Invention Of The Piano: History Of The World's Most Versatile Musical Instrument

By Karen Harris
The piano is the go-to instrument for composers and songwriters. (Sina Schuldt/picture alliance via Getty Images)

As the instrument of choice for nearly all composers, the piano is one of the most important musical instruments in history, but when was the piano invented? Who invented the piano? What did early pianos look like?

The Forerunners Of The Piano

The piano's oldest ancestor is the monochord, an ancient musical instrument consisting of a single string stretched across a sound box with movable bridges that could change the frequencies of the sound. Although it was popular throughout the Middle Ages, it was limited in its musical quality. Musicians with a flair for invention experimented with improvements to the monochord and ended up creating the harpsichord and the dulcimer, string instruments that required the player to strike the strings with a small hammer to produce sound.

The clavichord, a keyboard string instrument developed in the late Middle Ages, was popular throughout the Renaissance era and the instrument of choice during the Baroque and Classical periods of music composition, but it differed from the modern piano in a key way—literally. It had only one string per key, and sometimes, a string even pulled double-duty across two keys, while modern piano keys cover as many as three strings each. As a result, the clavichord wasn't loud enough for stage performances, so it was mostly used as a tool to compose music.