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A harpsichord is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It produces sound by plucking a string when a key is pressed.

In the narrow sense, "harpsichord" designates only the large wing-shaped instruments in which the strings are perpendicular to the keyboard. In a broader sense, "harpsichord" designates the whole family of similar plucked keyboard instruments, including the smaller virginals, muselar, and spinet.

The harpsichord was widely used in Renaissance and Baroque music. During the late 18th century it gradually disappeared from the musical scene with the rise of the piano. But in the 20th century it made a resurgence, used in historically informed performance of older music, in new (contemporary) compositions, and in popular culture.



Harpsichords vary in size and shape, but they all have the same basic functional arrangement. The player depresses a key pivoted in the middle of its length, which causes the far end of the key to rise. This lifts a jack, a long strip of wood, to which is attached a small plectrum (a wedge-shaped piece of quill or, nowadays plastic), which plucks the string. When the key is released by the player, the far end returns to its rest position and the jack falls back. The plectrum, mounted on a tongue that can swivel backwards away from the string, passes the string without plucking it again. As the key reaches its rest position, the string's vibrations are halted by the damper, a piece of felt attached to the top of the jack.

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