Why the Lowest Note on the Piano is an A: The Science and History Behind It

Why the Lowest Note on the Piano is an A
Written by Corey Morgan

Have you ever wondered why the lowest note on a piano is an A? The frequency of the lowest A on a modern piano is around 27.5 Hz, which is close to the limit of our hearing ability. Interestingly, adding nine notes on the biggest Bösendorfer brings the lowest note down to 16.5 Hz, which can barely be heard by most people. But what is the reason behind this?

While most other keyboards have a C or a G as their lowest note, the piano stands out as it has an A as its lowest note.

This is because the piano was developed over several centuries, and during this time, many different keyboard instruments were created. The piano evolved from these earlier instruments, and the choice of A as the lowest note was likely influenced by the range of notes available on these earlier instruments.

History of the Piano

The piano is a musical instrument that has been around for centuries. Its origins can be traced back to the harpsichord, which was a popular instrument during the Renaissance period. However, it wasn’t until the 18th century that the piano, as we know it today, was invented.

Evolution of the Piano

The piano was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori in Italy in the early 1700s. Cristofori was a harpsichord maker who wanted to create an instrument that could produce a wider range of dynamics than the harpsichord. His invention, which he called the pianoforte, was a huge success and quickly became popular throughout Europe.

Early pianos typically had a range of four to five octaves, with the lowest note usually starting at low C.

time, the piano was expanded to include more keys and a wider range of notes. Today, most modern pianos have 88 keys and a range of 7 1/3 octaves.

The Development of Standard Pitch

One of the challenges of creating a musical instrument is determining the standard pitch. In the early days of the piano, there was no standard pitch, which meant that each piano was tuned differently. This made it difficult for musicians to play together, as their instruments were not in tune with each other.

In 1939, an international conference was held in London to establish a standard pitch. The conference decided on A440, which means that the A above middle C is tuned to 440 Hz. This standard has been in use ever since and has made it easier for musicians to play together.

Overall, the piano has a rich history and has undergone many changes over the years. Today, it is one of the most popular musical instruments in the world and is used in a wide variety of musical genres.

The Science of Sound

The Physics of Sound

The reason why the lowest note on the piano is an A is due to the physics of sound. Sound is produced by vibrations that travel through a medium, such as air.

The pitch of the sound is determined by the frequency of the vibration, with lower frequencies resulting in lower pitches. The lowest note on the piano, which is an A0, has a frequency of around 27.5 Hz. This frequency is near the lower limit of human hearing, which is typically considered to be about 20 Hz.

Musical Intervals

In Western music, the octave is divided into 12 equal parts, called semitones. Each semitone is separated by a frequency ratio of approximately 1.059. The distance between two notes is called an interval.

The interval between two adjacent semitones is called a half-step, and the interval between two notes separated by a whole-step is called a whole tone. The distance between A0 and the next A, A1, is an octave, which means that the frequency of A1 is twice that of A0.

Tuning Systems

There are several different tuning systems used in Western music. Equal temperament is the most widely used tuning system, dividing the octave into 12 equal parts.

This tuning system allows for easy modulation between keys, but it also means that some intervals are slightly out of tune. Other tuning systems, such as just intonation and Pythagorean tuning, use pure intervals that are based on simple frequency ratios. These tuning systems can produce more harmonically pure intervals, but they can also make modulation between keys more difficult.

The physics of sound, along with the principles of musical intervals and tuning systems, collectively explain why the lowest note on the piano is an A.

The Note A

The note A is one of the most important notes in music. It is the reference pitch for tuning musical instruments, and it plays a significant role in the creation of harmonies and melodies. In this section, we will explore why A was chosen as the standard pitch and why it is the lowest note on the piano.

Why A was Chosen as the Standard Pitch

The standard pitch for musical instruments has evolved over time. In the 17th century, the pitch of A was set to 415 Hz, which was known as “Chorton.”

In the 18th century, it was raised to 430 Hz, and in the 19th century, it was raised again to 440 Hz, which is the current standard pitch. The reason for this change was to make the sound brighter and more brilliant, as well as to make it easier to play in tune with other instruments.

Today, the standard pitch of A is used as a reference point for tuning musical instruments. It is also used as a reference point for tuning orchestras and choirs, as well as for recording and broadcasting music.

The Lowest Note on the Piano

The lowest note on the piano is an A, which is located on the far left side of the keyboard. The reason for this is that the piano was designed to have a range of seven octaves, from A0 to A7. This range was established in the 1880s by piano manufacturer Steinway, and it has since become the standard range for pianos.

It’s worth noting that while the lowest note on the piano is an A, there are other instruments that have lower ranges. To illustrate, the double bass is capable of playing notes as low as C1, which is nearly an octave lower than the lowest note on the piano.

Nevertheless, the lowest note on the piano remains a significant element in music and is utilized across various genres, including classical, jazz, and pop.

It is also an important reference point for musicians, as it helps them to understand the range and capabilities of the piano.