Do you remember your first time hearing a grand piano? Maybe you were a small child, eyes wide in wonderment over the enchanting melodies swirling about the room, or maybe you were a full grown adult finally ready to get their feet wet in classical music. Maybe you first heard a grand piano at an elaborate concert performance – or perhaps it was at a five star restaurant. Whatever the case, it’s highly likely that your first encounter with a grand piano left an indelible impression. This is because grand pianos are some of the most powerful and recognizable instruments in the Western world. We equate these pianos with wealth and sophistication – and that’s for good reason.
However, as you sit and listen to the beautiful tinkling and deep vibration of a well played grand piano, it’s unlikely that you take much time to consider its inner workings. Like most things, unless you make the instruments yourself, we take pianos at face value. They are beautiful on the outside and make beautiful noises – but why? Underneath the lid of a grand piano lies a multitude of small pieces and intricate parts. Each and every piece of the piano, however small, plays an important role in creating the sound. If just one of these pieces were to break, the entire sound could be compromised.
As is already obvious, a grand piano is a great deal larger than other models. The power behind its sound is mostly due to its sheer size and the fact that each part has to be designed to scale. Because the sounding board is horizontal rather than vertical, and because the piano itself is very large, the strings of a grand piano are longer than the strings of upright pianos and baby grand pianos.
The sound a piano makes when a key is pressed is due to the hammer hitting the string. In a grand piano, the hammers hit the strings from underneath before falling back into their resting position. The vibrations of the strings are then translated into the sounding board which amplifies the sound. This creates the rich, beautiful sound we hear – or, in some cases, the cringe worthy cacophony when the piano is played poorly. Either way, these longer strings create larger and more violent vibrations which result in a louder and more powerful sound.
Generally, grand pianos have about 230 strings and, over time, piano manufacturers have learned a great deal about which sorts of metal alloys are most durable and how the density of these wire types affect the sound. In modern pianos, the metal wire stings are wrapped with copper and steel which makes them stronger and improves the sound.
One thing to keep in mind about the strings of a grand piano – especially an older grand piano – is that they may break due to rust. If this happens, it is in your best interest to replace the broken strings immediately. If you choose not to do so, the hammers could wear unevenly and you will eventually face further and more costly repairs. When it comes to a grand piano, it’s important to treat it with special care.
Now share with us – when was the first time you heard a grand piano?