We play the piano, we know the 88 keys, but do we know the history? Let’s take a short trip to… maybe a few centuries ago. Once upon a time in the Middle East.

Introducing the generations of Piano and their evolution through the ages, starting with the Great-great-great-grand father’s Great Grand Father, Dulcimer.

1 dulcimer

Dulcimer was born in Iran, shortly after the birth of Christ. It uses the basic principles of the piano, with hammers striking multiple strings tuned over a flat soundboard.

Dulcimer players uses two light sticks with a broader blade at the striking end. Different types of Dulcimer went as far as China.

Modern Cimbalom are direct descendants of the Dulcimer.  

Next in line or maybe 500 years later, the Clavichord was born around the early fourteenth century.  

In 1504, the German poem “Der Minne Regeln” mentions the terms clavicimbalum (a term used mainly for the harpsichord) and clavichordium, designating them as the best instruments to accompany melodies. 

One of the earliest references to the clavichord in England occurs in the privy-purse expenses of Elizabeth of York, queen of Henry VII, in an entry dated August 1502.

The Clavichord uses keyboards attached, at the other end, vertical brass strip, when pressed, will rise and hit a pair of strings.

This same pair of strings can also produce a second pitch, when struck by a neighboring key at a lower or higher point along the string.

In compensation for a weak tone, the Clavichord’s lever contact between finger and strings allow for controls of dynamics.

3 Virginal

In 1511, creation of the Virginal in replica to the Clavichord, encloses a small harpsichord with keys at right angles to a set of strings.

The mechanics is similar to the Clavichord. While creating a louder tone, it lacks the dynamic variety of its elder brother. It was the favorite instruments of composers during Shakespeare’s era. With two keyboards designed, it can also be used for two players.

A demonstration of the Virginal instrument by James Nicholson.

Made in Italy, this triangular wing shaped instrument is call the Spinet. It was later perfected by the English builders in late 17th century during the time of Henry Purcell.

4 Spinet

As in the Virginal, the mechanism plucks the strings, but with the wing shape, it permitted longer strings to increase the volume as well as expanding to five octaves.

The Spinet was the typical family keyboard instrument of the period. A triangular instrument or table?

 Four small pieces by Bach performed on a Spinet.

5 harpsichord

The widely known Harpsichord.

Created in early 15th Century, it reached its peak when Bach and Handel were still alive and making music. The Harpsichord set the future for Grand Piano in terms of the general shape.

With the vast increase internally, the Harpsichord tonal power due to the string length was increased many times greater than that of the Spinet.

Builders developed multiple keyboards with Couplers and Stops mechanisms to control additional sets of strings.

Couplers are devices enabling one key to pluck several strings at once and Stops are mechanisms that produces different registers or tone qualities

Making way for a new era of music making, the creation of Grand Piano using Hammer Action Keyboards that we know, instead of the strings strumming, hitting or plucking methods.

6 cristofori piano-forte

Made in Italy!!!

the FIRST Grand Piano was successfully created by Bartolomeo Cristofori in 1720 in Florence, Italy known as Cristofori Piano-Forte, pioneer in hammer-action keyboard used in pianos now.

It was very well designed and well-made that for 75 years, no other of comparable sensitivity and reliability could surpass its performance.

Current highly complex action of the modern piano may be traced to his original concepts.

Piano of Beethoven’s period during the 18th century saw a gradual extension of the keyboard, using heavier hammers and strings that required stronger frames. 

7 piano of beethoven's period

Two significant new developments were the escapement action for faster repetition of notes in 1770 by Stein in Augsburg and the addition of dampers and soft pedals by Broadwood in London, 1783.

This piano has five pedals instead of three, the additional special pedals were added to produce exotic effects such as Turkish percussion.

Example of a 5 pedal piano

8 upright piano

The Upright piano’s design were already used by the Harpsichord in the 16th century. In 18th century, German builders attempted to make the Piano-Forte stand up straight.

The first successful standing piano was invented independently by Hawkins of Philadelphia and Mueller of Vienna in 1800, followed by Robert Wornum’s  compact “English Cottage Piano”.

Thus making way for standing tall pianos knows as Upright Piano.

9 square grand piano

in 1742 German builders, notably Johannes Socher, adapted Cristofori’s Piano Forte to the traditional rectangular shape of the Clavichord.

Instead of Rectangular shape, they squared it, into the  Square Grand Piano.

With engineering in mind for high tensions on shorter strings, it forced new developments in the metal bracing of the wooded frame. It also boasted tuning stability in the process of making a square.

The Square Grand Piano remains quite popular until 1900. 

Titanic Theme played on a 1870’s Square Grand Piano by Jonathan Mayorov.

Thus the Grand Piano becomes the favorite ‘must have’ for professional pianists worldwide!

One of the most outstanding improvement during Lincoln’s period was the Double-Repetition Action of Sebastian Erard from Paris in 1821, making extremely rapid repetition possible.

Also added was the Full Cast Iron Frame of Alphaeus Babcock from Boston in 1825.

The piano in the picture was used by Lincoln’s family in the White House from 1860 to 1865.

We now enter Modern Times

Today, Modern Grand Piano inherits all the refinements of its ancestors including additional improvements which greatly allow for musical range and depth as well as durability and stability.

Foremost in improvements is the use of the cross stringing to allow for greater richness of tone by passing more strings over the resonant center of the soundboard.  

The sostenuto or middle pedal, permitted greater scope of musical coloring.

12 modern grand piano


From the first Dulcimer to the current Modern Grand Piano, much progress were made to the size, sound and playing methods, made by technological advances.

But one thing does not change, The Love of Music remains unchanged but made stronger by all the engineering innovations and continuous improvements.

Definitely worth time and money spent on such an instrument. Continue to enjoy your piano and play beautiful music, where every piece played becomes a tribute to those who made it happen!!!

Let’s Share the knowledge around so that we may all appreciate piano music better!

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