Learning about keyboard instruments and their history

The piano has several less known cousins which are important for us to introduce into the music classroom: the celesta, harpsichord and organ. They are great to include in music lesson plans.

Discuss with students the similarities and differences among keyboard instruments. The keyboard instruments are related to each other in that they are controlled by a similarly laid-out key mechanism. However if we are to be technical about it each of these instruments really belongs in a different family.

The harpsichord and the piano are string instruments (chordophones). The harpsichord mechanism plucks the strings while the piano mechanism strikes the strings.

The pipe organ is actually a series of wind instruments (aerophones). Some pipes operate like a flute, other pipes operate like a whistle or recorder, and yet other pipes operate like a reed instrument.

The keyboard on the celesta plays bells, just like the Glockenspiel, hence why it can be called a “bell piano”

Here are some other observations: the piano and the celesta have a single manual (row of keys), whereas some harpsichords and virtually all organs have multiple manuals. Pianos and organs have a very wide range while harpsichords and celestas have a more limited range.

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