The Keeper of the Keys: Meet the Keyboard Family (Infographic)

Keyboard instruments are an important tool in music education, giving students a hands-on, visual means of learning music theory while offering a wide range of unique sounds.

Keyboard Family Infographic

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What is a Keyboard Instrument?

Any instrument played using a keyboard, which can comprise a series of

  • Keys
  • Buttons
  • Parallel levers

The keys are set in a chromatic scale with bass notes on the left and treble notes on the right.

A keyboard gives a musician the ability to play several notes at once and in succession, allowing you to play any work in Western canon.

Fun Historical Facts

  • The first keyboard appeared on the hydraulis, a pipe organ powered by water, which was invented by Ctesibius of Alexandria in the late 3rd century B.C.
  • Organs in the Middle Ages had sliders that were pulled to sound different notes. Some had keys that turned like a key for a lock.
  • The dulcimer was the first of the keyboard instruments to appear in Europe in the 14th century.
  • The 15th century saw the development of the spinet, virginal, clavecin, and harpsichord.
  • The harpsichord was the most popular of these early iterations, but it could only be played at one volume.
  • The piano was invented in 1709 by Bartolomeo di Francesco Cristofori, an Italian harpsichord maker.
  • In 1863, Henri Fourneaux invented the player piano, which he called the pianista.

The Key Family

Common keyboard instruments:

  • Piano
  • Organ
  • Clavichord
  • Harpsichord
  • Hurdy gurdy
  • Melodica
  • Accordion
  • Synthesizers

Breaking Down the Piano

The piano is considered the king of instruments, and not just for its size. The piano:

  • Offers an amazing range that goes higher than the highest note of a piccolo and lower than the lowest note of a double bass
  • Can play both melody and accompaniment at the same time
  • Is one of the go-to instruments for composers and musicians of all genres and disciplines

Piano anatomy:

  • Soundboard
  • Keyboard
  • Tuning pins
  • Action frame
  • Hammers
  • Bass strings
  • Treble strings
  • Cast iron plate

How Keyboard Instruments Make Sound

Keyboard instruments actually mix elements from strings, percussion, and woodwinds.

  • Striking: When you hit a key on a piano, a hammer strikes a series of strings, causing them to vibrate. The vibrating strings are amplified through the soundboard.
  • Plucking: When you hit a key on a harpsichord, a jack moves up and plucks the strings, much like a guitar.
  • Air: Organs and accordions produce sound using air, controlled by bellows or a windchest. The air passes through certain pipes or over specific reeds depending on the keys that are depressed.
  • Some pianos also feature pedals:

    • Una corda pedal (left pedal)
      • Produces a softer sound
      • Una corda means “one string.” Treble keys are normally attached to two or three strings. The una corda pedal shifts the strings so that the hammer only hits one string.
    • Sostenuta (middle pedal)
      • Causes certain notes to be sustained
      • Only found on American grand pianos
    • Sustain pedal (right pedal)
      • Causes all of the notes to resonate after the keys have lifted
      • Creates legato effect, allowing notes to overlap and echo

    Keys to Success

    • Learn music theory. The piano is the best tool for learning music theory and fundamentals, which carries over to all musical instruments and disciplines. This includes:
      • Scales
      • Intervals
      • Key signatures
      • Chords
      • Chord progressions
    • Play classical music, which can help you build your basic technique.
    • Play with good posture to prevent fatigue and aches and ensure the most efficient method of play.
      • Keep your hands relaxed, fingers curved.
      • Instead of relying on just your finger strength, use the whole weight of your arm.
      • Do not slouch. Keep your back straight, aligning your head, shoulders, and hips.
      • Elbows should be at a 90-degree angle.
      • Feet should be touching the floor completely. Use a footstool if necessary.
      • Sit only on the front half of the bench.
      • Your knees should be just below the keyboard.
    • Remember to relax. Tensing up will prevent efficient play.
    • Learning to play with both hands is challenging for many beginners.
      • When starting a new piece, play with just the right hand alone a few times. Then play with the left hand alone. Once you’re comfortable, play with both hands.
      • Play slowly, gradually increasing the tempo as you gain confidence.
      • Read notes vertically before moving horizontally.
    • Play in front of your friends and family to build confidence and share your progress.
    • Have fun!


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