A Belgian Harpsichord Circa 1609
A breath powered 37 Key Melodica
A Greek Style "Lyre"
The idea of using a keyboard to play music been around for over 2000 years. The Greeks had devised key operated Organs in the 3rd Century B.C. The word Organ comes from the Greek word for Tool.
By 1361 there were massive church organs like the one in Halberstadt, Germany. The air was supplied by a team of men working massive bellows.
You can see the early stages of a Piano "Keyboard" or "Manual".
Having to pay people to operate
the Bellows made practice expensive.
Many Organ players would practice
on a Portative Organ.
The player would pump the Bellows
with their left hand while playing the
keyboard with their right hand.
While the Piano does have keys like an Organ it does not use air blown through pipes to make sound, it uses strings.
Before recorded history early humans discovered that by stretching a string between sticks you could make all kinds of useful thing like a Catapult, a Bow, a Drying rack, a Bed, a Fire starter and a Music Maker.
Early humans made string from many kinds of natural materials including Plant Fiber, Horse Hair, Intestines, Silk, Linen and Rawhide.
When you fire an Arrow the Bow string makes a cool sound. At some point early humans saw the potential for a stringed instrument by adding a resonance box to amplify the sound of the taught Bow string.
Early Stringed instruments were probably very similar to the African Bow Harp or the Greek Lyre.
The first metal strings that we know about were made in
Germany in 1351 well before the Harpsichord, they where
probably used on a popular a Harp like instrument called a Zither.
THE KEYED ZITHER
Many people experimented with ways to use an Organ style keyboard to play the strings of a Zither.
Clavichord - Invented around 1400
Like a Piano the Clavichord would hit the strings will little hammers.
The keys did allow for some touch sensitivity, no matter how hard you
hit the keys Clavichords where not loud enough for performance.
Both Clavichords and Harpsichords were generally too quiet to be used for performance. Trumpets and Violins were much louder.
They also lacked touch sensitivity, hitting the key harder or softer had little or no effect on the volume of the note.
A Bartolomeo Cristofori Piano Circa 1720
Despite their lack of volume a popular German Composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, wrote Concertos for Harpsichord in the early 1700's
1973 Fender Rhodes Electric Piano (Click to Listen)
These days almost all Piano style instruments that you plug in are like Sythesizers, they use computer chips to generate sounds controlled by pressing the Piano style keys. When people are talking about an Electric Piano they are usually referring to a Synth with 88 Weighted keys, traditional styling and mostly preset Piano sounds. A "Workstation" is a do everything Synth that can be connected to other computers and instruments Via Midi or USB. Workstations can emulate thousands of sounds including Drums and Animal noises!.
THE MODERN PIANO
Early examples of a Piano date to 1700. The Inventor of the Piano is commonly considered to be Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655–1731) of Padua, Italy. At the time of his invention he was the "Keeper of the Instruments" for the Grand Prince of Tuscany.
Bartolomeo Cristofori was a master Harpsichord builder, he
saw his design for the Piano as the solution to the volume and
dynamics issues. What made his design special was the "Action"
or mechanism he devised for the the strings to be struck by a
hammer with a force relative to the force applied to the key.
The name was originally "un cimbalo di cipresso di piano e forte" which translates to "a keyboard of cypress with soft and loud". Over time this name became shortened to "PianoForte" and ultimately just "Piano".
With this history you can see why a Piano is classified a "Keyed Zither".
Because the strings are struck with a hammer, the Piano is
also considered a "Stringed Percussion" instrument.
Click to Listen
The Main Keyboard of the Halberstadt Organ
Alesis Cadenza Premium 88-Key Digital Piano
A Portative Organ Circa 1500
The first hit song played on an Electric Piano was "What'd I Say" by Ray Charles in 1959.
It was played on Wurlizer 120 electric Piano.
For more information including price and how to purchase, click on item photos
Yamaha Tyros5 76-key Arranger Workstation
There are other popular keyed instruments that have their own history.
If you can play Piano, you can play one of these.
Other Keyed instruments:
The Fender company produced the Electric Piano design of Harold Rhodes and became known as the Fender Rhodes. The Fender Rhodes sound is synonymous with the 1970's.
Hits like Elton Johns "Daniel" from 1973 and Billy Joels "Just the way you are" from 1977 are signature Fender Rhodes songs.
African Bow Harp
Electric Pianos began being developed at around 1930, the same time as the Electric Guitar. A true electric Piano has moving parts that hit small tuned pieces of metal. The sound from these pieces of metal is amplified electrically producing a Piano like sound. In the Mid 50s two company's were making the electric piano popular. Wurlizer and Fender..
Zither strings could be plucked or struck
A Yamaha DX-7 was used on the Doogie Howser Theme Music in 1989 (Click to Listen)
A Roman band entertains Gladiators with a "Hydraulis" Water Organ
A pair of "Calcant's" operating the Bellows
A 1977 "Mini Moog" like the one use on Donna Summers "I feel Love" (Click to Listen)
A Stodart Grand Piano
Made in London, 1795
Synthesizers differ from Electric pianos in that they do not amplify any physical sound.
The noise you hear is generated completely by electronics. The first Synthesizers were
built by electronic's enthusiasts like Doctor Robert Moog in the 1960's.
By the 1980s Synthesizers were mass produced by many manufactures. One of the most populars "Synth's" of the 1980's was the Yamaha DX7
The keyed "Accordion" was invented in Russia in the 1820's. It shares its Ancestory with the Piano through the Portative Organ.
Harpsichord - Invented around 1430
Unlike Piano, Harpsichord's Pluck the Strings with the Quills of Bird Feathers.
The volume of a Harpsichord does not change, hitting the keys harder or softer
has no effect on the volume of the note.
1959 Wurlizer 120 Electric Piano (Click to Listen)
Another inventor working in the new field of electric powered instruments was Laurens Hammond. Using Tone wheel technology taken from Morse Code equipment Hammond developed an Organ like sound. He started selling his Hammond Organs in 1935. Though originally intended to be a lower cost alternative to church organs, the Hammond B3 became popular with Bands of the 1960's and 1970's. The Leslie speaker system spun two Speaker cones around at high speed to create a Tremelo effect.
Hohner Atlantic IV Accordian
The Hammond B-3 Organ with a Leslie Speaker Cabinet
Click to Listen
An Italian "Lépante" Clavichord Circa 1580
A fun way to get familiar with the Piano keyboard is with a Melodica invented in the 1950's.