The piano is one of the most well recognized musical instruments in the world.
So it is easy to think that the instrument has a long and ancient history.
But the fact is that the piano is still a relatively recent invention: it is only around three centuries old.
Before that time, the harpsichord was the major keyboard instrument.
The internal mechanism of the harpsichord would pluck strings, rather than hitting them, whenever its keys were pressed.
So it sounded more like a guitar — or a medieval lute — than modern pianos do.
The clavichord was a similar instrument that used metal blades and strings to produce a sound.
Organs were also played in churches and music halls. They relied on air moving through pipes.
However, it is said that Bartolomeo Cristofori — sometime around the year 1700 — modified a harpsichord to give it more of a hammer-action mechanism.
By doing this, he created an instrument that clearly resembled the modern piano.
It allowed players to have more control over the volume and dynamics of their music.
This increased control allowed for a greater expression of emotion.
It also allowed pianists to interpret musical pieces with a more individual and idiosyncratic style.
This helped to make the piano such an important instrument for the subsequent development of classical music.
The number of keys that a piano could be expected to offer gradually became standardized in the following century.
A grand piano now has 88 keys, each playing a different note — from a low A at the bottom to a high C at the top.
The keys span more than 7 octaves.
In total, there are 52 white keys and 36 black keys.
Within each octave, there are 12 keys, of which 7 are white and 5 are black.
It is easy to see how the complex combinations of notes that a skilful pianist could come up with are almost infinite.