A harpsichord (Italian: clavicembalo; French: clavecin; German: Cembalo; Spanish: clavecín; Portuguese: cravo; Dutch: klavecimbel; Polish: klawesyn) is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. This activates a row of levers that turn a trigger mechanism that plucks one or more strings with a small plectrum made from quill or plastic. The strings are under tension on a soundboard, which is mounted in a wooden case; the soundboard amplifies the vibrations from the strings so that the listeners can hear it. Like a pipe organ, a harpsichord may have more than one keyboard manual, and even a pedal board. Harpsichords may also have stop buttons which add or remove additional octaves. Some harpsichords may have a buff stop, which brings a strip of buff leather or other material in contact with the strings, muting their sound to simulate the sound of a plucked lute.
The term denotes 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, both as an accompaniment instrument and as a soloing instrument. During the Baroque era, the harpsichord was a standard part of the continuo group. The basso continuo part acted as the foundation for many musical pieces in this era. During the late 18th century, with the development of the fortepiano (and then the increasing use of the piano in the 19th century) the harpsichord gradually disappeared from the musical scene (except in opera, where it continued to be used to accompany recitative). In the 20th century, it made a resurgence, being used in historically informed performances of older music, in new compositions, and, in rare cases, in certain styles of popular music (e.g., Baroque pop).