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A Musical Journey: The Evolution of the Piano from Cristofori to Electric Keyboards

The modern piano, as we know it, owes its existence to Bartolomeo Cristofori, a remarkable inventor from the 1700s. Hailing from Italy, Cristofori pondered over a problem: why couldn't the harpsichord, a similar instrument, produce soft sounds as well as loud ones? Determined to find a solution, he ingeniously replaced the plucking mechanism of the harpsichord with a hammering one, giving birth to what we now call the piano. Interestingly, the term "piano" comes from the Italian word for "soft."


A photo of Bartolomeo Cristofori
Bartolomeo Cristofori

When we explore the piano's family tree, we find two key ancestors: the dulcimer and the harpsichord. The dulcimer, originating in the Middle East, used small hammers to strike its strings, much like how the piano works.

A picture of a hammered dulcimer
Hammered Dulcimer

On the other hand, the harpsichord, a direct precursor to the piano, plucked its strings. According to experts like Richard Egarr, the harpsichord's sound is closely associated with the baroque era, a period of classical music from 1600 to 1750.


A picture of a harpsichord
Harpsichord

As time passed, the piano gained popularity, evolving significantly. It wasn't until the era of Beethoven (1770-1827) that it acquired a full set of 88 keys, similar to those found in modern pianos. In the 19th century, pianos became more accessible, appearing in various settings, from elegant salons to local gathering spots. This accessibility allowed the piano to become a versatile instrument, lending its notes to various musical genres, including jazz and rock 'n' roll.

In the 1980s, another innovation rocked the music world: the electric keyboard. This invention sparked a new genre of music known as electronic dance music, revolutionizing the way people experience and create music.

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