Manufacturers and models vary, but as a rough guide we can distinguish the "concert grand", approx. All else being equal, longer pianos have better sound and lower inharmonicity of the strings the strings can be tuned closer to equal temperament in relation to the standard pitch with less stretching , so that full-size grands are almost always used for public concerts, whereas baby grands are commonly purchased for domestic use where space and cost are crucial considerations.
Upright pianos, also called vertical pianos which are derived from upright harpsichords, are more compact because the frame and strings are placed vertically, extending in both directions from the keyboard and hammers. It appears that the placement of an instrument in an upright or vertical position became a solution to rectify spatial problems in studios and homes.
It is considered harder to produce a sensitive piano action when the hammers move sideways, rather than upward against gravity; however, the very best upright pianos now approach the level of grand pianos of the same size in tone quality and responsiveness. For recent advances, see Innovations in the piano. In , Henri Fourneaux invented the player piano, a kind of piano which "plays itself" from a piano roll without the need for a pianist.
Also in the nineteenth century, toy pianos began to be manufactured. A relatively recent development is the prepared piano, which is a piano adapted in some way by placing objects inside the instrument, or changing its mechanism in some way.
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Since the s, digital pianos have been available, which use digital sampling technology to reproduce the sound of each piano note. Digital pianos have become quite sophisticated, with standard pedals, weighted keys, multiple voices, MIDI interfaces, and so on in the better models. However, with current technology, it remains difficult to duplicate a crucial aspect of acoustic pianos, namely that when the damper pedal see below is depressed, the strings not struck vibrate sympathetically with the struck strings. Since this sympathetic vibration is considered central to a beautiful piano tone, digital pianos are still not considered by most experts as competing with the best acoustic pianos in tone quality.
Progress is now being made in this area by including physical models of sympathetic vibration in the synthesis software. With such development, digital pianos are used more widely since no tuning is needed, they are portable, and are usually less expensive than a piano; i. Clavinova Yamaha. Digital pianos can be used with computers and loudspeakers, and composing on them is facilitated with relevant software products. Pop groups, bands, religious assemblages, and home entertainment have popularized these instruments; thus, digital pianos are becoming a serious wave of the future.
Due to the sound production and technology of a digital piano, it is not constructively and technically akin to a piano; however, many modern musical productions create a need for electronic adaptations of a piano which the digital piano eminently satisfies. Almost every modern piano has 88 keys 7 octaves and a bit, from A0 to C8. Many older pianos only have 85 from A0 to A7 , while some manufacturers extend the range further in one or both directions. On some models these extra keys are hidden under a small hinged lid, which can be flipped down to cover the keys and avoid visual disorientation in a pianist unfamiliar with the extended keyboard; on others, the colors of the extra keys are reversed black instead of white and vice versa for the same reason.
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The extra keys are added primarily for increased resonance; that is, they vibrate sympathetically with other strings whenever the damper pedal is depressed and thus give a fuller tone. Only a very small number of works composed for piano actually use these notes. More recently, the Stuart and Sons company has manufactured extended-range pianos. On their instruments, the range is extended up the treble for a full eight octaves. These extra keys are the same as the other keys in appearance. For the arrangement of the keys on a piano keyboard, see Musical keyboard.
This arrangement was inherited from the harpsichord without change, with the trivial exception of the color scheme white for naturals and black for sharps which became standard for pianos in the late eighteenth century.
Pianos have had pedals, or some close equivalent, since the earliest days. In the eighteenth century, some pianos used levers pressed upward by the player's knee instead of pedals. The three pedals that have become more or less standard on the modern piano are the following:. Piano music starting with Chopin tends to be heavily pedaled, as a means of achieving a singing tone. In contrast, the damper pedal was used only sparingly by the composers of the eighteenth century, including Haydn , Mozart and Beethoven ; in that era, pedaling was considered primarily as a special coloristic effect.
The soft pedal was invented by Cristofori and thus appeared on the very earliest pianos.
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In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the soft pedal was more effective than today, since it was possible at that time to use it to strike three, two, or even just one string per note—this is the origin of the name una corda, Italian for "one string".
In modern pianos, the strings are spaced too closely to permit a true una corda effect—if shifted far enough to strike just one string on one note, the hammers would also strike the string of the next note over. On upright pianos, the soft pedal is replaced by a mechanism for moving the hammers' resting position closer to the strings. This reduces volume, but does not change tone quality as a true una corda pedal does.
Digital pianos often use this pedal to alter the sound of other instruments like organs, guitars, and harmonicas.
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Over the years, the middle pedal has served many different functions. Some upright pianos have a practice pedal in place of the sostenuto. This pedal, which can usually be locked in place by depressing it and pushing it to one side, drops a strip of felt between the hammers and the keys so that all the notes are greatly muted—a handy feature for those who wish to practice at odd hours without disturbing others in the house. The practice pedal is rarely used in performance.
Other uprights have a bass sustain as a middle pedal. It works the same as the damper pedal except it only lifts the dampers for the low end notes. Irving Berlin's famed Transposing Piano used the middle pedal as a clutch to shift the keyboard with a lever.
The entire action of the piano would shift to allow the operator to play in any key. Many parts of a piano are made of materials selected for extreme sturdiness. In quality pianos, the outer rim of the piano is made of a hardwood, normally maple or beech. According to Harold A. Conklin , the purpose of a sturdy rim is so that "the vibrational energy will stay as much as possible in the soundboard instead of dissipating uselessly in the case parts, which are inefficient radiators of sound.
The thick wooden braces at the bottom grands or back uprights of the piano are not as acoustically important as the rim, and are often made of a softwood, even in top-quality pianos, in order to save weight. The pinblock, which holds the tuning pins in place, is another area of the piano where toughness is important. It is made of hardwood, and generally is laminated built of multiple layers for additional strength and gripping power. Piano strings also called piano wire , which must endure years of extreme tension and hard blows, are made of high quality steel.
They are manufactured to vary as little as possible in diameter, since all deviations from uniformity introduce tonal distortion. The bass strings of a piano are made of a steel core wrapped with copper wire, to increase their flexibility. For the acoustic reasons behind this, see Piano acoustics.
The plate, or metal frame, of a piano is usually made of cast iron. It is advantageous for the plate to be quite massive, since the strings are attached to the plate at one end, any vibrations transmitted to the plate will result in loss of energy to the desired efficient channel of sound transmission, namely the bridge and the soundboard. Some manufacturers now use cast steel in their plates, for greater strength.
The casting of the plate is a delicate art, since the dimensions are crucial and the iron shrinks by about 1 percent during cooling. The inclusion in a piano of an extremely large piece of metal is potentially an aesthetic handicap. Piano makers overcome this handicap by polishing, painting, and decorating the plate; often plates include the manufacturer's ornamental medallion and can be strikingly attractive.
The numerous grand parts and upright parts of a piano action are generally hardwood e. World War II brought about plastics which were originally incorporated into some pianos in the s and s, but were clearly disastrous, crystallizing and losing their strength after only a few decades of use. The Steinway firm once incorporated Teflon, a synthetic material developed by DuPont, for some grand action parts in place of cloth, but ultimately abandoned the experiment due to an inherent "clicking" which invariably developed over time. More recently, the Kawai firm has built pianos with action parts made of more modern and effective plastics such as nylon ; these parts have held up better and have generally received the respect of piano technicians.
The part of the piano where materials probably matter more than anywhere else is the soundboard. In quality pianos this is made of solid spruce that is, spruce boards glued together at their edges. Spruce is chosen for its high ratio of strength to weight. The best piano makers use close-grained, quarter-sawn, defect-free spruce, and make sure that it has been carefully dried over a long period of time before making it into soundboards. In cheap pianos, the soundboard is often laminated; i.
Piano keys are generally made of spruce or basswood, for lightness. Spruce is normally used in high-quality pianos. Traditionally, the sharps black keys were made from ebony and the flats white keys were covered with strips of ivory , but since ivory-yielding species are now endangered and protected by treaty, plastics are now almost exclusively used.
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