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Harpsichord Vs. Piano: What’s The Difference?
Although the precise time it was built is difficult to determine, the first recordings of the Harpsichord can be traced back to the late 1300s. Experts agree that the Middle Ages was when the first harpsichord instrument appeared in the music industry.
Depending on where it was played, there are many names for this instrument. German artists played the cembalo while Italian musicians played the clavicembalo. No matter what the name may be, the period between the 15th and 18th centuries was colored by its tones.
The Baroque period, 1600-1750, was the golden age of the Harpsichord. It was used on all European courts. These were the most famous harpsichordists:
- Johann Sebastian Bach
- Domenico Scarlatti
- George Frideric Handel
- Francois Couperin
- Jean-Philippe Rameau
After the invention of the piano, the instrument began to decline in popularity. Although the keys of both piano and Harpsichord have similar physical appearances, there are many differences.
The piano is more modern than the Harpsichord. It was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori, who was a member of the prominent Italian Medici families.
He was an expert maker of harpsichords and named his new instrument “Un cimbalo de cipresso di pianoforte”.
A piano is a “struck instrument”, which vibrates strings by hitting them with hammers. A harpsichord, a “plucked instrument”, makes sounds by vibrating strings and plucking them with plectrums.
A harpsichord’s sounding mechanism is similar to that of a guitar, whose strings are plucked with a pick and plucked with plectrums. As you press a key, a harpsichord will pluck the string with a plectrum.
The number of keys on these two instruments is also an important difference. Only the basic harpsichord models have one keyboard while the piano has one. This instrument is most commonly equipped with double or triple boards.
The classical piano has 88 keys. However, this number can vary between models. The piano has seven octaves and possibly a little more. This is the number of tones that human ears can hear and recognize. For the Harpsichord, there are four to six octaves of sound.
The pitches can be heard from 20 Hz up to 20,000 HZ. Tones between 40 and 4000 Hz can be pleasant to our ears. Our ears will recognize any sounds that fall below or above this tone range as noise. The lowest possible piano tone is 27Hz, and the highest is 4200Hz. It is easily adjusted to the human ear, as you can see.
Color of the Keys
It is easy to identify the piano because it has more white keys than it does black. Also, it appears as the black keys rest on the white background. The pianos of the past had black keys for natural keys and white keys for sharp keys. They look almost identical to modern pianos, but the colors were changed in the 18th century.
Similar results were observed with the Harpsichord. The sharp keys were white, while the natural keys were black. This was due to the lack of plastic keys such as we have today. There were many reasons for this. This material was less expensive than ivory, which was considered a luxury.
Experts believe that performers and the aristocracy used a lot of white powder on their faces and hands. The contrast of the black keys and pale skin was important because they were trying to emphasize it.
Another theory is that the ivory keys were heavier than natural ones, and the performer felt the difference when he played for long periods. The sharp keys are more common than natural keys, so it is not necessary to be too light.
Because of its structure, a harpsichord can’t make a different sound, which was why a fortepiano (an early piano) was invented. The fortepiano was an innovative instrument. It had characteristics that a harpsichord didn’t have. A fortepiano could play both piano and forte and had a pedal that could sustain its sound.
The sound dynamics are not used, but the full technique of articulation and agogic is used to connect and divide sounds. This allows for a delicate touch and soft rhythmic sense.
The Pedals and Emitting of the Sound
You’ve probably noticed that the piano has pedals on the bottom. When the pianist wants to create a sound, he presses them with his feet.
You can get the ringtone or echo sound by pressing the damper pedal. This creates the illusion that the sound travels and stays, which is impossible for the Harpsichord. Its tone cannot last for long.
The Harpsichord’s characteristic sound is its harmonic sound. However, the piano does not have this musical performance. Harmonious sounds can be heard as the fundamental tone’s double frequency. This is what makes the Harpsichord unique and beautiful.
You have complete control over the volume of the sound produced by the piano. This means that you can play softly or loudly depending on how the key is pressed. This control is not available to harpsichord players. The sound volume will remain constant no matter how soft or hard you press.
Bartolomeo Cistrofori invented the piano. He was unhappy with the lack of control musicians had over the Harpsichord’s level. First, the instrument was called “clavicembalo col piano e forte”, a harpsichord capable of making soft and loud sounds. Later it was called “pianoforte”, which was later shortened to “piano”.
Concern for the appearance
The instruments of the aristocrats were the harpsichords. This was the Baroque Age, when palaces and churches, gardens, and even dresses, were all at their peak. The Harpsichord was designed to fit into the furniture of the time. Therefore, the tone and decoration must be beautiful. It was considered an instrument and a work of art.
Later, pianos were a part of the middle-class bourgeois who rose to prominence with the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution. Their mainstream design was simple and removed all decorations to lower the cost to middle-class people.
Maintaining and tuning
Every musician knows that tuning and maintaining a piano is crucial for their career. Pianos have stronger strings so tuning them is not necessary.
Contrary to popular belief, the Harpsichord strings were weaker and needed to be tuned before each performance. Although it was tedious and tiring, it wasn’t too difficult.
Is harpsichord easier than piano?
The number of keys on a harpsichord is usually lower than that on a piano, even the double-manual ones. Because they don’t have hammers like a piano, the keys do not require a heavy touch. It does, however, require a different technique to the piano.
Which came first the piano or the harpsichord?
The 1600s were before the piano. The Harpsichord was later developed with a similar set of tightened strings and tuned to different pitches. It featured a keyboard that was similar to a modern piano.
Can you play harpsichord if you play the piano?
You can play any piece you can on a piano. You will be able to play it on the Harpsichord without the dynamics. The Bach fugues you can play on the piano translate well to the Harpsichord.
Which is older piano or organ?
The organ, which is the oldest keyboard instrument, has been used for many centuries. The organ is the most popular keyboard instrument, which likely helped create various keyboard instruments. However, the organ is a wind keyboard and is not related to the piano.
Although they have different histories, the two types of pianos – Harpsichord and piano – have a lot in common. Professional musicians will be able to identify the differences between the two types quickly. This article will help beginners distinguish between the two types.
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