Whether you first heard the piano in a classical composition, in a jazz combo, or as part of a rock band, this instrument's history goes back hundreds of years to the Baroque era. At that point in time, the harpsicord was developed - similar to today's wooden pianos but with one key difference: the strings were plucked, rather than hit with a hammer, to make a noise.
But, the harpsicord had limitations in terms of dynamics. So, in the early 18th century, Bartolomeo di Francesco Cristofori created the first "pianoforte," which allowed the player to vary the volume. With hammers striking the strings, the instrument's loudness depended on how hard or light the player pressed the keys.
As a second and equally definitive feature, the pianoforte included a series of pedals, which let the player to sustain tones or clip them in a more staccato fashion.
Today, pianos can be found across all musical genres and styles. Yet, no matter if the instrument is in a concert hall or a music studio, pianos are divided into the following types:
This is your typical classical piano, built to resonate in a large concert hall and true to the original design. Available in full (nine foot) and shorter baby grand (five foot) lengths, this piano delivers the greatest amount of sound and variety of timbre, resulting in an expansive dynamic range.
To create that degree of sound, the wooden piano features a metal frame and horizontal soundboard on the inside. A series of dampers and hammers run horizontally over the strings, and as the player places their fingers on the keys, these mechanisms hit the strings, while the soundboard helps amplify the sound. Lifting off the top allows the sound to project even more.
Grand pianos, setting the bar for all other models, have 88 keys and three pedals that alter the volume and tone:
- Sostenuto, located in the middle, places the dampers up and away from the strings, allowing certain pitches to be held for longer.
- Damper pedal, on the right, fully lifts the dampers to allow all strings to vibrate fully and the player to sustain all tones.
- Una corda, on the left, shortens and thins the piano's tone by moving the full keyboard action to the right. This prevents the hammers from hitting all of the strings with the full head.
Today, you'll spot grand pianos crafted out of fine woods like mahogany or with a white or black finish.
Upright models reconfigure the grand piano into a more compact model that's ideal for homes with limited space and practice rooms. However, while upright pianos make solid models for refining your skills and listening to the instrument's full range of dynamic and sonic possibilities, key differences exist:
- Because the strings run vertically, perpendicular to the keys, a spring mechanism powers the hammers and dampers. This aspect can affect the feel and key repetition.
- As uprights are designed to be practice pianos, the center and left pedals partially dampen the sound.
- Multiple sizes are available, including studio pianos that stand 44 to 47 inches tall and console pianos ranging from 40 to 44 inches tall.
Digital and Hybrid Pianos
Digital pianos emerged a couple of decades ago as another convenient practice solution. Today, they maintain nearly the same format as uprights, but the sound generated is often a sample from an acoustic piano. As well, such models allow the user to plug in a set of headphones, eliminating any possible noise and vibrations. In turn, digital pianos make reliable starter models and are ideal for individuals needing to practice in an apartment or shared space.
To replicate the feel of an acoustic piano, these models often feature weighted keys and are touch sensitive.
Digital pianos shouldn't be confused with a keyboard, however. Although they both make use of similar technologies, keyboards tend to be lighter, don't utilize weighted keys, and include sampling capabilities, making them ideal for music recording and production.
Hybrid pianos exist in the space between fully acoustic and digital models. Hybrids feature hammers, although no strings are involved, yet are smaller than an upright. For a more authentic playing experience, hybrids provide full-length keys, which are usually made of wood instead of plastic.
Find Your Piano
Whether you're starting out, want a quality practice piano, or need a new grand for your music school or concert hall, take your search to Alamo Music Center. Find new and used grand, upright, digital and hybrid pianos for sale, from Kawai, Steinway & Sons, Yamaha, Baldwin, Casio, Roland and more top manufacturers. We offer multiple financing and layaway options, including 12- to 48-month, no-interest options at times, plus trial lessons and an extended warranty.