What Is The Upright Piano? – And How Does It work

Ever been curious about the large and heavy musical instrument found in many homes around the world? Then you should read on in this article where I ask “What is the upright piano and how does it work?” For most people, the piano is an expensive musical instrument but at the same time a beautiful piece of furniture. This post should convey knowledge about this combined furniture and musical instrument, both inside and out.

Fortunately, some pianos are played a lot, while many have gradually been left alone for decoration. The latter is a bit sad because the piano is a very advanced technical device and a musical instrument with endless possibilities. An incredible amount of different music can be played on the piano and is therefore considered by many to be the King of all musical instruments. You can read my article on this topic here: How Is The Piano King Of All The Musical Instruments

For the easier organization of content, I have chosen to break it down into the following sections:

Why is it called the upright piano?
The mechanical piano
A quick look inside
The keyboard, pitch & finish
Play the piano today

Why Is It Called The Upright Piano?

The Upright Piano - keyboardplay.com
A big old upright piano

The piano is an abbreviation for Italian pianoforte or fortepiano, an instrument where you can play both piano (weak) and forte (strong). The adjective “upright” means something stands upright, or vertical, and in this context, it describes how the strings inside the piano are stretched, ie vertically. By opening the top cover and looking down inside the piano one will observe the position and length of the strings. In English, the upright has been added to the piano’s name because another member of the piano family, the grand piano, has horizontally stretched strings. That way, the two different piano types don’t mix so easily. The grand piano, which is the original piano model, has retained the shape of its predecessor, the piano-forte model invented in Italy in the early 1700s, while the upright piano is made more compact and can, therefore, be played in a limited space.

The Mechanical Piano

The predecessor of the upright piano was the mechanical piano developed in England by the Hicks company in the early 1800s. It has been strongly associated with street musicians who swung the piano and pulled it on a wagon around the streets. One variant, which was coin-operated, stood in cafes and pubs.

In short, there are two types of mechanical pianos: the self-playing piano (player-piano) and the Pianola. Both are self-playing or automatic pianos containing an electromechanical motor that drives a paper roll of perforated paper with pre-programmed music. The holes in the paper enable the keys to be activated like a traditional music box.

perforated paper with pre-programmed music
Perforated paper with pre-programmed music
The Self-playing Piano

The self-playing piano is a so-called reproducing piano where the replay of the reels takes place electronically, and where the reels contain all the information about tempo, dynamics, etc as performed by a special, often famous, performer.

Mechanical piano player, MfM.Uni-Leipzig
The self-playing mechanical piano
The Pianola

The Pianola is not electronic but is controlled by pedals that control air pressure. The Pianola is usually mounted on the keyboard of an ordinary piano and requires a performer to control the pedals, thus controlling the tempo, dynamics, phrasing, in short, all musical parameters other than pitch. Not unlike a pianist, except that the fingers of a pianist are never close to the keyboard. The Pianola player Rex Lawson calls it “a foot-operated player piano”.

The mechanical pianos were mass-produced in the late 1800s and early 1900s and became very popular at home. Sales reached a peak in 1924 but declined towards the end of the 1920s as a result of the continuous improvement of the gramophone and other electrical playback methods. Production was virtually wiped out after the stock market crash on Wall Street in 1929. Still, A.Tomasso & Son, a London-based company that made both hand-operated and automatic street pianos, remained active until the 1960s.

A Quick Look Inside

The piano is an exciting musical instrument on which fine melodies and pieces can be played. But how does a piano work? Why does it sound just because we press a key? The answer is inside the piano.

When you open the piano, a whole new world is revealed. Here are strings, screws, hammers, dampers and other mechanics. The piano is an instrument made mostly of wood. Depending on its style and design, it has approximately 1,200 working parts.

Cross-stringed piano Inside
Inside the upright piano
Pressing a key will cause a small hammer inside the piano to strike a string. Each key is associated with its string. When the hammer strikes a string, the string vibrates and creates a tone, ex a C. All the strings in the piano are tuned at different pitches.

In addition to the hammer, there is also a damper. The damper is covered with a felted fabric that prevents the strings from sounding when not being played. When playing a key, the damper is lifted away from the string to allow it to vibrate and make a sound. When the key is released again, the damper falls on the string again to stop the vibration.

Golden piano pedals

The piano usually has two or three pedals used by the feet. The pedal on the left mutes the sound. When pressed, the keys move slightly to the side so that the hammer hits only one string. The pedal to the right lifts the cushions away from the strings allowing the notes to sound longer even if the keys are released. The pedal in the middle lets a chord sound as the pianist continues.

The piano thus consists of strings, hammer, mechanics, and keys. Everything stands upright in a large wooden box and the strings are tightly tight over a heavy iron frame. Then you understand why a piano is so heavy to lift and move.

The Keyboard, Pitch & Finish

The piano keyboard is one of the most important components of any piano. This is where the pianist makes contact with the instrument, where the expression is created. Ask any pianist – unless the keys feel right, it is impossible to enjoy the music.
The piano’s pitch is just over seven octaves, from the note sub-A to the five-stroke note c, a total of 88 keys. The strings in the bass register are thick and either single or double. The strings gradually become thinner upward in the treble and are threefold from small c. The strings are tuned using tuning screws.

The white keys on the keyboard are called A-B-C-D-E-F-G, also known as the musical alphabet. These seven tones are repeated throughout the piano keyboard from the lowest A to the highest C. The black keys come in groups of two and three, forming half-tone steps between some of the white keys. These are also repeated throughout the keyboard.

A piano keyboard that usually contains 88 full-length keys will have a total of 36 black and 52 white keys within them. The pattern of white keys is as follows: A B C D E F G – A B C D E F G – A B C D E F G – A B C D E F G – A B C D E F G – A B C D E F G – A B C D E F G – A B C

Click to enlarge

The upright piano is available in many editions and models based on wood types, finishes and frame height. Some like black polished, others think the completely white or brown wood color is prettiest. There are many tree varieties to choose from such as ebony, cherry, birch, and walnut. For home use, models with a height of 110 – 120 cm are recommended. Bigger models are for stages, halls and larger rooms.

White piano

Play The Piano Today

Then I have been through most of what is the upright piano. The piano, with either vertical or horizontal strings, is a fantastic musical instrument that everyone should learn to play. Maybe you own a piano or know about one. Pull forward the bench, sit down and let your fingers run over the keys. Feel the tones grow and flow into the room. Play soft – play loud – play slowly – play fast. The piano will follow you wherever you go. Let yourself get carried away. Play the piano, do it today.

If you have any questions about this article please leave them behind and I will be more than happy to help you out.

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