Piano Parts and How a Piano Works

hammers - the hammers are usually made from wool felt. The movement of the hammers is controlled by the keys. As they strike the strings, the strings vibrate causing sound. The hammers must be uniform in size, shape and density in order to produce a consistent sound as they strike the strings. Over time and use, the felt hammers may need to be serviced in order to create their best sound. They may need to be resurfaced or voiced.

strings - the strings are actually metal wires of varying thickness, length, and tension to produce tones of different pitchs. The tension of the strings is adjusted with a tuning wrench and calibrated to the A440 standard. There are approximately 220 strings tuned to eight-eight (88) different pitches. When a piano is cared for properly, the strings will last for quite a long time. Eventually the strings will need to br replaced in a process known as "restringing".

bridge - the bridge is a carefully shaped wooden (generally maple) bar that elevates the strings above the soundboard. As the strings vibrate they transfer vibrations to the bridge which is attached to the soundboard. The bridge transfers these vibrations to the soundboard which in turn amplifies the tones of the strings.

soundboard - the soundboard is most often carefully constructed of spruce wood. Many pianos utilize a laminated soundboard while higher quality pianos will have a carefully crafted solid spruce soundboard for better sound. Generally speaking the larger soundboards produce a fuller sound. The vibrations that the soundboard receives from the bridge begin to resonate from this spruce board and actually amplify the sound of the strings many times that of the strings themselves.

plate - the plate is a cast iron metal frame which adds rigidity to the cabinet and maintains the structural integrity of the piano under the great stress that the tension of the strings applies to the cabinet. The combined tension of the strings is often between sixteen and twenty-three tons and without this cast iron plate, the extreme tension of the strings would cause the piano to collapse.

pins - the pins are small metal objects that secure one end of each string and allow the piano to be tuned accurately. Each pin has three distinct sections. The lower end of the pins is etched to make it seat securely in the pinblock. The middle section of the pin is round and smooth and may have a whole in it that the end of the string is inserted in before it is wound tight. The top end of the pin is square to accomodate a tuning wrench. Pins are a very durable part of the piano but may be replaced if the piano is restrung or rebuilt.

pinblock - the pinblock is constructed of laminated layers of hard rock maple that are drilled with holes in a precision size and pattern. The pins are inserted in these holes. The pinblock usually lasts for a very long time unless the wood gets too dry which will cause it to crack. Cracked pinblocks must be repaired or replaced.

action - the action is an elaborate system of mechanical devices that transmit motion from the keyboard to the strings. The action is a system of almost four-thousand (4000) wood and felt parts. The pianist starts the action by striking a key, which causes a system of levers to move a hammer. The hammer strikes the strings and causes them to vibrate. This vibration is magnified by the soundboard and we hear the wonderful sounds of the piano. There are different types and styles of actions but generally speaking, they fall into two categories - vertical pianos and grand pianos. Grand pianos generally have a faster action than vertical pianos.

pedals - pianos have either two or three foot pedals that have various effects on the action and how the strings are allowed to vibrate. The pedals control the dampers that dampen or sustain the the sound of the strings and a variety of other functions such as volume or practice pads.

dampers - the dampers are wooden blocks covered with felt that are controlled by the pedals and individual keys. The dampers raise and lower from the strings to control the sustain of the vibration of the strings.

cabinet - the cabinet is the wooden case of the piano. It must be well constructed and the pieces must fit together tightly. The cabinet is typically finished in black,white, or wood tone and coated with lacquer or a poly-varnish in a satin or gloss finish. Some cabinets are painted or ornately decorated.

keys - the eighty-eight keys on the piano are the part of the piano we are most familiar with. The keys are wood levers covered with plastic resin or ivory. When a key is pressed the action of that key causes a specific hammer to strike a specific string and play a note. Keystrokes are combined to mix the tones of multiple strings at once to produce what we know as a chord. The keys are grouped together in octaves, or eight note scales. These octaves are arranged with the lower notes on the left and the higher pitch notes on the right. The keyboard consists of seven and one half octaves from a low "A" note to a high "C" note.



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