We tend to forget that every object on our planet has a history, an inventor, and a trajectory and when we start learning how to play an instrument we tend to ignore its origins because it might not seem important.

However, learning the history of the instrument you're learning to play can help you understand your lessons better because you'll have the background knowledge that can guide you through the information.

If you've chosen to learn how to play the piano, continue reading to learn how it was invented, how it was brought and popularized in America, who are some American composers, and more.

To learn the history of the piano you'll also have to learn some important keywords.

For example, you need to know what is a harpsichord, Viennese, or clavichord piano, what are the hammers of a piano, and what is the role of a string or the pedal in a piano, what is a pianoforte, and more. You'll also need to get familiar with terminologies like octaves, iron strings, Steinway, tone, notes, range, hammer, grand, strings, and more.

If you choose to learn how to play the piano with the help of a private tutor, you can always find experienced and accomplished tutors on Superprof. Keep in mind that you can also ask your tutor to include some historic information during your lessons so that you learn a range of things in each lesson.

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History of the piano

The piano has two known ancestors, the clavichord and the harpsichord. They both have similarities, for instance, the piano player has to sit in an upright position in front of the instrument and start playing by using both hands. However, there are some differences when it comes to quality, sound, design, mechanism, and overall how they are built.

The clavichord produces sound by striking iron strings with small metal blades called tangents. Vibrations are transmitted through the bridges to the soundboard. The clavichord is a Western European stringed rectangular keyboard instrument that was used largely in the Late Middle Ages.

Learning to play the piano
Learning to play the proper keys or notes of a song can be as complicated as playing a role in an action movie, and as a player, you need to practice if you want to finish your lessons early. Photo by Soundtrap on Unsplash

The harpsichord is an instrument that is played on a keyboard. When a player is playing the keys on the keyboard it activates a row of levers that turn a trigger mechanism that plucks one or more strings with a small plectrum.

These strings have tension under a soundboard and the soundboard amplifies the vibrations from the strings so that the listeners can hear them. Like a pipe organ, a harpsichord may have more than one keyboard manual and even a pedalboard.

Now that you know what were some of the ancestors of the piano, you should learn that pianos were invented by an Italian musician called Bartolomeo Cristofori. Cristofori was a musician who felt frustrated by the lack of control a player had over the volume level of the harpsichord.

Cristofori was unsatisfied with the mechanism of the harpsichord and decided to create another instrument. He switched out the plucking mechanism with a hammer to create the modern piano during the early 18th century around the year 1700.

The first name Cristofori gave to the piano was "clavicembalo col piano e forte (pianoforte)" which translated to means, a harpsichord that can play soft and loud noises. It was later renamed as we know it now, the piano.

Different instruments contributed to the creation and development of pianos and if you wish to become a piano player you should also learn about the different types of pianos.

If, after learning about the different types of pianos, you still don't know which one would be best for you, you can always ask your future piano tutor for an opinion. If you are looking for piano tutors on Superprof, you can ask them during the interview what type of piano they teach, and you can see if you like it or not.

Keep in mind that there are three categories of instruments and those are string, wind, and percussion instruments. Based on its history, the piano can be qualified as a string instrument.

However, even if the piano is classified as a string instrument because the sounds come from the vibration of strings, it can also be classified as a percussion instrument because a hammer strikes those strings.

The piano in America

Music has a long trajectory that involves the development of cultures, ancestors, traditions, instruments, and more. To learn about an instrument you must understand that besides the creation of the instrument, many other factors influenced its popularity and acceptance.

For instance, since pianos existed first in Italy in the 18th century, it took quite some time for them to arrive in America and even more time for pianos to become popular amongst Americans.

First, the pianoforte made its way to the United States during the 18th century. It is rumored that Thomas Jefferson fell in love with the instrument the first time he saw one in 1771.

A piano player at a recital
A piano today is built to perform the best quality music and to hit each note perfectly so that all players have to do is learn how to get the piano in action. Photo by Dominik Scythe on Unsplash

Multiple historians have recordings of pianos spotted in many American households by 1788 and that the grand majority of pianos in the US were built and fabricated in London.

During the 19th century, pianos became part of the music culture in the United States and by 1840 society even recognized the "piano girl" as a type. It became very common for young girls to learn how to play at least a couple of notes on the keyboard. But it was very common for families to pay for piano lessons so their daughters can embark on a musical path.

Girls would learn how to play classic and modern music, the proper upright sitting position, understand the function of the pedal, octaves, and the hammers of the piano, learn every single note and key and learn about the different types of pianos like a Viennese or a Steinway.

Since the piano gained popularity in the United States, many great musicians have developed grand careers in the American music industry. Continue reading to learn a little about these great composers or learn which are the easiest pieces you can play on the piano.

Who were some famous American composers?

As you learn about the piano, you'll come across the quality and recognized work of popular American composers. Whether you decide to learn how to play the piano with a private tutor, in an academy, or online, you should work hard to learn the names and career paths of famous composers.

Playing a digital piano
If you feel like you don't have a musical gift but you still wish to learn how to play an instrument, all you have to do is get to action because no one was born knowing how to do it. Photo by Chad Kirchoff on Unsplash

Below you will find a list of American pianists that played a key role in the music industry and shaped modern music into what we know today:

  1. Duke Ellington — was a gifted piano player and one of the most famous jazz musicians of the 20th century. He was also a prolific composer sometimes composing multiple records in a single year.
  2. Florence Price — was a famous African American female composer. She was a pianist, organist, and music teacher and was the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer.
  3. Leonard Bernstein — was a conductor, composer, pianist, music teacher, author, and humanitarian. He was the first American conductor to lead an American orchestra, the New York Philharmonic.
  4. Cole Porter — was a pianist and a composer and he composed dozens of highly successful musicals finding success on Broadway beginning with Paris in 1928.
  5. Clara Edwards — was a singer and pianist in addition to being a composer. But, almost every piece that she composed was released using the pen name, Bernard Haigh.
  6. George Gershwin — is one of the best-remembered American composers. During the rise of jazz in America, his work helped to transition classical music to a new style of music.
  7. Scott Joplin — was among the first freeborn men in his family since his father was a freed slave. Both of his parents were amateur musicians so he gained his passion for music through them. Joplin was famous for writing ragtime music but he also composed opera and classical pieces as well.

If you wish to start your career as the next great American composer, go ahead and start looking for a piano tutor right here on Superprof.

The different types of pianos

Now, keep in mind that Cristofori invented the basic piano, but since then there have been many musicians who have worked on creating other designs and get a different tones, sounds, quality, and so on.

There's the studio piano which is between 45" and 47" tall and very popular amongst schools and churches. There's also the upright piano, which is 48" tall and is generally picked by players looking for grand piano-type sound without taking up much space.

Learning how to play the piano with the help of a private tutor
You can hire a private tutor from Superprof today and ask them to teach you how to hit the right keys and notes of a song. Photo by Siniz Kim on Unsplash

During the modern era, there was also the creation of the digital piano. Digital pianos have many different models and designs and a player could customize the sounds and have the ability to control the volume or even wear headphones.

There's also the grand piano. The strings and soundboard lay horizontally and the hammer that strikes the string swings up and then falls back to rest. Grand pianos generally offer more sound projection and faster key repetition than vertical pianos.

If you already know what type of piano you want to use while you learn how to play then you should probably figure out how to teach yourself how to play the piano.

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