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Musical instruments

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Both harpsichord and piano are string instruments and are prevalent in opera. Although they may quite look similar, they are two very different instruments.

The primary difference between the two is in the use of strings. Specifically, the harpsichord strings are plucked while hammers strike the piano strings.

In addition, there are still many differences between piano vs. harpsichord.

Piano vs. Harpsichord: What Is the Difference?

Piano

Age Difference

The harpsichord is believed to have existed since about 1400, and its heyday lasted from its birth until 1800. At this time, it was prevalent in Western Europe.

In the late 1700s, the piano was born in Italy and quickly became popular. It was also responsible for the demise of the harpsichord around the early 18th century.

So the harpsichord was born about four centuries before the piano.

Size

Harpsichords are wing-shaped and look similar to harps placed on a frame. They are also narrower than pianos.

The harpsichord tends to be lighter than the piano as the harpsichord’s inner core, and the case is typically lighter.

A harpsichord is about eight feet long, three feet wide, and weighs roughly 275 pounds.

The pianos come in three types: digital, grand, and pianos. The average weight of an upright piano is about 527 pounds, and it can be 30″ to 50″ tall.

Sound

The sound from a harpsichord and piano is also very different. Harpsichords are more harmonious and quieter than pianos.

In addition, it is easier to control the sound of harpsichords.

The harpsichord’s sound is more formal and rigid, while most pianos allow you to play various sounds.

It is not feasible to play decrescendo or crescendo on a harpsichord.

Octave Range

For normal harpsichords, the octave range from 4 to 6 octaves, while the octave range of a piano is roughly 7 octaves.

Keyboard

The keyboard also has a difference between these two instruments. Specifically, a harpsichord features two keyboards, and the piano comes with only one.

The piano features 88 keys or more, while one double keyboard harpsichord comes with 96 to 144 keys.

For harpsichords, you can find a soundboard that is located under their strings. This soundboard will vibrate and amplify the note played.

Pianos are packaged with similar sound amplification systems, but they will be the hammers that strike strings to produce sound.

Also Read: Clavichord vs. Harpsichord: What Is the Difference?

Pedals

The pedal of pianos will create sounds when pressed. Meanwhile, harpsichords have no pedal, and their harmonious sounds are typically considered as essential as the sound effects of the pianos’ pedal.

Strings

Harpsichord
Harpsichord

The harpsichord has two string sets; its sound is delivered by plucking strings.

Some harpsichords have more than two string sets. Plus, some models feature two sets of eight-foot strings that may differ in sound depending on what kind of material is utilized to make the plectrum.

Tuning the strings on a harpsichord is more tedious and time-consuming than on a piano. Furthermore, strings of the harpsichord tend to be thinner and weaker and require you to tune before each gig.

You won’t need to tune piano strings often as these strings are more robust and harder.

Keys

Harpsichords’ keys are made from wood, while piano’s white keys are made of wood or ivory.

Also, the piano’s black keys are made of some kind of darker wood and ebony. The piano has 88 keys, including 52 white keys and 36 black ones.

How you strike the piano keys also significantly affects the sound. For example, if you strike these keys forcefully, the sound will become bold and loud.

By striking these keys softly, the sound you get is more delicate and lighter.

On the other hand, the force you put on harpsichord keys will not affect the sound.

Availability and Cost

The harpsichord is making a comeback after almost disappearing in the 19th century, and a harpsichord price ranges from $14,000 to $18,000.

Pianos are easier to find than harpsichords. The price of a high-end, well-built piano may range from $4,500 to $190,000.

You can even easily find a good digital model for under $1000, such as Casio PX-770.

Comparison Table

 PianoHarpsichord
TypeThe piano is generally considered to be both a percussion and a string instrument.Harpsichord is a string instrument.
Origin periodAround the 14th centuryAround the 17th century
SoundAllow you to play various sounds.Harmonious and quieter than pianos.
SizeBulkier.Lighter and narrower than pianos.
Price$4,500 to $190,000 for a high-end model.Ranges from $14,000 to $18,000.

FAQs

Which One Is Easier to Play?

The harpsichord comes with two sets of strings and two keyboards. So many people think this instrument is harder to play.

But it could be false. When playing the harpsichord, your sounds won’t change by how soft or hard you strike the keys.

Are They the Same?

Although the harpsichord is the forerunner of the piano, the two instruments are not the same. The variety of sounds you can produce on harpsichord and piano is a big difference.

Although the mechanics of a harpsichord and a piano are similar in some respects, the hammers on the pianos are effective in striking their strings and producing a louder sound.

The mechanism of harpsichords is gently plucking the string producing the sound softer,  lighter, and more delicate.

Which One Is More Popular?

Pianos are more popular, although the harpsichord has also returned. Pianos are famous in concert halls, schools, private homes, and churches.

Conclusion

We’ve just walked you through the key differences between piano vs. harpsichord. Pianos are popular, and harpsichords also show signs of coming back. Although the harpsichord is a model of the piano, they are not nearly the same.

Also Read: Clavichord vs. Harpsichord: What Is the Difference?