There is so much to playing the piano than just striking the keys with little effort. For musicians and newbies that aim at being great pianists, a little bit of theoretical knowledge will be helpful.
This is because other than your efforts, some things make piano sounds possible. These mechanisms will be explained in this article. Particularly, we will shed more light on the piano strings.
If you want to understand the general workings of pianos, this writeup will suit you. Just read on as we walk you through the details.
Evolution of Pianos and the Strings
To better understand the piano strings, it is important to know the piano has seen a lot of modification.
Initially, the piano was called the pianoforte for short. This name was given because of what it could do at that time. Unlike its predecessor, this instrument afforded players the ability to play loud and soft sounds.
By simply striking the piano keys hard or mildly, the sound’s volume was determined. The situation was not the same as the earlier piano-like instruments.
Before the instrument was invented, there was a like-patterned instrument that was frequently used. It was called the harpsichord.
The harpsichord looked and sounded a lot like the piano. However, it had some flaws, especially with performance practice.
This instrument did not leave room for the players to play with dynamics. Precisely, a player could not alternate between loud or soft sounds, as the piano eventually allowed.
Regardless of how soft or loud the composer’s piece was, the harpsichord could only sound monotonously. But despite this shortcoming, a lot of baroque and early classical composers did remarkable things with this instrument.
Talking about them, we have the likes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Handel, among others.
Furthermore, some composers were privileged to play both the harpsichord and pianoforte. Unlike the likes of Mozart and Hayde who were classical contemporary, Beethoven played both instruments.
As a child prodigy from a musical background, he was trained to play the Harpsichord. Eventually, he took full advantage of the pianoforte’s invention by Cristofori Bartolomeo.
Beethoven is credited with playing a huge part in some of the subsequent modifications of this instrument.
This is as a result of his unsatisfiable desire to play what seemed like unrealistic expectations at that time.
For instance, Beethoven once had a piano manufacturer add a 4th pedal as against the traditional 3 pedals. This allowed the virtuoso to perform incredible things.
On another occasion, he made another manufacturer add more octaves beyond the normal human range. Although reported to be very withdrawn, he frequently made acquittances with piano manufacturers. Also, he was very quick to condemn some products he deemed below par.
Little wonder he is still seen as a composer in a league of his own.
Still on the evolution of the pianoforte, what edge did Beethoven have over his classical contemporaries?
The first thing was his age. He was born much later than Mozart and Hayde. In fact, he was trained at some point by Joseph Hayde. Given his emergence in the latter days of the classical era, he benefited from the pianoforte’s invention.
The piano’s history is important to the subject of the strings. This is because the major difference between the harpsichord and pianoforte was down to the use of the instrument strings.
Both instruments produce sound when tension is applied to stretched strings. However, the manner at which this is done is different.
For the harpsichord, the strings are plucked. The plucking mechanism is the primary reason the instrument’s sound was monotonous. This is because it is difficult to mechanically pluck strings with varying amounts of pressure.
On the other hand, the pianoforte used a hammer mechanism for the strings. Rather than plucking which can not be easily adjusted, the hammers were able to adjust to the player’s expectation.
So, when the keys were struck mildly, the hammers hit the strings mildly. Then the resultant sound was soft. On the contrary, when the keys were struck hard, the hammers hit the strings hard and the sound produced was loud.
As a result, major musical dynamics such as piano, forte, mezzo-piano, and other sheet music sound variations were enabled.
This was a groundbreaking achievement in western music, courtesy of Cristofori Bartolomeo.
The invention of electricity and technological advancement has played a huge part. Things have gone beyond the ancient hammer-string mechanism.
For instance, the average synthesizer also known as the music keyboard is electrically powered. Furthermore, it has digitalized functions that allow players to carry out a wide range of things.
For instance, buttons for metronome, transposition, various instrumental sounds, are all instilled in these products. As a result, learning how to play the piano is becoming much easier and fun-filled.
Other than the synthesizer, there is an example of the digital piano. These instruments can be best seen as the perfect blend between the traditional acoustic piano and the synthesizer. It is great for studio works and personal use.
Do all Kinds of Pianos have Strings?
Not all piano instruments are wired to use strings. Answering the question of “how many strings does a piano have?” is particular to the traditional acoustic piano.
This is because trendy innovations such as the synthesizer and digital piano produce sound differently.
For the digital piano, sounds from the traditional acoustic piano are recorded with high-tech recording instruments. Thereafter, it is installed into the digital piano by the manufacturers.
So, any time a key is struck on the digital piano, a prerecorded sound is quickly amplified. The synthesizer also works almost that way. It is void of strings as seen with the acoustic piano.
How many strings does the acoustic piano have?
There is also no particular number, except for a range of numbers. For a piano, the string features, including the number, is determined by the manufacturer. In this regard, a product from Yamaha would likely be different from Steinway & Sons.
However, the strings on the conventional piano range between 220 and 240.
There is a popular misconception that the piano has 88 strings on the conventional 88 key piano. This is wrong considering that most piano keys have more than one string attached to them.
For the higher notes, there are 3 strings. This feature extends to the middle-pitched notes. As the keys move towards the notes that are low-pitched, the number usually reduces. This is until you have some keys with only one string.
Also, in line with the laws of physics, higher notes have shorter strings, while lower notes have longer strings. This is because when tension is applied to a long string, the sound produced is a low pitch. On the contrary, tension applied to a short string will produce a high-pitched sound.
That perfectly explains why most acoustic piano strings are short for the treble parts and long for the bass parts.
To make up for the unusual length, the manufacturers make the intended high-pitch string very thin and tight. Also, rather than copper wire, the high-pitch strings are made with bare wire. Because of the material and how stretched the strings are fastened, the pitch is high.
On the other hand, the low sounding notes are made with materials such as the copper wire. Compared to the high notes, the strings here are fastened a little loose. Also, the strings are thicker than the ones on the high-sounding notes.
The bottom line remains that there is no general answer to the question of how many strings a piano has. As stated earlier, there are piano instruments without any strings.
The synthesizer and keyboard fall under this category. This is because of how they are wired to produce musical sounds. As also explained, for the traditional acoustic piano, you can pin a certain number on all brands.
This is because certain companies frequently come up with ways to defy the odds but produce the expected sound.
The Piano – Chordophone or Idiophone
From way back, there have been serious attempts to classify musical instruments. The Indians, Chinese, and some western figures have done well in this regard.
However, The Sachs-Hornbostel’s classification is widely acknowledged. This classification was pioneered by two people: Hornbostel and Sach.
The classification explained that every musical instrument falls under any of the 4 classes: Idiophones, Membranophones, Aerophones, and Chordophone.
This classification is accepted in many intellectual circles. This is because it did a good job incorporating both western and traditional instruments of other climes.
For example, regardless of the tonal differences, it classifies both the Egyptian Ud and the guitar as chordophones.
Idiophones are best defined as self-sounding musical instruments. They can produce musical sounds when any part of the instrument is struck.
The instrument Cymbal fits perfectly into this class. Furthermore, there are subcategories of idiophones. For example, there is the hand struck as well as the paddle struck idiophone. Be that as it may, they are instruments capable of producing musical sound when any part is struck.
Membranophones share similarities with the idiophone class. This is given that they are both struck. However, the difference is that membranophones are designed to produce musical sounds when a particular part is struck. That part is known as the membrane.
Originally, the membrane was made from animal skin that had been treated and fastened to a frame. Tension applied to the stretched membrane is what produces sound.
Nowadays, the struck membrane doesn’t have to be made of animal skin. There are lots of synthetic products that can produce the same effects. Generally speaking, all drums fall under this category.
Aerophones are instruments that produce sound when air is blown into parts of the instrument designated for this. Orchestral instruments such as the trumpet, clarinet, Oboe, and others fall under this category.
Chordophones are instruments that have strings. On chordophones, music sounds are made when the strings are either plucked, bowed, or struck. Typical examples among western instruments include the violin, viola, cello, double bass, guitar, banjo, among others.
Classifying the traditional acoustic piano has given rise to lots of intellectual controversies. This is because it can both fit into the idiophone or chordophone class. This depends on the yardstick for classification.
In terms of performance practice which is about how the instrument is played, it qualifies as an idiophone. This is because of how the piano keys are struck to produce different kinds of sounds. Also, the rhythm is largely determined by the way the player coordinates his hands on the instrument.
On the other hand, the traditional acoustic piano also qualifies as a chordophone. This is because of how the sounds are produced. The sounds produced are a result of direct contact between the strings and the hammers.
The inability to unanimously decide if the yardstick is performance practice or sound production is why the piano is undefined. In that light, the acoustic piano can either fit into the idiophone or chordophone category.
Digital piano and synthesizer do not fall into any of the categories listed above. This is because the sound production mechanism is not addressed in any of the classes. Instruments such as the digital piano and synthesizer are classified under electrophones.
Electrophones are instruments that produce music sounds with the aid of electricity. Every electrophone has an underlying class among the 4 classes earlier mentioned.
For example, the acoustic guitar is a chordophone. However, the electric guitar is an electrophone although it is played like the acoustic variance. The addition of electrophones is less about performance practice and more about sound production.
In the video below, the number of strings on the piano is explained.
Video: How Many Strings Are on a Piano?
Impact of Pedals in the Use of Piano Strings
For the acoustic piano, the pedals largely influence the way the strings operate. There are 3 pedals on the traditional acoustic piano. However, some brands produce pianos with 1 or 2 pedals.
The three acoustic piano pedals are the sustain or damper pedal, the sostenuto or middle pedal, and the soft or Una Corda pedal.
The sustain pedal enables the piano keys to have a resonating and sustained sound when used instead of a sharp sound.
Ordinarily, the sound goes off when your hands are removed from the piano keys. This is because a device called the damper stops the tension of the hammer on the strings. The sustain or damper pedal overrides the damper. It does this by stopping it from halting the sound.
The middle or sostenuto pedal also affects the strings. This is because it restricts the performance of some dampers. Unlike the sustain pedal that affects every key played, the sostenuto pedal is selective.
To use this pedal, you must play the notes you intend to sustain. Next, you apply the middle pedal immediately. This will give the previously played note a sustained sound, as compared to the sharp sounds of the other keys. So, in that light, the middle pedal affects fewer strings than the sustain pedal.
The last pedal is the soft or Una Corda pedal. The use of this pedal is known to tilt the entire piano keys. It gives the piano a softer sound.
On some piano, it does this by holding back one out of the two or three strings of the key. As a result, the sound produced is soft and with a slightly beautiful variance.
Considering how 1 or 2 strings are held back from the usual action, you can see the string is affected.
Are There Any Pianos Without Strings?
There are pianos without strings.
As earlier mentioned, advancement in technology and musical instrument production has drastically changed the course of things.
Because of this, the likes of the digital piano and synthesizer can produce music sounds without the aid of strings.
Have you ever wondered how many strings the piano has?
In this article, we have established that the numbers are dependent on the brand in question. However, we can safely conclude on a range between 220 and 240.
Furthermore, the impact of pedals as well as technological advancement on piano strings have been discussed.
Other than playing amazingly, now you know a little more. Please feel free to share your thoughts and observations in the comment section.