how do upright pianos work

The notes and sounds made by a piano are the result of strings vibrating. The strings vibrate when they are hit by a hammer within the piano. The piano has 88 keys all of which play a different note. Multiple keys can be played at the same time to create chords and harmonies. What happens when you hit a key? When you press a key on the piano it causes a small hammer inside the piano to hit a string or strings. Each key is connected to its own hammer or hammers which hit a specific string or number of strings. When the hammer hits a string, it vibrates and makes a sound that is tuned to a specific note. The vibration of the string is then passed on to the soundboard located just under the strings causing it to vibrate and resonate. The soundboard gives each piano its own unique sound and also helps to amplify the sound (make louder). The Damper In addition to the hammer, there is also a damper. The damper is covered with a felt pad and keeps the strings from vibrating when they are not being played. When you press a key the damper is lifted from the string to allow it to vibrate. When you release a key, the damper moves back onto the string to stop the vibration. The Strings Even though there are 88 keys on a piano there are more than 88 strings inside it. A typical piano may have as many as 230 strings. This is because many of the high notes have 3 strings, some lower notes have 2 strings, and the very low notes only have 1 string. The Pedals Pianos generally have two or three pedals that you work with your feet. The right pedal is the most commonly used and is called the damper or sustaining pedal. It raises the dampers from all the strings when you press on it allowing notes to be continue (or be sustained) even after you release the key. Pedals of a piano The two pedals to the left can have different functions depending on the piano. The leftmost pedal is generally called a soft pedal. It moves the hammers to allow the music to be played a bit softer. It may move the hammers closer to the strings or a bit to the side. The middle pedal generally lifts the dampers for the notes being played at the time. It may also just lift the dampers for the low notes. It depends on the piano. Fun Facts about How a Piano Works A piano is a very complex instrument. There can be well over 50 parts for each key and a grand piano may be made from over 7000 total parts. The working portion of the piano is called the action. The action of a grand piano is considered superior to that of an upright piano due to its design. The action of a grand piano allows a note to be played faster than with an upright. Different strings in the piano have different thicknesses to get different notes. Low notes have thicker strings. The hammer actually releases from the key right before it hits the string. This allows it to hit the string and bounce off it. Otherwise it may stay on the string and would end up damping it.

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Upright pianomusical instrument in which the soundboard and plane of the strings run vertically, perpendicular to the keyboard, thus taking up less floor space than the normal grand piano. Upright pianos are made in various heights; the shortest are called spinets or consoles, and these are generally considered to have an inferior tone resulting from the shortness of their strings and their relatively small soundboards. The larger upright pianos were quite popular in the later 19th and early 20th centuries. The action (hammer and damper mechanism) of the upright differs from the grand-piano action mainly in that upright action is returned to a resting position by means of springs rather than by gravity alone, as in a grand. This, in part, accounts for the characteristic “touch” of uprights, which is distinct from that of grands. The chief advantages of upright pianos lie in their modest price and compactness; they are instruments for the home and school, not for the concert stage.

“Giraffe-style” piano, an upright piano in Biedermeier style, by Gebroeders Muller, c. 1820; in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
“Giraffe-style” piano, an upright piano in Biedermeier style, by Gebroeders Muller, c. 1820; in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht, The Netherlands.Courtesy of the Centraal Museum, Utrecht, The Netherlands

The majority of upright pianos have strings running upward from the bottom of the case, near the floor; this design is owed to John Isaac Hawkins, an Englishman who lived in the United States in about 1800 and became an important piano maker in Philadelphia. Earlier, the strings started upward from near the level of the keys; these instruments were necessarily much taller and lent themselves to various decorative designs, among them lyre-shaped; round; the “pyramid” model (Pyramidenflügel; 1745) of the Saxon organ-builder Ernst Christian Friderici, with both sides sloping upward to the flat top; and the “giraffe-style” design (Giraffenflügel; 1804) of Martin Seuffert of Vienna, with one side straight and one bent, as on a grand piano.

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