History of Keyboard Instruments

Next Monday we'll be having our first piano party of the school year, and it's the one where we learn all about the piano! So it seemed fitting for this week's blog post to finally finish up this one from my drafts encouraging us to think about the history of keyboard instruments. 

The piano didn't just spring into being one day and then people started writing keyboard music, it evolved from a number of earlier keyboard instruments like the harpsichord and the clavichord. A lot of the early classical genre music that we now play on the piano was actually written on earlier keyboard instruments. Anything out of the Baroque Era (which includes everything JS Bach wrote) all pre-dates the piano as we know it, and a lot of early Classical period music as well. Understanding the differences in instrumentation at the time when certain pieces were actually written can really help us to interpret the music, and to understand how certain ornaments functioned to create more dynamic and expressive contrast on instruments that had little dynamic range to begin with.

But beyond understanding how to interpret older pieces of music, knowing the history of the piano brings a much richer understanding to contemporary music decisions as well. Even things as simple as the chord progressions used in popular music, or how we can learn to improvise within the structure of a piece, all has it's origins in the earliest forms of classical music. 

If this is something you'd like to dive into and learn more about, this interview with Janna Williamson on the Piano Parent Podcast is an excellent place to start!

So how does all this factor into our piano party next week?  

At this party we'll be taking a close look at how the piano works, and learning what happens inside the piano when we strike a key and how that turns into sound and music. We'll learn about the history of the piano's invention, and how it completely revolutionized keyboard music. We'll open up the studio grand and identify some of the different parts in action, and we'll also have pieces from a recently retired grand piano that we can get really hands on with.

Getting to see how the instrument works encourages curiosity, builds an appreciation for the piano and it's history, and helps students understand why we learn different techniques for tone production. As usual, we'll wrap up our Piano Party with an opportunity to perform - and we'll keep the lid up and the fallboard off for this informal peer recital so we can really appreciate how the music gets made!