Difference between piano and harpsichord

Overview of features of a piano

A piano is a musical instrument for a solo performance or concert. It features an authentic sound and control. The shape and composition of the piano have a keyboard, housing case and lid, pedals, keys, hammers, and strings. Its parts are materials for strength and longevity, especially the outer rim. Below is a summary of each feature.

Keyboard

A standard piano keyboard has 88 keys, including both white and black keys (Classicfm.com). Start to get used to the physical space. That way, you develop a sense of keyboard geography that is visual and physical. Without a full keyboard from the start, you might not excel. 

The keyboard is the part where most interaction between the piano and the pianist happens. A standard keyboard consists of 88 keys in total. Keys are set at different portions and attached to the internal components inside the piano case, and pressing each key creates a different tone.

Housing

That is the part of a piano that houses the instrument. It comes in different shapes and sizes, depending on the type of piano.  The case has a lid you can open to allow for a tone from the strings. Of all the pianos, an upright piano is more compact. 

Hammers and Strings

That is where the musical magic takes place. The hammers and strings are inside the housing, under the lid. When pressed, the keys pivot the hammer in a striking motion that impacts the strings. Strings are tightened and tuned for a specific sound or note. The hammer strikes the piano string to create a resonant vibration and a clear sound.

Damper

When a key is released, the part that settles to catch the string and stops the vibration to prevent the sounds from making uncontrolled noise is the damper. It is a soft cloth that mutes the vibrating strings, preventing unnecessary noise. The damper sits over the strings and activates after a key press is released.

Pedals

Pedals come in sets of two or three, depending on the style of the piano instrument. They are at the base of the piano outside of the case. These pedals have their role in creating, maintaining, or ending specific musical notes while playing. An acoustic piano has three pedals, with the right pedal sustaining the tone. 

Overview of features of a harpsichord        

The harpsichord is a musical instrument with two or more sets of strings, each producing different tone qualities. One set an octave higher than the others is called a 4-foot register, whereas a set of strings is called an 8-foot register. Set the strings in vibration by plucking. 

Case

The wooden case holds in position all the structural members of the harpsichord. It has a solid bottom and internal bracing to maintain its form without warping under the tension of the strings. Cases vary in weight and sturdiness, with some having a light construction. Heavier construction is in the Flemish instruments.

Lid stick

That is the wood stick that keeps the lid open. When the lid is closed, the far end of the lid stick goes into the felted rest, which stops holding the lid stick securely. The lid stick is held open by a wooden stick called the lid prop. Lid props have a smaller stick called a half-prop. The lid and flap are hinged and attached to the instrument. That is after the exterior finish is completed.

Music desk

It is the place where the player places the sheet music. The construction is simple. The music desk is the part of the case that holds the printed music upright for the pianist to see. The bottom horizontal portion of the music desk supports the bottom of the printed music. 

The bottom part is called the music shelf. The music desk is hinged and can be at several different angles. When not using printed music, the desk is of no use. It can be folded down or removed from the piano and set aside. 

Keyboard

It consists of the keys that produce the notes. It is a row of wooden levers, giving the player the surface that the fingers touch. It is in line between finger and string. Key levers consist of a piece of wood.

        How does a harpsichord work

It works through a plucking mechanism, which involves plucking strings to make a sound.

        How many keys are on a harpsichord

A harpsichord has 60 keys.

The main difference between a harpsichord and a piano

The main difference between the piano and harpsichord is in the use of their strings. Hammers are used to strike the strings of the piano, while the strings are plucked in a harpsichord. The sounds produced by a piano differ from those produced by a harpsichord. 

The harpsichord comes with five octaves, whereas the piano has seven octaves. Since the harpsichord dynamic is softer, the notes sustain little. Ascents, decrescendos, and crescendos are impossible with the harpsichord.

Difference between harpsichord and clavichord

The clavichord is a stringed instrument, and the harpsichord is an instrument that uses a mechanism to produce sound. The sound the clavichord makes is softer and more delicate that it cannot be used in front of large audiences or concert halls. 

What are the similarities between a harpsichord and a piano

  • A piano and a harpsichord look similar in shape. 
  • They both play by pressing the keys with their fingers.
  • They are both keyboard instruments.

Harpsichord VS organ

An organ is a keyboard instrument operated by the player’s hands and feet (Britannica.com). It makes use of pressurized air to produce notes through pipes. Harpsichord is a musical instrument played using a keyboard.

Is playing the harpsichord like playing the piano

No, it is different. You have a hammer striking the strings when using the piano, whereas, in a harpsichord, the strings are plucked. When plucking, use a certain amount of force to make the keys sound. 

A piano is easier to play than a harpsichord. It is easy enough to play the notes as one gets used to the different key sizes and spacing. The technique for the harpsichord is different. To bring out different voices, one cannot use differences in volume. There is less touch on the Harpsichord than on the Piano because the Harpsichord has a smaller dynamic range than the piano does.

Rob is a musician and audiophile at heart. He plays 5 instruments. Besides music, Rob enjoys a good whiskey and the outdoors.
Robert S. Thompson
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