How a Piano Works

Posted by Drew Kalinski on

The Inner Workings of a Piano

The piano is a fine instrument that combines strings and hammers to make the musical melodies that we all enjoy. Despite this popularity, however, the piano was actually not the first keyboard-type instrument: the organ predates the piano by several hundred years. Originally named the pianoforte, the piano was set apart from the organ because it was the first keyboard type instrument on which the dynamic level (how much sound the instrument makes) could be manipulated. With the organ, the player could only play one dynamic level. The only way the organ could play any louder was if more pipes were opened. With the piano, the player could press on the keys harder and the dynamic level would be louder.

Major components:




Sustain pedal

Damper pads

How it Works:

Pianos are complex. There are a lot of steps that go into playing even one note. It all starts out when you press down on a key. As you press the key down, a piece of wood behind the fingerboard will press up slightly. Connected to this piece of wood is another, thinner piece of wood. There is a felt hammer on the end of the the thinner piece of wood that is forced toward the strings. 

All of the strings are arranged in a certain way on the inside of the instrument. For the lowest notes, there is one very dense string per key. Then, for the notes that are toward the middle, there are two strings per key. Finally, toward the top of the register, there are three strings per key. The more strings per key, the more quiet the note is, so that's why keys on the "higher" end of the keyboard are slightly more quiet. It takes more strings to produce balanced sound throughout the instrument. 

Inside upright versions of the instrument, the strings are vertical, while in grand pianos, the strings are horizontal. If the player holds down a key, the damper pad will stay off of the string, allowing the sound to resonate until the player lets go. The player also has the option of holding down the sustain pedal that is located by the player's feet. This takes the damper pads off of all of the strings and allows every note played to resonate freely.

Pianos are the most recognized instruments in the world. Many people have perfected their craft on these fine instruments. Perhaps its legacy will live on through the rest of human existence and provide entertainment for years to come.

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