The Descendent of the Bow | A Story of the Invention of Piano

Is any technology ever a ‘new’ invention in the real sense of the word? Or is it a rearranging, a reformatting and a re-invention of an older technology?

That was the thought that went through my mind as I read up on how my chosen instrument of choice–the piano–was invented. In the context of history, the piano is a relatively ‘new’ technology. It is only around three hundred years old and was invented during the Renaissance.

The beloved piano that sits in many homes–either played daily or collecting dust–is a descendant of the bow.

The First Instrument

The very first string instrument was created out of an old bow. As the bow ceased to be a weapon, it became an instrument. A cave painting in the Trois Frères cave in France depicts a hunting bow which was used as a single-stringed musical instrument.

Such ingenuity we humans possess: to take a weapon used to hunt and utilise it to croon a tune.

Make love, not war, I say. Make love, not war.

The inspiration for these inventions seem to have happened almost ‘accidentally’. We were using this bow to hunt and someday somebody had the inspiration to use it to sing. The bow was then transformed into an instrument of beauty.

Fast forward thousands and thousands of years and Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco would go on to invent the piano. The recent ancestors of the piano were the Harpsichord and the Pipe Organ. The piano differs from its ancestor, the harpsichord, in its use of hammers to strike the strings instead of plucking them.

But Cristofori didn’t get it ‘right’ the first time. He is believed to have invented two keyboard instruments before he began his work on the piano. He continued to make pianos until the near completion of his life, continuously making improvements to his invention. The total number of pianos made by Cristofori remains unknown. Only three survive today, all dating from the 1720s.

Although Cristofori’s piano was a great technical achievement, it still took a while for pianos to catch on. But now, it is an instrument of choice for many musicians and aspiring musicians all over the world.


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