Early Times – Keyboard Instruments

As time passed from the days of Ancient Greece and Rome, we moved into the Medieval Age (a.k.a. Middle Ages). This period in time is considered to have lasted from the 5th century A.D. through the middle of the 15th century. This was a time of great expansion, growth, and technological developments. These developments also aided in the growth and advancement in the creation of new, better instruments.

Positive OrganIn the early Christian Era (around 900 A.D.) organs came into western Europe from Byzantium or Greece via Bavaria or Hungary. Small positive organs were used in churches to aid choirs in their singing of the Mass. The keys for the organ were either T-shaped or slider variety; one person used both hands to operate the “keyboard” while another person worked the bellows. The bellows blew air through openings that were created by depressing a key. The air would go through the opening and cause a set of reeds to vibrate thus creating sound.

Portative OrganA portative organ is a small pipe organ that consists of one rank of flue pipes and is played while strapped to the performer at a right angle. The performer manipulates the bellows with one hand and fingers the keys with the other. The portative organ lacks a reservoir to retain a supply of wind, thus it will only produce sound while the bellows are being operated. The instrument was commonly used in secular music from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries. The portative is constructed simply in order to make it as portable as possible. The simplest style of keyboard on the portative consists of one slider for each pipe. When a slider is pushed in, the corresponding pipe sounds.

ClavicordThe generic term Clavier (French for Keyboard) was used for keyboard instruments other than the organ. Two types of claviers existed: clavichord and harpsichord. In outward appearance, the fifteenth century clavichord was a rectangular box with a keyboard set into one of its long sides. Depressing a key caused a brass tangent to strike a pair of strings with the box; the tangent remains in contact with the string until the key is released.

HarpsichordThe harpsichord was invented around 1400. During the Renaissance, instruments of the harpsichord type were built in various shapes and sizes and were known by different names. When a harpsichord key is depressed, a jack is activated and a plectrum plucks a string, thus sounding a pitch. The harpsichord was both a solo and ensemble instrument.