The piano is an unmusical instrument, the least musical of all instruments. It is by nature impersonal, a purely mechanical device. Its hammers are totally indifferent to what triggers them. Anything or anyone can depress a key and the same pitch will be heard. Its pitches are almost always out of tune, all of them equally out of tune even when freshly tuned. Once a key has been depressed the player is helpless to influence the sound. The myriad expressive techniques available to melody instruments are off limits to the piano. Unable to be shaped by dynamic nuance or vibrato, its sound is left to die a slow death.

Yet the piano remains the most popular of all classical instruments. It is the easiest instrument to play poorly, the most difficult to master. What it lacks in the expressive shaping of any single note it makes up for in its emulation of the entire orchestra. It is the string section, winds, brass and percussion, all in one! Yet it eclipses the orchestra: The piano's 88 keys reach lower and higher than any orchestral instrument. It can be the solo soprano or the entire choir. Its allure lies in the interaction of notes horizontally, within a single line, and vertically, as musical lines react to one another, balance one another, competing for attention.

The piano is the most and least versatile of instruments. It is ubiquitous in song accompaniments and much chamber music. It substitutes for the orchestra in rehearsals for ballets and musicals. Even entire symphonies can be played on it. It gives us full harmony, polyphony and polyrhythms. Yet pianists, at home with their own instrument, are forced to play another at every venue, a cruel disadvantage to the concert performer.

The pianist is removed from his instrument; the instrument is not embraced like a cello or bassoon. The fingertip does not come into direct contact with the piano's sound-producing body, as the player's body does with more truly musical instruments; rather, the pianist merely activates the sound indirectly by a complicated contraption of levers, jacks, hammers and dampers.

Hit hard, the piano shrieks in pain, yet when caressed it delicately communicates love. Only the volume of each note lies under the pianist's control. It is a wonder that infinite variety is concealed within but a single determinant!

The modern piano looks generic compared to the master craftsmanship of antique pianos. Its black exterior is more forbidding than inviting. At nine feet or more, a concert grand is an imposing statement.

Yet for all its august greatness, the piano is an intimate confidante and lifelong companion. A lifetime of piano practice can be a path to ever-deepening refinement, an expression of life's joy, of heartbreak, melancholy and ecstasy. All of life's experiences can somehow be communicated via this wordless black box, for all its gross deficiencies. The piano is transformed into an extension of the soul of anyone with the patience to unlock its secrets.


The Piano Lessons

    Antique Piano Appraisal
    As emphasized in the articles Piano Values and Antique Piano Values, a piano's fair market value may not reflect its true quality as a musical instrument,...
    Antique Piano Bench
    For many, an antique piano bench can be a prized possession. From their elegantly carved, exotic woods to their varicolored fabrics, they can be a sight to...
    Antique Piano Value
    Question: I have a piano for sale that's very rare and I do have some information about it already: The reason I'm inquiring is that I think it's worth more...
    Antique Piano Values
    As discussed in the article Piano Values, a piano's musical value may well differ from its market value. This is particularly the case when determining...
    Baldwin Piano Age
    Question: What year is my Baldwin piano from? The serial number is 1518109. Thank you. Albert's reply: This Baldwin appears to be an Acrosonic from 1993, ...
    Blue Book of Pianos
    Many people looking to buy or sell a seek to appraise its value by means of a so-called 'blue book' of pianos. A blue book of pianos is a compilation of...
    Digital Piano Review
    key-notes is pleased to present its digital piano review section, which aims to help its readers understand the benefits and drawbacks of digital and...
    Famous Piano Players
    History is full of famous piano players in all musical genres. Since key-notes is dedicated primarily to classical music, this article focuses on the most...
    Harmony Museum Historic Piano
    Question: We have a piano dating probably from early 19th century (could be earlier) bearing the name F. Domeyer & Osterhold, Hamburg. We have no...
    Layout of Piano Keys
    A piano keyboard may look confusing at first, but the layout of piano keys is actually very simple. While it would be nearly impossible to identify...
    Light vs. Heavy Actions
    Question: Hi Albert, I have three pianos: two digital Rolands and a Steinway upright. All three have a very light touch. The problem is that after learning...
    Light vs. Heavy Actions
    Question: Hi Albert, I have three pianos: two digital Rolands and a Steinway upright. All three have a very light touch. The problem is that after learning...
    Piano Appraisal
    The purpose of piano appraisal is to determine a fair price for a piano. Fair market value should not be confused with a piano's worth as a musical instrument,...
    Piano Humidifier: What All Piano Owners Need to Know
    One of the most important factors influencing piano tuning stability is humidity. A piano humidifier is therefore an essential investment for all piano owners.
    Piano Pedal: A Blessing in Disguise!
    My piano's right pedal broke the other day. The piano pedal didn't break off or anything; it just got disconnected. Since it seems all the piano technicians...
    Piano Pedals
    What are all those piano pedals for, and how did they get there? This article explores the pedals and their history. The piano pedals have by no means...
    Piano Range
    Question: What is the full scale of the keyboard/piano, and what is the first note on the keyboard? Albert's reply: The first key on the standard, 88-key...
    Piano Values
    What factors determine piano values, and how much is your piano worth? While a piano, like anything else, is ultimately worth whatever a seller can get for it,...
    Pictures of Pianos
    Share your piano on key-notes's Pictures of Pianos page! Like people, pianos come in all shapes and sizes, and like pets, they can be an expression of our...
    Roland Digital Piano
    Although as a classical pianist I play an acoustic piano, there are people and situations for whom a digital piano is a practical solution, and I get asked...
    Steinway vs. Boston Pianos
    Question: Hi Albert, Thanks for this great site! My question is, I have a Yamaha upright that's about 20 years old and I'm thinking about buying a new piano....
    Steinway vs. Boston Pianos
    Question: Hi Albert, Thanks for this great site! My question is, I have a Yamaha upright that's about 20 years old and I'm thinking about buying a new piano....
    The Piano
    The piano is an unmusical instrument, the least musical of all instruments. It is by nature impersonal, a purely mechanical device. Its hammers are totally...
    Una Corda Pedal
    Question: What does U.C. mean? Albert's reply: U.C. stands for una corda and it refers to a piano's leftmost of the three piano pedals. It is also called the...
    Upright Piano Value
    Question: I have a Concord upright cabinet grand piano, serial #22580. I want to sell it but am not sure what to charge. I've been researching for a while...
    What Are the Notes on a Piano?
    Question: I was wondering, what are the notes on a piano? Albert's reply: I assume you're talking about the names of the keys... but they don't really have...
    Who Invented the Piano?
    It was a harpsichord maker named Bartolomeo Cristofori who invented the piano in 1700. Cristofori (pronounced kris-TOFF-or-ee) (1655-1731) was from Padua, in...
    Yamaha Digital Piano: A Pianist's Review of the AvantGrand
    I recently had an opportunity to play the AvantGrand, the new Yamaha digital piano that represents the current state of the art, and wanted to share my...

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