THE PIANO AND ITS PREDECESSORS
THE old Assyrian relics show pictures of the instrument that ultimately became our piano. It was a very primitive form of stringed instrument, with the strings running over a flat support. When such an instrument was hung about the neck and played with a quill, it was called a psaltery; and under this title it became popular in mediaeval as well as ancient times. Similar to the psaltery, but played by striking the strings with a hammer, was the Arabian dulcimer. This instrument, with a compass of four octaves, two below and two above middle C, undoubtedly attracted the attention of pilgrims and crusaders, who brought it back with them to Europe. There it received the German name of Hackbrett, or chopping-board, from the hammering motion needed to play it; while the psaltery became the Schweinskopf, or pig's head, from its shape.
Perhaps the earliest application of keys to an instrument came in the shape of the light clavicytherium, in which the strings of the kithara were set in motion by quills on the keys. Little is known about the actual origin of keyed instruments; but by the end of the fifteenth century there were two main kinds in existence. One family consisted of the spinet type, which applied the psaltery principle of plucking the strings. The other variety, represented only by the clavichord, was more like the dulcimer. But where the dulcimer hammer made the strings vibrate through their whole length, just as the piano hammer does to-day, the clavichord key had what is known as a tangent, or tongue, which pressed directly against the string and stayed there, forming one end of the vibrating part. The clavichord tone, formed by the stroke of the tangent at one end of the part that would vibrate, was necessarily soft. By alternating light and heavy pressure on the key, the performer could make the tangent loosen or tighten the string. This recurrent alteration of the tension produced the vibrato effect of the