The harpsichord was played in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. It is actually a plucked instrument in which the strings are plucked by a mechanism when the keys are pressed. On the piano, by contrast, the strings are struck by small hammers. The force with which they are struck alters the volume.

But it is not only their mechanics that distinguish the piano from the harpsichord. When the modern grand piano with its more powerful sound was developed in the nineteenth century, the construction of the soundboard, the part of the instrument that amplifies the sound, also changed.
In the harpsichord, the soundboard is designed so that the sound energy spreads mainly along the bridge. Low tones are therefore loudest at the back of the instrument, and higher tones further forward. The sound is focused and transparent, and different voices in the music can be distinguished very well. In the modern grand piano, the sound energy spreads out in a circle over the entire surface of the soundboard. The individual notes thus merge more strongly to form a full, rounded overall sound of the kind favoured in the Romantic period.

In the projection, you can see the transient oscillation process on the soundboard of a grand piano versus that of a harpsichord in slow motion for various tones.

AI can map, in other words sort, various types of keyboard instruments according to their sound characteristics, demonstrating how our notions of the ideal sound have changed over the course of music history.

Mapping Keyboard Instruments

On the Kohonen map, you can see how the AI sorts the sound of different keyboard instruments. Every dot represents a single key. While colours distinguish different instruments, the shape quickly identifies historical or modern pianos or harpsichords.

To view images of historical instruments and hear the sound of a particular key, simply tap on the dots. You may like to challenge yourself by closing your eyes and attempting to differentiate between various keyboard instruments.