An Introduction to Keyboard Musical Instruments

By: Kim Novak


You will hear keyboards in music throughout the world.

All types of concerts feature keyboard players including classical music where the piano usually accompanies solo musical instruments and singers. The piano is often a solo instrument and an example would be called a piano concerto. Classical composers who are considered to be brilliant pianists are Liszt, Beethoven and Mozart.

The piano often plays a big part in jazz bands. The music of jazz originated in America from work songs and traditional spirituals. In jazz music each instrument plays its own tune and often musicians will add or create additional notes as they go. During the 1900s jazz music spread throughout America and the rest of the world.

The Harpsichord

The harpsichord creates a powerful sound which has a clear and crisp tone. It is a beautiful musical instrument which looks a bit like a slender grand piano. It is triangular in shape with four thin legs. The harpsichord may have more than one keyboard. The sound the notes keys are pressed and a small quill called a plectrum plucks the strings inside. The quills inside a harpsichord are made from the tail and wing feathers of a variety of birds. Today, most quills are made of plastic. There are two and sometimes more strings for each key.

The Spinet

This musical instrument is considered the little sister to the harpsichord. People played the spinet at home over three hundred years ago because it was a small musical instrument and could easily fit into homes. The shape of the spinet is triangular and has a keyboard on the shortest side of the triangle. When you press the spinet keys, a tiny quill plucks the inside string to create the note sound. The music sound created is tinkling and quiet. If the lid of the spinet is propped up while being played, the sound grows louder.

The Foretepiano

Invented approximately three hundred years ago, by an Italian named Bartolomeo Cristofori, the fortepiano is an early version of the piano. Cristofori also built the harpsichord and the foretepiano looked like the harpsichord. The main difference between the two was the sound made. When the keys of the fortepiano were pressed, the strings were hit by small hammers, not plucked by quills. This produced a much different sound and was much louder than the harpsichord.

The Grand Piano

The grand piano are the largest pianos manufactured today and can be nearly ten feet long. They are called concert grands while the smaller version is called baby grands. The grand pianos have a sturdy iron frame holding the inside strings and the exterior is made of wood. During the playing of a concert, the lid covering the strings, is propped up to allow the louder sound. A small hammer strikes a string inside the grand piano to create the note. The grand piano also has pedals for the pianist's feet to change the sound of the notes. The left pedal is used to make the sounds quieter and softer. The right pedal keeps the dampers away from the strings making the sound of the piano richer and fuller.

The Upright Piano

This piano is named for the shape. If you are learning to play the piano, you are most likely learning on the upright piano. It is named for the shape and because it sits against the wall, taking up significantly less space than the grand piano. A small hammer hits a string inside the piano when a key is pressed.

The Melodica

The melodica is a mouth organ that sounds very similar to an organ, but is played through a mouthpiece. The piano melodica has keys along the length of the instrument with a mouthpiece at one end. When air is blown into the mouthpiece you press the keys down to play a tune with the fingers of one hand. Inside the melodica there are reeds which are very slender pieces of metal. The reeds vibrate and produce the notes.

The Accordion

The accordion is a complex musical instrument. You must be physically strong as the accordion needs t o be squeezed in and out in the middle. This section of the accordion is called the bellows. When squeezing the accordion in and out, air is pushed over a set of reeds making the note sounds. The left hand of the accordionist is used to press finger buttons. The right hand is used to play the keys. Invented nearly two hundred years ago in Germany, you can hear the accordion played in folk music in Europe, North and South America.

The Dulcitone

The dulcitone produces a sound that is bell-like and very soft. This musical instrument is small and wooden with four slender legs. Inside the dulcitone is a row of metal bars of various sizes. When a key is pressed, a small hammer hits one of the metal bars to produce a note. A Frenchman named Auguste Mustel invented the dulcitone in the 1800s. The original name for the dulcitone was the tuning fork piano.

The Celeste

The celeste looks slightly similar to the upright piano but produces a very different bell-like sound. Inside the celeste is a row of slender steel bars and the outer case is wood similar to the upright piano. Then the keys are pressed, a tiny felt covered hammer strikes the metal bars. A small hollow box is underneath each of the metal bars. This makes the sound louder. The celeste also has a foot medal, called the sustaining pedal, which makes the notes longer when pressed.

The Organ

The organ is one of the loudest and oldest musical instruments in the world. A row of pipes sounds the notes when air is pushed through. The longest organ is more than sixty feet and the smallest is just a few inches in length. There are two types of organs and each makes a different sound. The flue pipes are open pipes played with a mouthpiece. They can be closed at one end or open. The stopped pipe makes lower notes than the open pipe. Other pipes are called reed pipes and have the slender metal reeds inside making the sounds as air passes over them. Today the biggest organs are played in churches and cathedrals.

The Electronic Organ

The electronic organ does not have pipes. The notes are created from signals produced by electricity. These signals are amplified through speakers. The electronic organ have two keyboards called manuals. They organs also have stops that are switches the player presses making a range of sounds. Percussion and drum sounds are built in to the organ to accompany the player. Electronic organs are played in many pop and rock bands.

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Kim Novak is a life long lover of music and instructs students in a variety of musical instruments. Visit now for information on piano or keyboard lessons.

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