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History of the Keyboard hr

A Brief History of the Modern Keyboard

The piano is actually an instrument made up of compromises due to the fact that it is not capable of playing the full "chromatic" scale as it can be played on say, a violin. The piano utilizes a tuning format called "just intonation", a system whereby we are able to command the expression of all the sounds that are requred to be heard within the compass of an octave in order that the degrees of each and every possible scale may be correctly and exactly rendered. In order to create "true diatonic" sounds required for the necessary intervals in all scales, there would have to be 66 notes to an octave!


Vitruvius, in his work on architecture (1st century A.D.) , describes an organ with balanced keys. Next we learn that Emperor Constantine sent a musical instrument having keys to King Pepin of France in 757 A.D.

The great musical genius, Guido of Arezzo, applied the keyboard to stringed instruments in the first part of the 11th century. Guido's diatonic scale, eight full tones with seven intervals of which two were semitones, was used in the first claivchords, which had 20 keys. There are no reliable records in existence, as to who applied the chromatic scale first. Giuseppe Zarlino added the semitones to his instrumnets about 1548, but insturments of earlier date have the chromatic scale, as for instance the clavicymbala, some of which had 77 keys to a compass of four octaves.

After the 15th century nearly all the makers of key-stringed instruments used the chromatic scale practically as we find it in the modern piano. The semitones in most of those old instrments are elevated and of a different color than the full tones. Since the develoment of the piano many experiments have been made with so-called "chromatic" keyboards, in which the semitones were on a level with the full tones. A Dr. Krause of Eisenberg constructed a keyboard in 1811, in which the semitones were not raised and all keys were of the same color. About 1789, Neuhaus, a piano maker of Vienna, constructed a concave-formed keyboard forhis pianos. He aimed to follow the inclination of the human arm to move in a semicircle.

As you can see, the modern keyboard has gone through many changes, however, the basic concept of the key lay-out has been fairly consistent. This is a result of the order in which the whole tones and semi-tones are arranged, and has evolved over centuries.

(The first section was taken from "Theory & Practice of Piano Construction" by William White, the second section is from "Pianos and their Makers" by Alfred Dolge.

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