How a piano works

How a piano works - the King of instruments


What is the instrument used everywhere from churches to orchestras to schools, the black and white king of instruments? It is the piano. Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the piano in Florence, Italy around the 1700ís. It is very popular today, and many people know how to play it, but do they know how it plays?

When you press a key on the piano, all you hear is a note, but there is a lot of action going on inside the piano to produce that one single note. The key is like one end of the teeter-totter. When you press it, the other end shoots up. On the end inside the piano, a piece called a Sticker is attached. The Sticker pushes the Wippen (a spoon-like piece) upward, which uses a couple other pieces to push up the Jack. The Jack will twist the Hammer butt, and it will make the Hammer shank push the Hammer against the string for a short period of time. The Hammer will hit a different number and thickness of string depending on where it is on the piano. For instance, if you press a key very high on the piano, the Hammer will hit three very thin strings. If you hit a key very low on the piano, it will hit one very thick string. The Hammer is covered in felt, and so are a lot of the pieces.

There are quite a few supporting pieces that help the main pieces work, such as springs, screws, and wires. Another few parts of the piano are the three pedals. These are the Damper Pedal on the right, the Sostenuto Pedal in the middle, and the Soft Pedal on the left. The Damper Pedal will hold the note that you play as long as you keep holding the pedal down. If you press it, the piano will react by moving the Damper Felt (a foam piece) out from between all of the string(s). The Sostenuto Pedal will do different things depending on which piano it is. Most of them will hold a note if you press it and then the pedal, and let you play other notes without them running together. It does this by taking the foam away from only the notes you press before pressing the pedal. The Soft Pedal will do exactly what it says. It will make the music sound softer. Also, the Soft Pedal will bring the hammer closer to the string, so it doesnít have as far to travel and pick up speed, which would make it hit the string harder, making the sound louder.

The strings are attached way down low, all the way at the bottom of the piano (usually to a cast iron frame). The bass clef and treble clef strings are crisscrossed at the bottom, so that the bass clef strings can be longer. The bass clef strings are also wound with thin copper wire to make it vibrate more. If the copper wire wasnít there, the bass clef strings would have to be over 30 feet long to make it vibrate the same amount! That is way too big for a piano. The strings on a piano are almost always made of high quality steel. That way they last with the hammer knocking against them. The piano is a pretty remarkable instrument. It must have been hard to invent an instrument that has 88 notes (52 white and 36 black) and is easy to play a simple tune on. The inside of a piano is so complicated...it must have taken years to invent it! With 6,000 pieces, it definitely deserves itís nickname, The King of Instruments.



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