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The piano, a common keyboard instrument

A keyboard instrument is any musical instrument played using a musical keyboard. The most common of these is the piano. Other widely used keyboard instruments include various types of organs as well as other mechanical, electromechanical and electronic instruments. In common language, it is mostly used to refer to keyboard-style synthesizers.

Among the earliest keyboard instruments are the pipe organ, hurdy gurdy, clavichord, and harpsichord. The organ is without doubt the oldest of these, appearing in the 3rd century BC, although this early instrument—called hydraulis--did not use a keyboard in the modern sense. From its invention until the 14th century, the organ remained the only keyboard instrument. Often, the organ did not feature a keyboard at all, rather buttons or large levers which were operated by a whole hand. Almost every keyboard until the 15th century had naturals to each octave.

The clavichord and the harpsichord appeared during the 14th century, the clavichord probably being the earlier. The harpsichord and the clavichord were both very common until the widespread adoption of the piano in the 18th century, after which their popularity decreased. The piano was revolutionary because a pianist could vary the volume (or dynamics) of the sound by varying the vigor with which each key was struck. The piano's full name is "gravicèmbalo con piano e forte" meaning "harpsichord with soft and loud" but can be shortened to "piano-forte", which means "soft-loud" in Italian.

Keyboard instruments were further developed in the 20th century. Early electromechanical instruments, such as the Ondes Martenot, appeared early in the century.

The piano keys were made of natural materials. The white tangents were made of ivory, the black of ebony, but now artificial materials like plastic are used to cover the wooden keys. Cheaper materials like oak, walnut and soft wood are used now.

Much effort has gone into finding an instrument which sounds like the piano but lacks its size and weight. The electric piano and electronic piano were early efforts that, while being useful instruments in their own right, were not successful in convincingly reproducing the timbre of the piano. Electric and electronic organs were developed during the same period.

Significant development of the synthesizer occurred in the 1960s and has continued ever since. The most notable early synthesizer is the Moog synthesizer, which used analog circuitry. In time, digital synthesis, using actual piano samples, has become common.


List of keyboard instruments






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Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiversity


Classical Keyboard Instruments

The Organ

The pipe organ was among the first of the keyboard instruments during the Baroque period. It produces notes by allowing air to flow through reeds called pipes, causing a somewhat 'tooty' sound. Organs were very popular in church music, and was often viewed as an instrument of praise. Baroque composers, however, took the instrument very seriously and professional musicians were thought of as very accomplished. Famous organ composers include Johann Sebastian Bach, Nicolaus Bruhns and Johann Pachelbel.

The Harpsichord

The harpsichord is a baroque instrument which plucks a string rather than hammering it, and in this way produces a brash 'twang' compared to a piano's gentle 'plink.' However, it was the most popular instrument during the baroque era, and indeed many composers wrote their greatest works upon the harpsichord. It is also often used as an accompaniment with string ensembles. While the demand for harpsichords is much less compared to that of pianos', many ensembles employ it for the true 'baroque feel.' Famous baroque composers include Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and Georg Phillip Telemann.

The Piano

The pianoforte (Italian: soft, loud) is possibly the most well-known and commonly used keyboard instrument in the world. It differs from the harpsichord in the respect that the notes are able to be played with varying degrees of volume. This revolutionised musical history and allowed composers many new possibilities within their works which were impossible with the harpsichord. The piano also has three pedals to change the type of sound it produces - the damper pedal, for increased vibration and legato - the middle pedal, for sustaining notes to enable other notes to be played - and the soft pedal, which softens the sound of the notes. The piano is a very popular instrument in western composition as the structure allows the combination of melodies and harmonies on a single keyboard. Famous composers for the piano include Franz Liszt, Frederic Chopin, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Scott Joplin.



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