Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The science of the piano

As an avid piano player for many years, I enjoy bashing away on the ivories. I've heard that music has of course links to maths, what with the proportions and the staves and the notes. It makes sense but I've never really thought about the physics behind the piano. What actually makes the sound, how it resonates and the actual mechanism which occurs between pressing the key and a magnificently rich tone being heard.

So a bit of background, the piano is one of the most widely played instruments in the world, and it actually dates back to quite a long time ago. The name piano, is actually shortened from the word pianoforte which is a conjugation of the Italian words piano and forte which translated respectively mean quiet and loud.

When the piano key is hit it raises the wippen which pushes the jack against the hammer roller. At the same time the damper is raised and the hammer hits the wire causing it to vibrate and hence resonate. When the key is let go of the damper falls back onto the wire silencing it and stopping the vibration. Like guitars the pitch of the piano can be altered and this is to do with the strings; the length, width and tension of the strings all affect pitch.

So the next time you sit down to play Fur Elise or Baa Baa Black Sheep, think about the chain reaction which flows from your finger and through the piano and back to your ears. It really is something quite magical and awe-worthy.

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