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9 interesting facts about piano

By Scott Houston

The earliest version of the piano was invented in 1709 in Florence, Italy

The harpsichord was a popular keyboard-like string instrument of the Renaissance and Baroque eras that involved plucking strings to produce sound. The problem with the harpsichord, however, is that it only had one volume. Wanting a way to be more expressive, Bartolomeo Cristofori, a harpsichord maker and “Keeper of Instruments” for the Medici family, introduced the earliest version of the piano around 1709 in Florence. In Cristofori’s piano, the keys were struck with a hammer rather than plucked with fingers.

It wasn’t until 1711 that the sustain pedal was added to the instrument by German instrument maker Gottfried Sibberman. Sibberman’s prototypes were famously criticized by Bach for not producing a full dynamic range of sound. I guess musicians have always had their fair share of squabbles!

Grand Piano, 1720 by Bartolomeo Cristofori.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Speaking of Bach, playing keyboard instruments rarely involved the thumb prior to his introduction of technique

The famous musician and composer actually popularized the use of the thumb as opposed to the traditional fingering method (which employed the middle three fingers on each hand) on the organ. Though the wind instrument predates the piano, Bach’s innovation had great influence on the development of modern techniques used on the piano.

Bad musicians were publicly shamed using a medieval torture device called the “Shame Flute”

Though this fact isn’t specific to the piano or piano players, I couldn’t help but include it! The contraption, which is essentially a heavy iron flute—although you probably wouldn’t want to play it—was shackled to the musician’s neck. The musician’s fingers were then clamped to the keys, to give the impression they were playing the instrument. Finally, just to further their humiliation, they were forced to wear the flute while being paraded around town, so the public could throw rotten food and vegetables at them, which just feels kinda harsh, right?One of the most popular reasons that people avoid learning to play the piano is because they are afraid of experiencing potential embarrassment in front of their teacher or peers as they learn. Now, we’re not talking Shame Flute level of discomfort here, but to some people, it sure can feel like it. That’s why it’s so important to adopt a learner’s mindset and find a teacher that puts you at ease when you’re learning to play! 

Piano is considered the king of instruments

A piano can cover every note in an entire orchestra, making it the most dynamic instrument of them all! It’s no wonder that the piano has stayed incredibly relevant since its invention. A piano can match the lowest note of a double bassoon to the highest note played on a piccolo. So learn to play the piano to have the range of an entire orchestra at your fingertips. 

There are over 18 million non-professional piano players in the U.S alone!

Here are some even more fun numbers for you:

  • The piano has around 10,000 moving parts
  • It is estimated that 30,000 pianos are sold each year in the U.S. 
  • A piano string can hold around 168 tons of tension
  • The world’s most expensive piano is a Heintzman & Co. made entirely of crystal and costs a staggering 3.22 million dollars!
Heintzman Crystal Piano

The world’s longest piano piece is a 180-note played through a baffling 840 times

That’s right, 840! If you were to sit down and play a rendition of Erik Satie’s (1893) “Vexations,” it would take you over 18 hours to complete. The full piece was recently performed in New York City by a team of 10 pianists. They actually took turns playing throughout the performance.

By the end of the concert, only a few critics remained and several of the remaining audience members had fallen asleep, but one critic shouted “Encore!” (Which is one of the funniest things I’ve heard in a long time… my kind of humor. Hilarious!)

Playing piano reduces stress, anxiety, and depression

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has found that learning to play the piano has the potential to significantly affect brain function and mood in adults over 60 years old. Participants in the study showed a decrease in symptoms of mental illness like depression and anxiety. Another study found that adults learning to play piano experienced a decrease in psychological distress, depression, and fatigue, compared to a non-playing control group.

Being a good note reader is not a requirement for becoming a good piano player

If you want to become a concert pianist and play concerts with symphony orchestras for a living, you probably need to learn how to read music. But assuming your interest lies instead in playing just about any and every other style, be it pop, jazz, blues, country, gospel, etc. for purely recreational reasons, you do not. Music is what you listen to, not what you read. Sheet music is simply a recording device.

The “words” for modern music don’t exist in the language of traditional music notation

For non-classical styles of music, even if you become a good notation reader, traditional sheet music will not give you the information you need to play the style correctly due to the lack of “words” in traditional notation to describe non-classical techniques. Let there be no mistake, notation is an incredible aid in telling you what notes to play. It just can’t tell you how to play them. 

Don’t forget the ultimate goal is to become a good player, not a good reader. I have found lead sheets to be a great way to get the majority of people to a point where they can have fun right away. For anyone who doesn’t know what a lead sheet is, it is simply a modern, straightforward type of music notation that only contains one line of music and chord symbols. If you want to dive deeper into lead sheets, as well as the secrets I use for teaching adults, click on the button below to start a free online piano intro course.