The Grand Piano, What’s in it?

What is in your piano? What are the things that are making the sound?

The Piano is a piece of Art, an Engineered Art, made solely for making sound. Under the fingers of pianists, Music is born! Let’s take a look what’s under the hood!

The exploded view of a Grand Piano shows the Frame, Soundboard, Strings, Action, Pedals, Case, Pin Block, Bridge.

Typical strings design of a Grand Piano

How do you play a piano? Basically, you need to use a hammer to create sound. BUT WAIT!!!! Before you get any wild ideas and get a hammer, take a look at the picture below.

This is the Hammer. It is a felted mallet which is driven to hit the strings by the piano action to producing sound. Piano hammers have a spring like action due to two tension and compression forces. Highly compressed felt is formed around a wood core under high pressure to make piano hammers.

Showing an illustration of the Grand Piano keyboard action construction. The Action module consists of 57 parts, interlinked to allow the Hammer to strike the Piano strings when the pianist presses the keys. When the Key is pressed, the Hammer moves towards the strings, transferring kinetic energy into strings in approximately 2 milliseconds of contact time. The strings vibrates mechanically (structural borne noise) converting into acoustic energy (airborne noise).

It is hard to visualize the mechanical action, luckily, someone already created a simulation so we may all understand the mechanics.

Credits to Jared Owen. Part 1 covers the different parts and functions Action module of the Grand Piano

Now that we know the key movements, the next part emphasize on the sound quality produced with and without the pedals

Credits to Jared Owen. Part 2 covers the Three Foot Pedals of the Grand Piano.

The ingenuity and hard-work of engineers who makes the Grand Piano into a piece of art for Pianists throughout the world and ages. Upon playing on one such pianos, you will understand why it is call a Grand Piano!!

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Piano Through The Ages

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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Music and Painting — Marina Kanavaki

As a musician and painter I’ve always listened to music while painting… never the other way round though. However, this one is about music moving my hand on canvas and although this was not the music I was listening to when I painted this ‘Character’, it may well had been. In this version too, with […]

Music and Painting — Marina Kanavaki

How music and rhythm shape our social brains — One Regular Guy Writing about Food, Exercise and Living Past 100

A universal sign of motherhood is the lullaby. The world over, mothers sing to their babies, whether Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, their favorite song from the radio, or even random notes. This universality makes the simple lullaby a great window into the human mind. In a new study, cognitive neuroscientists found that lullabies soothe both […]

How music and rhythm shape our social brains — One Regular Guy Writing about Food, Exercise and Living Past 100

We Are ONLINE!!!

With the COVID-19 Circuit Breaker in effect, our Piano Lessons are now ONLINE!

Piano Lessons conducted and attended in the comfort of our homes!!

Stay Home, Stay Safe, Stay Connected….. With Music!!!

Quick conversion of my home’s Study Room into a Music Studio for Online lessons

Lessons using ‘The ONE Smart Piano Classroom’ and ‘Music & Movement Method’

Combining technology with music and movement, fun was all around…

Music and movement to learn music theory
Kids becomes ‘Notes’… moving with the music
Group class… yet individually playing the piano
Playing the piano… literally

Violin lessons added to our portfolio

A Successful 2019 Year End Concert

We have just concluded the Year End Concert for 2019 and EVERYONE ARE WINNERS!!! You have all challenged yourselves to perform on stage… and with style. We will do it again in 2020!!! Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!! Enjoy all the brilliant performances from the links below…..


Here are some of the songs that was performed…

  1. Feelin’ Spiffy performed by Narius Foo and Ms Wong
  2. Prelude in C major performed by Shriram
  3. Lied ohne Worte performed by Brielle Ang
  4. River Flows In You performed by Tan Jaymie
  5. Gigue performed by Kennis Tan
  6. Rustic Dance performed by Shalini and Ms Wong
  7. Battle of the Stars composed and performed by Nathaniel Foo
  8. The Man I Love performed by Jeremy Sia

2019 Concert @ OC

We are organising our Year End Concert at Orchard Central on 9th December 2019.