Piano forerunners: history of music, first keyboard instruments, varieties, instrument design, stages of development, modern look and sound

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Piano forerunners: history of music, first keyboard instruments, varieties, instrument design, stages of development, modern look and sound
Piano forerunners: history of music, first keyboard instruments, varieties, instrument design, stages of development, modern look and sound

Video: Piano forerunners: history of music, first keyboard instruments, varieties, instrument design, stages of development, modern look and sound

Video: Piano forerunners: history of music, first keyboard instruments, varieties, instrument design, stages of development, modern look and sound
Video: Piano evolution, history of keyboard instruments 2023, October

The first thing that comes to mind when asked what musical instruments you know is the piano. Indeed, this keyboard invention is a classic in the art of music. It is with the help of him that musical literacy and solfeggio are studied.

But did it immediately appear in the form in which we know it, and if not, what musical instrument was the forerunner of the piano?

From the beginning: monochord

The earliest and most famous progenitor of the piano is the monochord instrument. It is usually referred to as a plucked string group, however, the purpose for which it was used closely resembled one of the roles of the future keyboard instrument.

The forerunner of the piano carries its history back to ancient Greek antiquity (6th century BC). The creators include Pythagoras.


Monochord is a musical invention, the purpose of which is to set intervals by fixing certain lengthsparts excited by plucking a string

Monochord instrument
Monochord instrument

He was:

  • from base;
  • two sills;
  • moving stand;
  • one stretched string.

For a more accurate understanding, markers indicating the scale of string divisions could be applied to the predecessor of the piano.

Problem: The monochord has been an integral element in the study of musical theory since ancient times and reaching the borders of the Baroque. It was a manual for elementary literacy (solfeggio) and served as the best tool for musical recognition.

More detailed instructions on how to use this tool, focusing on the principles of Pythagoras, can be found in Euclid's "Division of the Canon". The author of the scientific work was a native of Ancient Greece, where he studied the theory of mathematics.

During practice on the monochord, Pythagoras was able to figure out how the pitch can affect the division of the string. According to the principle of this invention, polychords with a large number of strings were also created by enthusiasts.

Methods of sound extraction were different: plucking, hitting, using mandolins (picks). However, a big step in the development of the instrument and the forerunner of the piano was the creation of a keyboard mechanism.


The clavichord is one of the oldest instruments that emerged from the monochord. The exact time of creation is not dated so far. However, there is evidence of the first surviving clavichord, the production date of which falls on 1543. Invented by DominicPisan. Also, the earliest documentary mention of the instrument dates back to 1396.

clavichord instrument
clavichord instrument

If the monochord belonged entirely to the group of plucked strings, then the principle of a keyboard stringed instrument already had its origin in the clavichord.


Building the vintage keyboard and forerunner of the piano:

  • cap;
  • custom tuners;
  • tangents - metal rods with a flat top;
  • strings;
  • keys.

The size of the clavichord could be the volume of a book and reach the body length of 1.5 meters.

In practice

The principle of operation: the sound was extracted using the very same tangents. When the key was pressed, the pin struck the string like a hammer. There was one string per key (unlike the piano, where up to three strings work on one key at once).

The main performance was the bebung technique - one of the options for keyboard vibrato, the reproduction of which was possible only on the harpsichord.

Because the dynamic range was quite poor, doubling or even tripling the strings for each tone was used to increase the volume.

The sound volume varied from the original two and a half octaves to four (in the 16th century), and then expanded the boundaries to five octaves.

This keyboard instrument and forerunner of the piano was most often used in home music making, however, there were options with larger keyboards and pedals,allowing organists to practice on them.


There were two versions of the clavichord: connected and free.

1. The connected view had a simplified string set. In this case, tangets in the amount of two or three keys beat the same string, but only in its different parts. This option allowed to reduce the number of strings, but at the same time limited the possibility of playing several notes at the same time.

2. The free form had a complete set, where each key corresponded to a certain individual string.

The instrument got its moment of glory in the 17th-18th centuries. Famous composers such as Bach and his son Karl, as well as Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, had a hand in writing for the clavichord.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the forerunner of the piano was completely replaced by its young child.

Harpsichord: history

The harpsichord, like the clavichord, is a stringed keyboard instrument, the sound of which is plucked.

The documented history of the harpsichord dates back to 1397 from a Padua (Italian) source. The first attempt to depict the instrument was made in 1425 in the city of Minden (Germany) on the altar of the cathedral.

The first written description is due to Arno, a native of Holland, who depicted a harpsichord-like instrument in a drawing. The work dates from 1445. Unfortunately, however, no 15th-century harpsichords have been preserved.

Harpsichord instrument
Harpsichord instrument

Based on data that has come down to date,the instruments had small short volumes with a fairly massive body. Most of the samples were made in the scientific and educational Italian city of Venice.

The registers were quite elegant, the body was made of cypress wood. The attack of the sound was much clearer and sharper, which distinguished the harpsichord from the previously described forerunner of the piano - the clavichord.

Also a major center for the manufacture of tools was the second major city of Antwerp, located in Belgium. This production was led by the Ruckers family, subsequently creating a whole dynasty of craftsmen. Their individual work is distinguished by elongated strings and a heavy body.

Since 1590, harpsichords have been invented with two keyboards (manuals).

In the 17th century, representatives of France, Germany and England follow in the footsteps of their Flemish predecessors, some of whose works have survived to this day. The sample cases were crafted from walnut.

In 1690, the work of the Ruckers was continued by French colleagues, the production of the Blanche family becomes especially successful.

The family of Kirkman and Shudi were considered famous English masters. Their work was recognizable by its plywood-covered oak wood body and the wide sound of the instrument's brightly colored timbre.

In the German city and harpsichord-making center of Hamburg, harpsichords with triple manuals were created.

The forerunner of the modern piano retained its solo status until the very end of the 18th century, until a young and more advanced instrument supplanted the first one insecond half of the same century.

In 1809, the Kirkman company created the last sample, and a year later the harpsichord finally fell into disuse.

However, after a while, the tool regenerates, the instigator of which was the master of tools Arnold Dolmech. He creates the first instrument at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries in London (1896). After a successful experiment, Arnold opens workshops in France (Paris) and Boston (USA).

Harpsichord keys
Harpsichord keys

Starting from 1912, an era of a different aesthetics of the harpsichord was born. On the initiative of the pianist Wanda Landowska, the Pleyel workshop opens the production of concert instruments with a massive metal frame. The highlight of such samples was in the piano structure of the keyboard and pedals.

Unfortunately, in the second half of the 20th century, the fashion for concert products passes. Boston craftsmen Hubbard and Dowd are the first to start making replicas of vintage piano forerunners again.


In its original form, the tool was created in a quadrangular shape. In the 17th century, it was modernized into a geometric figure of a triangle with a pterygoid and oblong beginning. The strings were placed horizontally and parallel to the keyboard.

Sufficient attention was paid to the appearance of the instrument: the body was finished with carvings, drawings and inlays (decoration with materials different from those of the original surface).

Harpsichord body decoration
Harpsichord body decoration

The following details were present:

  • body;
  • deca;
  • cap;
  • steg;
  • socket;
  • tuning pegs;
  • keyboard.

Register capabilities

The sound of the harpsichord is very recognizable: ringing, sharp and even brilliant, but the forerunner of the piano as a musical instrument lacked melodiousness. This was due to the inability to smoothly increase and decrease the dynamics of the sound. In this regard, several registers were created that could actually be switched using manual mechanisms (levers), geographically they were located along the side boundaries of the keyboard. Shifters for legs and knees have been around since the late 1750s.

Depending on the model, the following registers were distinguished:

  • eight-foot - matched musical notation;
  • lute - came from an eight-pounder, when switching which the strings were muffled using a specialized mechanism made of leather or felt;
  • four-foot - sounded an octave higher;
  • sixteen feet - sounded an octave lower.


The range of the harpsichord (an instrument in front of the piano) in the 15th century was three octaves. A century later, the possibilities of sounding expanded to four octave units. In the 18th century, the range was able to reach its maximum - five octaves.

Typical representatives of harpsichords have two keyboards (manuals), two (8-foot) or one (4-foot) set of strings, which can be used at a time using the invented register switches. The copula mechanism also appeared, giving a chanceuse the registers of the second keyboard when playing the first one.


The clavicorn and harpsichord weren't the only keyboard instruments and forerunners of the piano. There were smaller samples with a single string set and four octaves.

  1. Spinet - the strings were stretched diagonally from left to right.
  2. The spinet is a relative of the clavichorn
    The spinet is a relative of the clavichorn
  3. Claviceterium - had elements of cithara, since the arrangement of the body and strings was vertical.
  4. Virginel - the manual was to the left of the center, and the strings were perpendicular to the keys.
  5. Muselar - the manual was already to the right of the base, the strings were still perpendicular.


At the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, musical figures began to feel quite strongly the lack of expressiveness in the keyboard version, which would not be inferior in sound to the violin.

The piano itself was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori, a master from Italy. In 1709, he worked on a mechanism that worked on the principle of a hammer, and after 2 years the experience of activity was described in a Venetian magazine by the art critic Scipio Maffei, who gave the instrument the name "pianoforte". In full translation, it sounds like this: "A keyboard instrument playing softly and loudly."

classical piano
classical piano

The debut work written for piano belongs to the 1732 century, a sonata by Ludovic Giustini.

Piano varieties

Many people have heard about the instruments undergrand piano and piano, but there is still confusion about their differences.

  • Piano - a smaller version of the piano, where the strings and soundboard are arranged vertically.
  • piano structure
    piano structure
  • Royale - the main form of the piano, the body of which is wing-shaped. Strings, soundboard and mechanics are arranged horizontally.
  • Classic grand piano
    Classic grand piano

The grand piano has a big advantage in terms of sound: the tone is richer and the range of dynamics is a hundred times wider.


For sounds located in the lower register, one string works, for the rest (middle and high) a pair or triple string group.

The range is from A sub-contra-octave to the fifth octave, for a total of 88 semitones or, more simply, keys.


The history of the piano and its predecessors goes back to the ancient times of antiquity. Each subsequent instrument was a step towards a more perfect form, without which now music is not possible.