The Clavichord is a keyboard instrument that uses small blades (called “tangents”) to strike strings and produce sound. It frequently has a range of 3 to 5 octaves and is one of the few keyboard instruments to achieve dynamic variation just from the player’s depression of the keys.The clavichord is strongly associated with renaissance and baroque classical music.
History of the Clavichord
The clavichord shares its ancestral history with many keyboard instruments that began with the dulcimer. The dulcimer is a string instrument that rests on the lap of the player and, much like the piano, uses small hammers to hit the strings. The earliest known depiction of a hammer dulcimer-like instrument in Asia appears in the early 12th century where wall engravings depict King David playing the instrument. The first written mention of the keys-based clavichord comes in the late 15th century. Early versions of the clavichord had a short pitch range of four octaves but they became a popular household item amongst the nobility and upper classes of Europe including Germany, Spain and Scandinavia. Henry VII is recorded as having purchased a clavichord for his wife, the queen, Elizabeth of York in the early 16th century. As one of the earliest keyboard instruments, the clavichord became quickly successful among classical music composers. It is a quiet instrument and the story goes that German-British composer George Frederick Handel used the clavichord to secretly compose away from his parents who wanted him to become a lawyer. In the 17th to the 19th century, the clavichord was used often but began to decline in popularity as other keyboard instruments took its place. The instrument is now still strongly associated with this era of baroque and renaissance music which has contributed towards its continued production for performance and its historical significance.
Inventor: Unknown

Where to Buy

£600 - £7,000

Hear the Clavichord

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How to Play

A keyboard instrument, similar to a piano, but with strings that are struck by small metal blades, producing a softer sound.

In Popular Music

Paul McCartney played the clavichord on The Beatles recording of ‘For No One’. Björk was also accompanied by clavichord on songs such as ‘Unravel’. The clavichord has been a useful asset to pop artists looking for a baroque sound to their songs.

Famous Players

Gustav Leonhardt, Christopher Hogwood, Ton Koopman

Close Relations

Harpsichord, Piano
Video Credit: Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Understanding the Clavichord




14th century






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