Clavichord vs. Harpsichord: What Is the Difference?

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Clavichord vs. Harpsichord

“Clavichord vs. Harpsichord: What is the difference?” A lot of people who are new to musical instruments ask this question.

The clavichord is a keyboard instrument creating a soft sound when “tangents” (metal blades mounted to the keys’ inner ends) gently strike its strings.

Meanwhile, the harpsichord is an instrument that has a piano-like keyboard, producing sound by plucking its strings.

That’s not all! Keep reading for more details on the difference between the two.

Clavichord vs. Harpsichord: What Is the Difference?

How Easy Is It to Play?

The harpsichord.( Photo)

The harpsichord is quite similar to the piano. So if you have played the piano proficiently, it is easy to play the harpsichord.

Playing the clavichord tends to be a bit more challenging to play. If you need to play with this instrument, you must clearly understand the differences between unfretted and fretted and the different sounds produced by each one.

The fretted clavichord has unique sounds and is harder to play than a harpsichord.

Looks (Shape)

Harpsichords are the model for later pianos. So it’s no surprise that these instruments are more like pianos than clavichords.

Clavichords have strings and a keyboard, and their keys are non-movable. They tend to be smaller than harpsichords. Some variations are sitting on the table, while handheld ones are also popular.

Clavichords are more compact, and weigh about 40 pounds. Harpsichords are like horizontal harps laid flat on frames with raised lids.

Sound (Octaves)

The clavichord will give you a much softer, gentler sound than the harpsichord.

As the harpsichord produces sound mechanically, some people believe that this instrument sounds less intimate and more formal than the piano and either the clavichord.

When you mechanically pluck your harpsichord and then mute it, the sound you get is less like the piano while more rigid and formal than the clavichord.

Some harpsichords have a buff stop (buff leather), or something similar, making contact with strings muting their sound, and making them sound quite similar to the plucked lute.

In addition, many people also prefer the harpsichord thanks to the harmonic sound, which is one of its essential characteristics.

Harpsichords use techniques such as articulation that connects and divides the sounds, and agogic, which will add variety to the sound by intermittently and gently playing fast before slow.

Regarding octaves, the clavichord’s usual compass fluctuates between 3 1/2 and 5 octaves. It is four octaves for several smaller harpsichords and five octaves for some larger ones.

Clavichords feature fretted, which refers to shared strings for adjacent keys. Clavichords’ independent strings are known unfretted.

By touching the keys of a clavichord, the sounds you get can be one of the following: Crescendo, forte,  piano, or diminuendo.

When placing pressure on the clavichord’s keys with one’s finger, this instrument can produce vibrato sounds. Like pianos, harpsichords are upright and have a keyboard and horizontally placed strings.

You will find that you cannot play a few musical pieces on fretted clavichords since you cannot perform the sequence as written.


Clavichord is smaller and more compact. So you can move it more easily and quickly than the harpsichord.

Clavichord vs. Harpsichord: Which One Is More Popular?

We need to trace the history of each instrument to answer this question.

The development of the piano in the 19th century gradually replaced the role of the harpsichord, rendering it temporarily obsolete.

Then, towards the end of the 20th century, the instrument returned, although it can never be considered to have disappeared from the opera.

Today, many composers are constantly writing new pieces specifically for the harpsichord, fueling the development of this instrument.

The soft-sounding of clavichords seems to have disappeared in the 1800s in favor of piano and electronic amplifiers. After that, clavichords were still used scattered around the world.

Clavichords were once one of the prevalent musical instruments during the Baroque period in Western Europe until they disappeared in the late 1600s.

Comparison Table

Ease of PlayingClavichord is more complicated to play as it comes in two types: Unfretted and fretted.Harpsichord is easier to play, especially for those familiar with the piano.
SoundSofter, gentler sound than the harpsichord.Sounds less intimate and more formal than the clavichord.
MobilityClavichord is more compact, allowing you to move more easily.Bulky than clavichord


How Does A Clavichord Make Sound?

Clavichords produce sound by striking iron or brass strings with tangents ( small metal blades). Vibrations then are sent through the bridges to the soundboard.

What Type of Instrument Is a Clavichord?

Clavichords are stringed keyboard musical instruments developed from medieval monochords.

Is a Harpsichord the Same as a Piano?

A harpsichord and a piano may look similar in shape, but the harpsichord and piano are very different beasts.

How Much Does It Cost to Buy a Harpsichord?

Many harpsichords are available at prices from $14,000 to $18,000, and clavichords from $3,000. However, these instruments can cost more depending on finish and features.

Wrapping It Up

By now, you should know the main difference between the clavichord and the harpsichord. Both of these instruments are fun and worth a try. So try these instruments as soon as you can to check them for yourself.