The first piano was invented in Italy around 1700 by Bartolomeo Cristofori. Before that, the dominating keyboard instruments were harps. Their limitations were many, including only being able to play at one volume, which didn’t allow them to keep up with orchestras. This is where the piano comes in.
The difference is in the mechanics. When you hit a key with the harp, it simply plucks a string. This means that no matter how hard you hit the key, it won’t change the volume. With a piano, you hit a key and a hammer strikes the string. This allows for two main differences in sound. First, the note will sound louder or softer depending on how hard you hit the key. Secondly, the note rings out and sustains until you let the key go. All of this serves to make the piano a more expressive, dynamic instrument.
With the addition of the piano, composers and musicians were able to create short, percussive sounds or full, legato textures that could fill concert halls or whisper in intimate settings. It could accompany full orchestras or play rich songs all alone. The piano gained popularity in the nineteenth century with the rise of people like Frederick Chopan and Franz Liszt. Over time, inventors added more keys, a stronger iron frame, better soundboard, and steel wire strings. This all helped give the piano a bigger, richer, sound. They also added pedals, which we still use today.
The leftmost pedal serves as the damper. This allows you to damper or softens the sound. The middle pedal is different depending on the piano and not frequently used. The pedal on the far right is the most commonly used. It’s called the sustaining pedal and allows you to let notes play out for longer.
Many people play on keyboards instead of a piano. This trend started to develop in the early twentieth century. In the 1960s, a commercially available portable synthesizer appeared. Suddenly, instruments could communicate digitally. Nowadays, you can find a keyboard to make pretty much any sound you want to make.
Despite all these technological advantages, people come back to the beauty and expressiveness of the piano. So many musicians have used the piano to express their limitless possibilities!