As with any other musical instrument, the piano may be played from written music, by ear, or through improvisation. While some folk and blues pianists were self-taught, in Classical and jazz, there are well-established piano teaching systems and institutions, including pre-college graded examinations, university, college and music conservatory diplomas and degrees, ranging from the B.Mus. and M.Mus. to the Doctor of Musical Arts in piano. Piano technique evolved during the transition from harpsichord and clavichord to fortepiano playing, and continued through the development of the modern piano.
Changes in musical styles and audience preferences over the 19th and 20th century, as well as the emergence of virtuoso performers, contributed to this evolution and to the growth of distinct approaches or schools of piano playing.
Although technique is often viewed as only the physical execution of a musical idea, many pedagogues and performers stress the interrelatedness of the physical and mental or emotional aspects of piano playing. Well-known approaches to piano technique include those by Dorothy Taubman, Edna Golandsky, Fred Karpoff, Charles-Louis Hanon and Otto Ortmann.
Many classical music composers, including Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, composed for the fortepiano, a rather different instrument than the modern piano. Even composers of the Romantic movement, like Franz Liszt, Frédéric Chopin, Clara and Robert Schumann, Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn, and Johannes Brahms, wrote for pianos substantially different from 2010-era modern pianos. Contemporary musicians may adjust their interpretation of historical compositions from the 1600s to the 1800s to account for sound quality differences between old and new instruments or to changing performance practice.
Starting in Beethoven’s later career, the fortepiano evolved into an instrument more like the modern piano of the 2000s. Modern pianos were in wide use by the late 19th century. They featured an octave range larger than the earlier fortepiano instrument, adding around 30 more keys to the instrument, which extended the deep bass range and the high treble range. Factory mass production of upright pianos made them more affordable for a larger number of middle-class people. They appeared in music halls and pubs during the 19th century, providing entertainment through a piano soloist, or in combination with a small dance band. Just as harpsichordists had accompanied singers or dancers performing on stage, or playing for dances, pianists took up this role in the late 1700s and in the following centuries.