I have played the piano for as long as I can remember. For me, it’s one of the most beautiful sounding instruments in the world and has a relaxing and calming feeling when playing it. The range of emotions that one can express through piano music is vast so it’s no wonder that composers over the eras have included this instrument so frequently in their work.
Table of Contents
- What Kind Of Instrument Is A Piano
- How Does The Piano Work?
- Is Piano A String Instrument?
- Is Piano Percussion?
- So, What Kind Of Instrument Is A Piano?
- Video: Is The Piano Both A Percussion And A Stringed Instrument?
What Kind Of Instrument Is A Piano
The piano was initially invented in 1700 as an alternative to the then commonly used harpsichord. If you listen to music from the baroque period and the early classical period, the harpsichord was a major feature.
However, Cristofori, the inventor of the piano, noticed how the player has very little control over the volume of the harpsichord which could sometimes ruin a piece of music that was meant to be a little more tender. That’s why he came up with the complex instrument that we all know and love.
But since these instruments work using keys, strings, and little hammers, a lot of people become confused over whether they belong in the string, percussion, or even keyboard families of instruments. Let’s find out more.
Pianos have 88 keys which allow the pianist to place 12 major scales and 12 minor scales. This makes the piano a truly versatile instrument that is able to play a wide range of music. But how does everything work?
From the outside, the piano might look like a relatively simple instrument. It’s essentially a box of wood with some keys laid on it, right? But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Each one of those 88 piano keys is attached to a hammer inside the instrument. When you hit the key, the hammer strikes a tightened string.
Each of the strings within the piano vary in both thickness and length. The further up the piano you go, the smaller the strings become.
The longer and thicker strings make a much lower sound than those that are thinner and shorter. At the far right side of the piano, the strings are the shortest and thinnest so you get a very high-pitched, almost tinkling sound whereas those at the right side are thicker and longer and produce a deeper note.
It is when the hammer hits these strings that the sound is made and once this happens, the hammer moves back into its original position.
The traditional method of putting instruments into families is known as the Hornbostel-Sachs system and this initially put the piano into the chordophone category. Don’t worry, that’s just a fancy word for a string instrument!
But what is a string instrument and does the piano truly belong in this family?
String instruments are classified as instruments that are played by vibrating strings which produce sound. These strings can be plucked, strummed or even rubbed with a bow to make sound but that’s not how a piano works. While the string system of a piano is similar to that of a harp or a lyre, the fact that they are hammered and not plucked sets it apart slightly.
So, yes, the piano is a part of the string family. But it has its roots in other musical instrument families too. Some other string instruments include the guitar, the violin, the cello, and the zither.
Percussion instruments, by definition, produce sound when it is hit, scraped, or shaken. Some obvious examples of these types of instruments are the drums, maracas, and the xylophone. Although there are some more obscure and exotic percussion instruments such as the marimba, the gong, the castanets, and the celesta.
But when you think about how a piano works, it’s easy to see why it also falls into this family. The little hammers that strike the strings inside the piano are making sound by hitting and this is exactly what a percussion instrument is.
I love playing the piano and I’ve always owned an upright piano. That was, until last year when I decided to jump on the modern bandwagon and buy an electric piano. To be honest, I was pretty skeptical that an electric piano could ever come close to feeling the same as a traditional one. But boy was I wrong.
The keys did not, as I had expected, feel like the lightweight keys of a keyboard but were weighted and solid just like my upright piano. But there are no strings and no little hammers and for all intents and purposes, my electric piano looks like a keyboard. So is it?
Well, that’s where things get even more confusing because the piano is now also categorized within the keyboard family. Keyboards are instruments that make a sound when a key is struck and they’re among some of the most versatile instruments in terms of how you can play them and the sounds they produce.
Other instruments in this family include the aptly named keyboard, the harpsichord, and the organ. But our good friend the piano has muscled its way in there too!
See also: Synthesizer vs Keyboard
Video: Is The Piano Both A Percussion And A Stringed Instrument?
For many of us, there has to be a clear cut answer to any question. When it comes to musical instruments, it may seem absurd to many that a single instrument can be classified into as many as three categories.
That would never happen with the likes of a violin, flute, or trombone so where does the piano get off sitting comfortable in the string, percussion and keyboard families?
Well, the special thing about the piano is that it’s much more complex than a lot of other instruments. It was invented as a way of being able to control volume where the harpsichord failed so there was a need for the internal workings to be a little more detailed.
As such, the piano has a complex system of strings and hammers along with keys that the player can press to make sounds. So, while most instruments happily exist in a single family, the piano is much more versatile! And this article doesn’t even cover the piano accordion!