piano Music with predominant use (or influence) of the piano, a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. Although not portable and often expensive, the piano's versatility and ubiquity have made it one of the most familiar musical instruments. The word piano is a shortened form of the word pianoforte (Italian for soft/loud), which refers to the instrument's responsiveness to keyboard touch, allowing the pianist to produce notes at different dynamic levels by controlling the speed with which the hammers hit the strings. This was a dramatic innovation at the time of the piano's invention, forever changing composition for keyboard. This invention coincided with the Romantic era which has many musical characteristics, including a shift away from step dynamics to dramatic crescendo, decrescendo and subito markings.