Glossary of Terms
ACTION – The operation as a piano’s keys and hammers against its strings. The complete mechanism which, when the piano keys are struck, causes the hammers to strike the strings of the instrument and provides for the dampening of the sound when the keys are released.
ADAGIO – Slow, an indication of tempo used as a playing direction in music
AGRAFFE – The brass lug with holes through which pass the strings of the middle and bass sections. The string vibrates freely between the agraffe and the nearest or front ‘bridge pin. An agraffe “V bar” is employed in the treble.
ALLEGRO – Fast, lively; an indication of tempo used as a playing direction in music.
ADANTE – Going, moving, a moderate tempo; used as a playing direction in music.
ARPEGGIO – Italian, arpeggiare meaning to play the harp. The notes of a chord played in rapid succession.
AVANT-GARDE – That which is ahead of popular taste.
BACK FRAME – The foundation, consisting of top and side-members and back posts, upon which other basic components such as wrest- plant, soundboard and plate depend for proper support.
BALANCED TENSION – A system of piano back construction, wherein iron levers replace the conventional wood posts. The back is tremendously strong and rigid, thereby permitting greater string tension which results in better piano tone.
BALANCED RAIL – The hard maple member of the key frame, wherein the balance pin is set, which in turn is the fulcrum point of the piano key.
BASS STRINGS – The strings of the lowest 30 or 32 notes of the piano. They are wrapped with one or two layers of pure copper; wire of several sizes, depending on the note or pitch they are to produce.
BRIDGES – Made of hard maple and located on the front side of the soundboard, the bass and treble bridges transfer the vibrations of the strings to the soundboard, resulting in tone.
BRIDGE PINS – Steel pins inserted at critical points along both edges of the treble and bass bridges. They keep the strings in the exact position required, and provide for side-bearing as well.
BOTTOM BOARD – As the name implies, this is the bottom of the piano. On it are located the pedals, springs and bearing-blocks which are the means of activating the damper lift-rod, bass sustaining or “soft-pedal” mechanisms.
BOTTOM FRAME – Actually a misnomer, the bottom “frame” is really the finished panel on the front of the piano which extends from just above the pedals to the bottom of the key bed.
BUSHING CLOTH – Made of the finest woven wool felt, bushing cloth is used to provide bearings for the center-pins of the piano section. It is also -used in other parts of the piano, for various purposes.
CADENZA – In a concerto, a brilliant, unaccompanied solo section, once improvised by the player, now more often already composed. It enlarges on the themes set forth in the work and exhibits the player’s technique.
CAPOTES, OR CAPASSO, BAR – Of a piano, a heavy metal bar that bridges the strings just before they tie off at the tuning pins. It keeps the strings in place, much as the fingerboard nut on a violin does. Capotes means “head” (capo) of “key” or “tapper” (tanto).
CAPSTAN SCREW – Specially shaped brass wood-screws, located near the end of the keys, providing an adjustable contact point between keys and action.
CASE – All exterior parts of the piano – top, sides, arms, music shelf, wallboard, etc. – taken as a whole.
CENTER PINS – Of nickeled brass, center pins are located at the various points in the piano action at which the many movable parts are hinged or centered. Their proper fitting to the bushing is necessary for the smooth, free and quiet functioning of the action.
CHIPPING – Rough tuning of the piano strings performed during the manufacturing process.
CHORD – A tone pattern made by playing three or more notes at the same time. Consonant chords, made up of tones at certain intervals, are restful ones that seem to say the final word. Dissonant chords, made up of tones at certain other intervals, sound restless and incomplete, demanding something more to be said.
CHORDOPHONE – A musical instrument that makes its sound by a vibrating string.
CLAVICHORD – From Greek for “key”, and “chord”, a “string”. A keyboard stringed musical instrument played by the tangent, or touch, action of small brass wedges striking the strings.
CLAVIER – The proper name for the piano keyboard.
CONSOLE – A vertical, or upright, piano 40″ to 42″ in height.
CROWN – The slight forward curvature of the soundboard.
DAMPERS – Small, felt covered pieces of wood which rest against the piano strings in normal position. The dampers (both treble and bass) are “lifted” from the strings when a key is struck. When the key is released, the damper returns to the string, thus “dampening”, or causing the string to cease vibrating.
DAMPER – A felt-topped strip of wood which, when in place on a piano string, keeps the string from vibrating.
DIP – The distance that the key can be depressed.
DULCIMER – A stringed instrument that came to Europe from the East during the Middle Ages. Its strings are struck with hammers held in the hands.
DUPLEX SCALE – That part of the strings on either side of their vibrating lengths, which provides sympathetic vibrations to enhance the tone of the fundamental scale.
DYNAMICS – Degrees of loudness or softness in a musical performance.
EQUAL TEMPERAMENT – The arbitrary division of the octave into twelve equal parts.
ESCAPEMENT – The mechanism in a piano that allows the hammer to escape” after a string has been struck, so leaving the string to vibrate. Double escapement allows a hammer to strike a second time without waiting for the key to rise to its normal position of rest.
ETUDE – a study – hence, a piece of music meant to give practice in instrumental technique.
FALLBOARD OR BACK-FALL – The swinging cover for the keys. The Boston fall is made in two pieces which fold together. The European fall is in one piece.
FANTASIA – A musical piece in which the composer has not been bound to any conventional form.
FLAMENCO – A Spanish gypsy song or dance.
FLITCH – A plank-sized chunk of lumber that has been cut into very thin slices for veneering piano cases.
FORM – The master plan for holding together melody, rhythm, tempo and harmony to make a musical composition – be it symphony, opera, sonata, concerto, duet, trio, quartet, quintet or whatever. The basic elements in music form a repetition, variation and contrast.
FRAME – of a piano, the skeleton of case iron on which the strings are stretched.
HAMMER – of a piano, that part of the mechanism that strikes the strings to produce the tone; a wooden shaft with a compressed-felt tip.
HARMONY – The way in which chords are arranged in a musical composition.
HARPSICHORD – a plucked-string keyboard musical instrument. The strings are made to vibrate by being plucked by plectra, or picks, or raven’s quill or leather.
HIGH FREQUENCY – Fast vibrations that make a tone of high pitch. HITCH PIN of a piano, a metal pin inserted correctly in the frame to hold one end of a string; the other end is attached to a tuning pin.
KEY BED – The base, or foundation, on which the key frame and 88 piano keys rest.
KEY FRAME – Consisting of front and center-rails of hard maple, the key frame with its front and center-pins, provides for the proper location and spacing of the piano keys.
KEY SLIP – That part of the piano case in front of the natural or white keys, and attached to the key bed by wood-screws.
LOW FREQUENCY – Slow vibrations that make a tone of low pitch.
LYRE – The lower central member of a grand piano; it carries the pedals and pedal rods. The slanting braces have been called “monkey tails” ever since the days when these were ornately carved and convoluted wooden features.
MAZURKA – A lively Polish dance in triple time.
MELODY – A parade of notes, one following the other meaningfully.
MINUET – A slow, stately seventeenth-century French dance for groups or couples.
MONOCHORD – An ancient Greek one-string musical instrument. NATURAL – Any note in the scale of “C”, any white key; an ivory. The black keys are called sharps.
OCTAVE – A succession of eight notes comprising a scale, the eighth one having twice as many vibrations per second as the first.
OPUS – A musical composition, or group of compositions, usually numbered to indicate the order of its publication within a composer’s entire output.
OVERTONES – Faint tones made by the sympathetic vibrations of piano strings other than those that have been struck by hammers.
RHYTHM – The organization of music in respect to time; the regular occurrence of beat.
RIBS – Make of Sitka spruce, the ribs help to keep the proper forward curve in the soundboard.
SCALE – A series of tones within an octave which are used as the basis of musical composition.
SOUNDBOARD – The softwood resonating agent which vibrates from the percussion on the strings and amplifies the tone.
SPEAKING LENGTH – This refers to that portion of the piano string which vibrates freely and is transmitted into sound.
SPINET – A vertical or upright piano, 36″ or 37″ in height.
STRUNG BACK – The entire assembly consisting of back frame, posts, soundboard, wrest plank, plate, ribs, bridges, strings, tuning pins, pressure bar, etc.
SYMPATHETIC VIBRATION – A vibration of an object independently in response to tone sounded by a musical instrument of which the object is a part, or that of another instrument.
SYMPHONY – A rather long orchestral composition, divided into three to four movements, or sections.
STUDIO PIANOS – Specially designed and made for use in schools and universities. Ranging from 44 to 51 inches in height. It is the tallest piano a professor can sit at and still see the students or audience.
TEMPO – The rate of speed of a musical composition.
THEME – A melodic pattern constituting the basis of a musical composition.
TIMBRE – Quality of musical tone; thin, thick, light, dark, sharp, dull, smooth, rough, warm, cold, etc.
TONE – A sound having a definite pitch, quality, volume and duration. In a piano, tone is the result of a scale design, action functioning and selection and processing of materials.
TOUCH – The feeling of the keys in operation. Of a pianist, the determination and speed with which he strikes the keys.
TUNING PIN – Of a piano, a metal pin inserted in the keyboard, made of a special alloy of fine steel, precision-sized, threaded and blued.
TUNING HAMMER – Actually a wrench designed to fit over tuning pins with a long handle to permit the tuner to exert leverage on the tuning pin.
TRAP WORK – All pedals, springs, levers, bearings, having to do with activating damper-rods, bass-sustaining, full-sustaining and “soft” pedals of the piano.
TRUSSES – The “legs” of the piano.
UNISON – This term is applied to the group of two or three strings of equal pitch which comprise a single piano note.
UPRIGHT – Any piano constructed with strings in a vertical position. The term is often applied to the large vertical pianos popular around the turn of the century. Modern uprights are primarily classified by their height, spinet, console, studio.
V-BRIDGE – An inverted “V” in shape, the V-bridge is cast as an integral part of the piano plate, is then ground, filed and scraped to the proper smooth shape. The strings cross the V-bridge near the tuning-pins and are held in firm contact by the pressure or bearing-bar.
VOICING – A term used to express the methods of obtaining a particular quality of tone. The adjustment involves the hardening or softening of the hammer felt and is performed so that the tone of each note is uniform throughout. Voicing is generally done every few years to revitalize worn felts.
VIBRATION – The rapid back-and-fourth movement, often invisible, in space of an object against which some force has been applied.
VIRTUOSO – In music a highly gifted and technically adept concert artist.