(Last Updated on : 20/04/2012)
The piano is a keyboard instrument belonging to the family of organs. Its origins date as far back as the psalterion. The word piano is a shortened form of the word pianoforte, which is derived from the original Italian name for the instrument, clavicembalo (or gravicembalo) col piano e forte (literally harpsichord with soft and loud). This refers to the instrument`s responsiveness to keyboard touch, which allows the pianist to produce notes at different dynamic levels by controlling the speed with which the hammers hit the strings. The piano has a vertical soundboard with strings laid out across it. The modern grand piano has developed form the English model, as compared to the other Viennese model. From 1855 onward, the grand piano was built by the Steinway Company. English craftsmen also contributed to the invention of the cast-iron frame. This allowed the string tension to be increased, resulting in the fuller sound that was typical of the English model.
The instrument of the piano consists of a keyboard, strings, hammers, dampers and pedals. Many parts of a piano are made of materials selected for sturdiness. In quality pianos, the outer rim of the piano is made of a hardwood, normally maple or beech. The way it works is that the key throws a hammer against a single string or a group of three or more strings tuned to the same note. This is a technique that had existed in the primitive form since the fifteenth century. There are either two or three pedals attached to the instrument. Of these, the one on the right hand lifts the dampers away from the strings so they can resonate freely. The pedal on the left-hand side halts the movement of the hammer just short of the strings, so that the contact is softer. In case of the grand pianos, the left hand pedal actually moves the hammers slightly to the side so that they do not hit the whole set of strings but just one or two out of three. The third pedal allows just one note to be sustained. This pedal is not always fitted.
A variety of different kinds of pianos have been made over the years. The two most popular and widely used forms are the upright piano and the grand piano. The upright piano came on the scene around the 1800s. It is very popular organ instrument that is much in use and is found in the houses and parlours of many families. Of the various kinds of pianos that are in use today, the most popular is the Grand piano. This is the name given, in principle, to every piano whose strings run horizontally and all, or nearly all, in line with the keys (as opposed to the upright and baby pianos) and therefore has cases in the shape of a bird`s wing. This shape first appeared in 1521 in a harpsichord made by Heironymus Bononicnsis (also known as Geronimo) who was working in Bologna. This instrument is the oldest harpsichord extant and is preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. Grand pianos come in different models up to a length of nearly 11 feet. The concert grand, the largest of them all, has crossed strings, a repeat action and a cast iron frame rather than the older wooden type.
Another popular piano is the baby piano. The baby piano is a pianino, a little instrument that has been available-though not widely so-since 1828, with a low body and slightly more restricted sound than the standard piano. It was made possible by, amongst other things, sloping the bass strings diagonally across the frame. The giraffe piano was built as a vertically standing grand piano, with the strings struck from below. This instrument enjoyed moderate popularity in the mid-eighteenth century, and again in the early nineteenth century.
The piano has traditionally played a very important role in the World of Western Classical music and continues to do so. A number of famous composers have written for the piano which remains to this day one of the most important and popular instruments in music the world over. Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Bela Bartok, Schumann are some of the world-famous names in the field of piano composition and music. The piano is extensively used ion the world of Films, jazz, television and many other genres. In fact the majority of different types of music make use of the piano.
Indian music too has made extensive use of the piano. It is used as one of the prime instruments in music composition as well as performance in Indian film music
. It was first popularised in India by the British, and from there on it continued to function as a popular instrument here. It is used in school plays and dramas, in the different kinds of theatrical productions, in popular music, film music, as well as western classical music which is quite a strong tradition here.