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Music Library Thematic Displays: Steinway and Sons

This guide showcases resources from the George F. DeVine Music Library centered on specific themes. Selected themes reflect UT School of Music events and programs, as well as cultural celebrations.

Help build the 88 keys to the keyboard!

Who is Henry E. Steinway

Henry E. Steinway (1797-1871)

Born in Wolfshagen, Germany, Steinway lost most of his family, so he joined the German military. During this time, he mastered woodworking and cabinetry and soon became an apprentice to an organ builder. Steinway fell in love with building instruments and created his own square piano in 1835. Due to the political climate in Germany, Steinway and his family immigrated to New York City in 1850. Henry and his sons created Steinway and Sons in 1853 as the local piano factory, but soon grew to impact culture and the future of piano playing.

What is Steinway and Sons?

Steinway and Sons

Henry E. Steinway instilled an understanding that each Steinway piano is to be built by experts’ hands that “humanize” the pianos as a work of art. Every individual part is created unique just like the person purchasing the piano. Because of this commitment to quality, Steinway became the choice for 98% of concertizing artists.

All-Steinway Schools

The All-Steinway School designation is given by Steinway and Sons when an institution meets certain criteria concerning ownership and maintenance of Steinway and Steinway-designed pianos. The school must own at least 10 pianos, and 90% of their pianos must be Steinways or Steinway Designs, including Boston and Essex pianos. The remaining 10% is to accommodate special pianos that are gifts to the school or serve the purpose for being maintained.

Image: Boston Piano Logo


Image: Essex Piano Logo

The first All-Steinway School was the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 1877, since then over 200 conservatories, schools, colleges, and universities have been given the distinction. UTK received its distinction in 2013.

Image: All-Steinway School Emblem

Below are just a few fellow All-Steinway Schools in the United States and abroad:

  • Cleveland Institute of Music - Cleveland, OH
  • China Conservatory of Music, School of Piano - Beijing, China
  • Curtis Institute of Music - Philadelphia, PA
  • Franz Liszt College of Music Weimar at Kangam University - Seoul, South Korea
  • Hastings College - Hastings, NE
  • Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama - Cardiff, Wales
  • University of Georgia - Athens, GA
  • University of Minnesota - Minneapolis, MN
  • Vassar College - Poughkeepsie, NY
  • Yale School of Music - New Haven, CT

Image: A Glass-Cased Display celebrating UTK becoming an All-Steinway School

A glass-cased display commemorating UTK becoming an All-Steinway School. It is located in the front office!

Image: A plaque certifying UTK as an All-Steinway School.

A plaque certifying UTK as an All-Steinway School. It is located in the front office!

Steinway Artists

There are musicians who have made the commitment to play only on Steinway-made pianos who are recognized as Steinway Artists. Anton Rubinstein was one of the first pianists to make such a partnership when William Steinway invited him to play on Steinway pianos for his 1872-1873 American concert tour. There are hundreds of artists and groups that are recognized as Steinway artists, including Lang Lang, Billy Joel, Diana Krall, The 5 Browns, Tania León, and Charlie Puth. Hundreds of more Steinway Artists can be found on Steinway & Sons' Artists Page.

Image: Lang Lang

Lang Lang

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Image: Billy Joel

Billy Joel

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Image: Tania Leon

Tania Léon

Image Source: Yale School of Music

Image: Diana Krall

Diana Krall

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Image: Charlie Puth

Charlie Puth

Image Source: The LA Times

Image: The Five Browns

The Five Browns

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Piano Tuning and Maintenance

Pianos are highly complex instruments that have many skills and tools for maintenance. Just a few tools include the tuning lever or hammer, tuning forks, and lifesaver systems that maintain proper humidity. With so many parts made out of wood on most pianos, too high of humidity can cause the wood to swell, and too low of humidity can cause the wood to crack. Lifesaver systems monitor the humidity around the soundboard of the piano and adjust it accordingly. Keeping a lifesaver system hydrated is also called “watering” a piano. 

Image: A Man with a Tuning Lever, circa 1950

A man tuning an upright piano, 1950.

Image courtesy of ARTStor:

Image: A set of Tuning Forks

A set of tuning forks.
Image courtesy of ARTStor:

Image: Some piano tuning tools

Some piano tuning tools. From top to bottom: a tuning hammer, a felt mute, a rubber mute, a felt temperament strip, and a Papps mute.

Image source: By Adjwilley - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Image: Diagram of a Piano Livesaver System

A diagram of a piano lifesaver system.

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History of the Piano

Before the Piano:

  • Clavichord – around early 14th century
  • Harpsichord – around 15th century, strings are plucked not struck
  • Gravicembalo col piano e forte – literally means “harpsichord with soft and loud,” created by Bartolomeo Cristofori, the strings are now struck by hammers

Key Figures that Improved the Piano:

  • Late 1700s – John Broadwood created louder and richer tones
  • 1821 – Sebastien Erard improved the hammers
  • 1825 – Alpheus Babcock improved the cast iron frame by cross stringing pianos
  • 1855 – Henry E. Steinway combined all of these inventions and his grand pianos are what most pianos look like today.

Anatomy of Piano

The outer layers of the grand piano are made up of: the lid, which can be open or closed to control volume; the action frame, made of cast iron and strong enough to accommodate 35,000-45,000 pounds of string tension; and the sound board, a thin piece of wood that vibrates with the strings.

The piano produces sound when one or a combination of the 88 keys is pressed and initiates a hammer, made of wood and felt, to strike the string associated to the key(s) pressed. There are usually 220 strings tuned to the 88 keys. 58 tones are unison and these tones have three strings while other pitches only have the two strings. They vary in size from six inches and thinner (higher pitches) to eighty inches and thicker (lower pitches). When a key is no longer pressed, a damper is released to press the string until it no longer vibrates.

Pedals are located at the bottom of the piano and played by feet to change the quality of sounds. The right pedal is the damper pedal that allows the strings to vibrate freely. The left pedal is to soften or lighten the tone.

Types of Pianos

Grand pianos are mounted on legs with the strings and soundboard parallel to the floor. These pianos range from parlor or baby grands (5-6ft.) to concert grands (9ft).

Upright pianos are vertical pianos with the strings and soundboard perpendicular to the floor. These pianos tend to have poorer quality than grands, but that is likely due to the manipulation of the soundboard being upright. A Spinet upright is 36-38 inches tall, console upright is 36-40 inches tall, and a studio upright is 45-50 inches tall.

Square Piano

The Teaching, Learning, and Techniques of the Piano

UT Libraries offers many sources for beginners to advanced musicians to learn how to play piano. These sources explain piano techniques through illustrations and examples of pianists. This shows that anyone can learn to play the piano with these resources. 

Special Steinway Pianos

Image: The 1880's Steinway Alma-Tadema

The 1880’s D-274 Steinway Alma-Tadema, a grand piano designed by Victorian painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Image courtesy of ARTStor.

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Image: Alma-Tadema Keyboard

An upclose shot of the Alma-Tadema Keyboard

Image courtesy of ARTStor.

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Image: The Soundboard of a John Lennon Imagine Series Piano

The Soundboard of a John Lennon Imagine Series Piano

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The tune of John Lennon's

The tune of John Lennon's "Imagine" on the cast iron frame.


A photo of the John Lennon keyboard with his signature.

A photo of the John Lennon keyboard with his signature.

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The “Pictures at an Exhibition” Art Case Steinway designed by Steinway Artist and visual artist Paul Wyse

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The 1859 Steinway #2162, one of the oldest known Steinways

The 1859 Steinway #2162, one of the oldest known Steinway piano.

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Image: A top-down photo of a Steinway soundboard.

A top-down photo of a Steinway soundboard.

Image courtesy of ARTStor: