In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Keyboard Instruments

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Museum Collections
  • Treatises
  • Clavichord
  • Harmonium
  • Hybrid Keyboard Instruments
  • Electronic Keyboard Instruments

Music Keyboard Instruments
Arthur Lawrence
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0048


Keyboard instruments comprise chordophones (clavichords, harpsichords, pianos, virginals, hurdy gurdies), aerophones (harmoniums, pipe organs, accordians), idiophones (carillions, celestas), electrophones (electronic organs, synthesizers), and hybrids. Until the 20th century, the terms “pianoforte” and “fortepiano” were used interchangeably; the former was then abbreviated to “piano,” leaving the latter as the designation for historically oriented instruments. Virginals are generally considered the English and Flemish equivalents of small harpsichords, albeit possessing a slightly different plucking mechanism. From the standpoint of construction and operation, keyboard instruments may have struck strings (clavichords, pianos), plucked strings (harpsichords), struck bells (carillions, played by very large keyboards), or they may be wind-blown (harmoniums, pipe organs) or have electronically produced sounds. Each instrument represents a family of related ones. Carillons, and to a much lesser extent celestas and hurdy gurdies, have an independent literature that is not discussed in this article.

General Overviews

Although much material is available on the music for keyboard instruments, music encyclopedias have not been generous in treating “keyboard instruments,” instead discussing them as individual instruments: “piano,” “organ,” “harpsichord,” etc., as they are here. Bush and Kassel 2006, Kipnis 2007, and Palmieri and Palmieri 2003 together constitute the Encyclopedia of Keyboard Instruments. Each encyclopedia is devoted to an instrument—organ, harpsichord/clavichord, piano, the first such encyclopedia in English. Dearling 1996 provides an overview of all musical instruments. Ripin 1988 treats all aspects of the piano.

  • Bush, Douglas E., and Richard Kassel, eds. The Organ: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2006.

    Contains many articles, usually relatively brief, on organs, their components, and builders, often with illustrations.

  • Dearling, Robert. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Musical Instruments. New York: Schirmer Books, 1996.

    A general discussion of all types of musical instruments and their uses. Includes chapters on keyboard instruments, electronic instruments, and instrument building.

  • Kipnis, Igor, ed. The Harpsichord and Clavichord: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2007.

    Contains multiple articles, often quite brief, on clavichords and harpsichords and their components and builders, frequently with illustrations.

  • Palmieri, Robert, and Margaret W. Palmieri, eds. Piano: An Encyclopedia. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2003.

    Contains many articles, frequently relatively brief, on pianos, their components, and builders, often with illustrations. Includes bibliographical references.

  • Ripin, Edwin M. The New Grove Piano. New York: W.W. Norton, 1988.

    Includes chapters on the history of the piano, piano playing, pianists, and piano music, taken from The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments.

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