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Everything You Wanted to Know About the Harpsichord

If you are looking for a historical instrument to play, then consider a vintage harpsichord found on eBay. While the first music for the harpsichord was written during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, many composers have written music for this instrument including Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart  both of whom played the instrument early in their careers. This instrument plucks each sound, which has also made it a favorite of many baroque pop bands, including The Moody Blues and the Beatles along with hip-hop artists Eminem and Outkast.

How do different materials of the soundboard affect the sound?

Almost all harpsichords in existence are made of spruce or cypress. Cypress gives the music a sweeter sound; however, spruce resonates the sound of the music better. Older instruments were often made from radically cut pieces of Picea abies trees, and they have a duller sound.

The difference between European harpsichords and Flemish harpsichords

While all of these instruments were commonly made of a hard wood, like cypress, those made in Europe usually were left natural. Flemish options, however, often had elaborate motifs painted on them with the inside often bearing a Latin saying while the outside often had resurrection motifs.

What are some types of harpsichords?
  • Spinet: Not to be confused with the spinet piano, these choices have strings at a 30-degree angle with the jacks placed between the strings.
  • Clavicytherium: The strings and soundboard on these are mounted vertically, facing the player. This arrangement meant that the action required was more complex than on other forms of this instrument.
  • Archicembalo: These have two keyboards with each set to a different pitch. While it had black keys, like those found on a piano, pushing the front and back of these keys produced two different tones. One very popular type of this two-keyboard choice was called mother and child.
  • Folding harpsichord: These were similar to virginals, but they folded up, allowing traveling musicians to carry them.
  • Pedal harpsichord: Pedals connected by strings under these options played the lowest notes while the player played the higher notes with their hands.
  • Clavichord: These are a cross between a harpsichord and a piano because the strings on a clavichord are hit instead of plucked.
What is a virginal musical instrument?

A virginal ranges from 2.5 feet to 6 feet and is a member of the harpsichord family.

  • Spinet virginals: These instruments originating in Italy have their keyboards placed left of center. While the earliest models were hexagons, later models were rectangles with almost all of them made from cypress wood.
  • Muselars: Originating in Europe, these instruments have their keyboards placed right of center, and they often were used only for the melody in musical groups.
  • Ottavinos: Originating in Italy, these instruments are much smaller versions of virginals. They were usually played along with a larger virginal.
  • Double virginal: This Flemish instrument contains a large and small keyboard with musicians positioning the smaller one above the larger one, allowing musicians to play the same note on both while tapping only one key. When not in use, the smaller one was stored in a drawer on the larger one.
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