Portal:Piano

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A 19th-century grand piano

The piano is a musical instrument played using a keyboard. It is widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment and for composing and rehearsal. Although the piano is not portable and often expensive, its versatility and ubiquity have made it one of the world's most familiar musical instruments.

Pressing a key on the piano's keyboard causes a padded (often with felt) hammer to strike steel strings. The hammers rebound, and the strings continue to vibrate at their resonant frequency. These vibrations are transmitted through a bridge to a sounding board that more efficiently couples the acoustic energy to the air. The sound would otherwise be no louder than that directly produced by the strings. When the key is released, a damper stops the string's vibration and the sound. In the Hornbostel-Sachs system of instrument classification, pianos are considered chordophones.

The word piano is a shortened form of pianoforte (PF), the Italian word for the instrument (which in turn derives from the previous terms gravicembalo col piano e forte and fortepiano). The Italian musical terms piano and forte indicate "soft" and "strong" respectively, in this context referring to the variations in sound volume the instrument produces in response to a pianist's touch on the keys: the greater the velocity of a key press, the greater the force of the hammer hitting the strings, and the louder the sound of the note produced.


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Fortepiano by Paul McNulty after Walter & Sohn, ca. 1805

Fortepiano designates the early version of the piano, from its invention by the Italian instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori around 1700 up to the early 19th century. It was the instrument for which Haydn, Mozart, and the early Beethoven wrote their piano music. Starting in Beethoven's time, the fortepiano began a period of steady evolution, culminating in the late 19th century with the modern grand. The earlier fortepiano became obsolete and was absent from the musical scene for many decades. In the 20th century the fortepiano was revived, following the rise of interest in historically informed performance.

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Chopin's Pleyel piano on Majorca

Pleyel et Cie ("Pleyel and Company") is a French piano manufacturing firm founded by the composer Ignace Pleyel in 1807. In 1815, he was joined by his son, Camille, as a business partner. The firm provided pianos to Frédéric Chopin, and also ran a concert hall, the Salle Pleyel, where Chopin performed his first — and last — Paris concerts. Pleyel's major contribution to piano development was the first use of a metal frame in a piano. Pleyel pianos were the choice of composers such as Debussy, Saint-Saëns, Ravel, de Falla, and Stravinsky.

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Ary Scheffer Chopin portrait Dordrecht Museum 1847 cropped.jpg

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Lyre piano (Berlin, around 1840) at the Musical Instrument Museum, Berlin
Credit: Morn
A Lyre piano (Berlin, c. 1840) at the Berlin Musical Instrument Museum


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I think one of the best things you can do, no matter what you play, is to take up piano. Music is based on chord changes and harmonies, and you can get 'em more out of an instrument like piano, where you can hear all the notes at once.
—John Haley Sims

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