Keyboard Instruments

Courtesy of Peter Newble (harpsichord), Arthur Ka Wai Jenkins (piano and organ)

Keyboard instruments are not a family in the same way as Strings, Woodwind, Brass and Percussion: each one has a very different mechanism for producing sound. The keyboards are just on the surface: what is underneath is more complicated! They are also used for different kinds of music in different settings.

The three main ones are:

Piano: Took over from the harpsichord in the 18th century and is hugely popular today.

Q: How is the sound produced?
A: Little hammers hit the strings when the keys are pressed. (Digital or electronic pianos are designed to mimic the sound, using electronics.)

Organ: from ancient to modern, organs have come in many shapes and sizes and are found most often in churches and cathedrals.

Q: How is the sound produced?
A: Air is sent through pipes when keys or pedals are pressed. (Digital or electronic organs are designed to mimic the sound, using electronics.)

Harpsichord: an early keyboard instrument that was especially popular during the Renaissance (c. 1400–1600) and Baroque (c. 1600–1750) eras.

Q: How is the sound produced?
A: Plectrums pluck strings inside, activated when the keys are pressed.

Do You Know?

Do You Know?

See if you can answer the questions below!

 A digital piano has which of these?

a. Strings
b. A plug
c. Hammers

 What is a manual?

a. A keyboard
b. A handspan
c. A pedalboard

 Which can produce the loudest sound?

a. Piano
b. Harpsichord
c. Organ

 Which of these percussion instruments also has a keyboard?

a. Vibraphone
b. Tam-tam
c. Celeste

 What can you do on a keyboard instrument that you can’t do on most other instruments?

a. Play quietly
b. Play many notes at once
c. Play scales

Play More Music!

Play More Music!