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More Than Black And White Keys: A Critical Review Of Keyboard Instruments

996 words - 4 pages

As I settled on the worn wooden bench for my first organ lesson, a mix of emotions rushed through my mind. I looked down at the familiar black and white keys beneath my fingers with relief, but when I glanced up at a second keyboard and a row of switches, I cringed. My teacher flipped the power switch and the organ began to hum. Tentatively, I tested out a simple melody. The blast of sound that came from the pipes behind me caught me off-guard. This was nothing like the piano I knew so well. Yes, the organ features a set of black and white keys and produces beautiful music, but the similarities end there. The piano and pipe organ, two common keyboard instruments, differ greatly in structure, sound, and use.
Simply structured instruments are cost effective and space efficient. Musicians prefer affordable instruments that fit in small performance spaces over extravagant, expensive versions. A simply structured, comprehensible keyboard instrument will best suit the average musician.
The piano, one of the most well-known keyboard instruments, comes in several sizes. Upright pianos range from three to five feet tall, nearly five feet long, and serve as the best option for a home piano. Grand pianos average three feet tall and four to nine feet long. Wealthy, professional musicians and large organizations tend to buy grand pianos. Pianos cost anywhere from $2,000 to $200,000 new, but many buyers turn to used upright pianos for cheaper options.
No matter the size or cost, all pianos contain the same basic elements. The instrument's outer mechanisms do not present great challenges for musicians. Pianists only need an understanding of a single keyboard and up to three foot pedals.
In contrast, the pipe organ is large, expensive, and complex. Pipe organs are rarely found in private homes because of their size, elaborate construction, and extravagant cost. Because of its size, each pipe organ is custom-built to fit its permanent performance space. These specific construction requirements contributes to high organ prices.
Pipe organs feature a four- to five-foot-tall, five- to seven-foot-wide console. The console houses two to five keyboards, called manuals, a foot keyboard, expression pedals, and sets of stops. The stops, which come in the form of switches or buttons, control the sound the organ creates. Sets of pipes, called ranks, are built around or behind the console. Fancier, more expensive pipe organs include more ranks, requiring a greater space. The ranks alone need ten to 30 feet of vertical space. Overall, the organ requires a considerably larger space than the piano.
While the keyboard portion of the pipe organ is similar to the piano's and easy to understand, the system as a whole is complex. Organists face the monumental task of simultaneously controlling the stops, manuals, pedals, and foot keyboard.
Just as musicians value structure, listeners value an instrument's sound. A keyboard instrument's sound should please...

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