All About Your Piano – Types, History, Buying Tips & More

The piano comes in different sizes and prices - photo by midiman

The piano…. There’s nothing as beautiful or as fun to experience as playing this instrument. Just the word itself conjures up all sorts of images of luxury, success, and sophistication.

All of this may have you wondering if buying such a musical instrument is within your reach; well I’m here to tell you that it is.
Yes, the ebony and ivory keyboard intimidates many of us, but it doesn’t have to. A little education on the subject can help you make the decision to buy, play, and own a piano. To get a sense of how wonderful this instrument is let’s get some background info on it, okay?

Brief History

The piano is considered the invention of Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua, Italy. A contractor for the powerful Medici family, the first recorded pianoforte (the original name for the instrument) in inventory was in the year 1700. In fact, the first Cristofori pianos built in the year 1720 survive today.

There have been many masters of this instrument but the first four composers of the classical age where also considered the “founding fathers” of the medium. Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, and Haydn lived and composed between the 1700 and 1800’s. There were differences between the pre-1820s pianoforte and what is considered the “modern” piano built in the mid-1800s.

The Instrument Today

Today, there are two types to choose from. These two types are the

grand style of piano and the upright piano. Most people have an upright in their homes, because of the smaller footprint and the more moderate price tag.

Grands are the instruments that concert pianists play exclusively. Think of them as the “Rolls Royce” of musical instruments.

This style has the frame and the strings placed horizontally. The strings stretch away from the keyboard. This setup is what gives “the grand” its large size and makes it a better fit in larger rooms.

There are different sizes of grand pianos, the measurements are giving in length:

•    Parlor:  4’5″ to 5’5″
•    Baby:  5’0″ to 6’5″
•    Medium: 5’6″ to 6’5″
•    Professional: 6’6″ to 8’0″
•    Concert: 8’9″ to 10’2″

Uprights are the most common in the home. When people think of this style they think of people gathering around playing a tune after dinner. Uprights would be considered the “Cadillac Coupe De Ville” of musical instruments.

Sometimes called “vertical” pianos, uprights are more compact. The frame and strings are stretched vertically spanning from the keyboard in both both directions. When the hammers hit the strings on an upright they depend on springs to return them into position.

The different sizes of upright pianos are measured in height, these are:

•    Spinet: 35″ to 39”
•    Consoles: 40″ to 44″
•    Studio:  45″ to 47″
•    Full Size: 48″ to 52″

Note: These are the classical types. In recent years digital keyboards have become increasingly popular. Read here if such a digital version is for you.

Time to Buy

Now that you have some background knowledge on this great instrument, it’s time to think about shopping strategies. Now

most people will go to their local music shop and this is a great way to get started. Make sure that if you go this route to talk with the technician on site.

Don’t get pressured by a salesman and don’t settle for a tuner. A  technician will know the stock on hand and can tell you where they are made. Any good music shop will have a technician available, if they don’t, go somewhere else.

Know that this is an investment. The quality will be directly connected to the cost of the instrument. Consider how long you want to keep it and how much use you’re going to get out of it before you decided to buy.

You may not need the most expensive instrument there is, but you should not waste the money on a “cheap” one that will constantly be in need of service. Think of it as a car that will need regular maintenance. This will help you decide on an acceptable price point.

Posted by Tania Gleaves

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