to repeat a note rapidly. The hammers rebound, allowing the strings to continue vibrating at their resonant frequency until the key is released, when a damper stops the string’s vibration.
The Sound Board
The vibrations of the strings are transmitted through a bridge to the sound board that transmits the acoustic energy to the air. The sound would otherwise be no louder than that directly produced by the effect of the hammers on the strings. The sound board acts as a resonator or amplifier, and is usually made from spruce in better class pianos, and plywood in the economy models
All modern pianos, be they grand pianos, baby grand pianos, or upright pianos use a strong iron frame. Also called the “plate”, the iron frame sits on top the soundboard, and serves as the primary bulwark against the force of string tension. The structural integrity of the iron frame allows the use of thicker, tenser, and more numerous strings. In a modern grand the total string tension can exceed 20 tons.
The Broken String Drama
I owned a huge Wertheim concert grand piano measuring nine feet two inches while in my early twenties, and had the very scary experience of practicing with the lid in the raised position one evening when one of the two bottom “E” strings snapped. It was like a shotgun blast, and fortunately it let go at the end nearest the keyboard – it took a chip out of the piano case, but worse still, it removed a patch of plaster from the wall about six inches diameter. Often wonder if I would have survived if the opposite end had snapped.
Range and Keys
The majority of modern pianos have 36 black keys and 52 white keys for a total of 88 keys (seven octaves plus a minor third ). Many older pianos only have 85 keys (seven octaves ), while some manufacturers extend the range further in one or both directions. Some Digital / Electronic pianos in the past had a shortened range of five to six octaves, which was very restrictive, but in recent times, just about every one is the full eighty eight notes range – thank goodness !
Some Bösendorfer pianos have a full eight octave range. The extra keys are added primarily for increased resonance from the associated strings; that is, they vibrate sympathetically with other strings whenever the damper pedal is depressed and thus give a fuller tone. More recently, the Australian Stuart and Sons company has also manufactured extended-range pianos, with the first 102 key piano. On their instruments, the frequency range extends from C to F, which is the widest practical range for the acoustic piano.