Piano: A Brief History of its Origin and Invention

who invented the piano

A piano or keyboard is a soulful and gorgeous musical instrument. The keyboard is one of the most popular instruments around the world.

And we all know the reasons behind it. But, have we ever thought about the origin of it? Or who invented the piano?

Food for thought, right? 

Knowing the history of the keyboard will make you feel closer to the instrument. Even if you are just a dedicated listener, you can boast about the cool facts in front of your friends.

Whatever it is, before sitting for your piano practice today, let’s get familiar with the origin, invention, and evolution from harpsichord to modern Piano, AKA keyboard.

When Was The Piano Invented?

Unlike most other popular instruments these days, the keyboard roots for its origin almost three hundred years back. The first record of the first piano (after harpsichord) appears in the early decades of the 1700s in Italy.

However, the evolution of the modern-day keyboard started way earlier. According to music historians, the evolved version of the keyboard came from a monochord instrument.

It has changed its shape and appearance many times, till it became what we know as a modern-day keyboard.

Early keyboard and string instruments such as the Clavichord (invented in 1400CE) and the Harpsichord (invented in 1521CE) were well-developed by the 17th century, but they did not offer the capabilities that the keyboard did.

The modern piano was developed and invented in Florence, Italy, around 1700 by the expert Italian harpsichord maker Bartolomeo Cristofori. Although it resembled a modern-day keyboard, it wasn’t the same.

The invention of the modern piano by inventor and organ builder Bartolomeo Cristofori was unique because it was the first keyboard of its kind that could play both high and soft tunes.

The Origin of Piano

history of piano

Surprisingly, the keyboard or, in general, a keyboard can be identified as a string instrument, as the sound is generated from the vibration of the strings.

It is also classified as a percussion instrument because a hammer is used to strike the strings in the piano.

In fact, it would be appropriate to identify it as both a string and percussion instrument, similar to the Dulcimer.

Now, let’s talk about Dulcimer, as it is arguably the predecessor of the keyboard. It is an instrument developed in the Middle-Eastern countries and then spread to all over Europe in the early 11th century.

This instrument comes with a simple resonating box with strings tightly wrapped over it. Unlike a piano, a manual hammer was used to strike the strings to generate sound from it.

For all of these reasons, Dulcimer is considered as the direct ancestor of a keyboard, according to music historians.

 The Clavichord

clavichord - who invented the piano
Image Source: Britannica

As we have already discussed, the piano can also be classified as a keyboard instrument. The most ancient keyboard instrument was the organ. You may have seen it in the pictures. An organ used to be played by sending a burst of air through the pipes.

Craftsmen developed this instrument into something a step closer to the keyboard, Clavichord. Its origin was traced back to the 14th century, and it was a very popular instrument during the time of the Renaissance Era, well, at least until Bartolomeo Cristofori created history.

According to many historians, this was the founding stone for a modern-day keyboard. If you inspect closely, the piano we see today resembles the attire of Clavichord.

However, it was a basic construction. You could only play sound over a range of four to five octaves. It didn’t contain a hammer or even a pedal back then.

 The Harpsichord

The Hapsichord - who invented piano
Image Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The harpsichord is considered the closest to the complex modern-day piano. Upon its invention in the 1500s, the harpsichord spread all over Germany, France, and Great Britain.

In this instrument, when you press a key, a plectrum plucks the string much like a guitar to make the music. The plectrum was called a jack. This instrument, not only by looks but also by structure, resembles a grand piano.

Unlike modern piano or keyboard developed by Bartolomeo Cristofori, providing different scales or volumes had never been harpsichord’s forte.

This was the closest resemblance to the keyboard we use these days. However, harpsichord pianos didn’t contain a hammer or pedal.

Check out EnthuZiastic piano classes for a personalized piano learning experience.

The Origin of Modern Day Piano

Bartolomeo Cristofori made the first modern-day keyboard, which could play both soft and high pitch notes. Plus, we have to give credit to the Steinway company for developing the modern piano.

The specialty of this variant was that it was the first one to replace the jack with the hammer and include pedal, which is the fundamental of the grand piano, upright piano, or digital piano or keyboard we play.

This was the start of a new era for western music. A piano or keyboard is undoubtedly a complex instrument, but it offers so much freedom to the musicians.

That’s why it attracted almost every legendary composer starting from Mozart and Beethoven to the modern-day genius composer Philip Glass or the prodigious pianist Lang Lang.

Evolution of Modern Piano

It almost seems unreal how much pianos have evolved over the course of time, from lute to harpsichord and ‘fortepiano’ to modern-day electric piano. Modern pianos can be classified into two significant categories – acoustic piano and electric piano.

Acoustic Piano

The direct successor of the ‘pianoforte,’ acoustic pianos are hybrid (percussion and string) instruments. These instruments generate sound with hammers covered with felt of leather hitting on the steel strings.

There are two types of acoustic pianosupright piano and grand piano.

Upright Piano

Upright pianos are visibly different from grand pianos as these are significantly smaller than grand pianos.

The mechanism of an upright piano is fundamentally different than a grand piano. The strings and the soundboard plane are placed vertically, perpendicular to the keyboard on an upright piano.

Piano luthier John Isaac Hawkins made the first modern upright piano in around 1800.

The sound of upright pianos is lighter, and the feel of the keys is different than grand pianos.

Upright Piano

There are three types of upright pianos, depending on their height –

  • Spinet Piano

Spinet pianos are developed around the 1930s, and these are the smallest upright pianos with heights ranging from 35 to 40 inches.

  • Console Piano

Slightly bigger than spinet pianos, console upright pianos are the most popular type of upright pianos. The height of a console piano ranges from 40 inches to 44 inches.

Console pianos are easy to assemble and come with a better hammer and key coordination. Brands like Yamaha, Baldwin, Kawai, etc., manufacture the best console pianos, and these instruments are widely used in recording studios.

  • Studio Piano

The mechanism of studio pianos is a bit different than console and spinet pianos. However, these still fall under the upright piano category.

The height of a studio piano varies from 43 to 47 inches mostly. Unlike the other two, studio pianos are heavily used in the professional sphere.

Grand Piano

These are the direct successors of the fortepiano. Grand pianos are considered the standard pianos. Although most people can’t afford a grand piano, these are insanely expensive.

Grand Piano

Many pianists believe that grand pianos offer the most authentic and beautiful sound. The key and hammer mechanism are placed horizontally on the wide back of the piano.

A standard grand piano comes with 88-keys (52 white and 36 black). Grand pianos are divided into 7 categories according to their sizes –

7 categories of Grand Piano

  • Petite grand: 4′ 5″ to 4′ 11″
  • Baby grand: 5′ to 5.5′
  • Medium grand: 5′ 6″ to 5′ 8″
  • Professional grand: 5′ 9″ to 6′ 2″
  • Parlor grand: 6′ 3″ to 6′ 10″
  • Semi-concert grand: 6′ 11″ to 7′ 8″
  • Concert grand: 8′ 11″ to 9′

Digital/Electronic Piano

The latest addition to the piano family is a digital piano. Although it is called a piano, many pianists and music experts refuse to consider it a piano and instead call it a keyboard.

Digital pianos resemble the sound of grand pianos. Expensive digital pianos also come with weighted keys, just like acoustic pianos. However, they don’t come with foot pedals.

These instruments are widely used for live concerts, recording, and composing.

Electric Piano
learning piano

Learn Piano From Expert Teachers

Book a free demo class with one of our top teachers and start learning Piano


Piano or keyboard not only produces rich music but also has an interesting history to learn about. Probably that is why all the great composers in history played piano. It has been used as an essential part of any orchestra.

Sure, the evolution from harpsichord to modern piano and keyboard will always be remembered in history.

I hope there is enough information about the keyboard for you. Now let us all thank Bartolomeo Cristofori for giving us the gift of modern piano or keyboard and start the lessons.

Leave a comment