Keyboard instruments are named for the method of playing, where the player uses a keyboard, like on a piano, to choose musical notes. Keyboard instruments make sound when the strings inside the body of the instrument are made to vibrate by plucking or striking. Organs, which are actually more like wind instruments, are considered keyboard instruments because they have a keyboard played by the musician.

There are three main ways in which a keyboard causes the strings to vibrate and sound. Harpsichords, virginals and spinets pluck the string using a small piece of bird quill , from the feather. Clavichords, as seen above, hit the string from below with a small piece of metal, called a tangent . Pianos (pianofortes) strike the strings using small hammers, covered in felt or leather.

Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments has a world-class collection of keyboard instruments, many of which are still in playing condition and used in concerts in St Cecilia’s concert hall.

To find out about different types of keyboard instruments, please click on the selections above.