One of the most fascinating musical instruments in the world is the piano. There’s so much history tied to the instrument, so I thought I would put together 15 interesting piano facts you might not know about! This article is a culmination of fun facts about the piano that covers some of the unique histories, it’s origins, myths, how it’s been used over the years!
These piano facts are great to share with kids, friends, family, a music class, or just to know for yourself if you’re a fan of the piano. With that in mind, let’s dive into the first interesting fact about the piano; how it came to be.
1. Bartolomeo Cristofori Invented The Piano
At some point in a pianist’s musical journey, one might wonder how this amazing instrument came to be. The piano (formerly called the fortepiano) was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori in the early 1700s in Italy.
Pianos back then were a lot less advanced than they are now, but they could do similar things. Fortepianos were much more advanced than the harpsichord, often sporting thicker strings and using hammer action mechanisms.
Those pianos had the ability to sustain notes, play different dynamic levels, and were used for concerts just as they are now. You can learn more about his original invention and the complete evolution of the piano by reading this article.
2. Some Pianos Have More Than 88 Keys
Whenever you see a digital piano, it’s not uncommon to find one that has 61 keys or less. Even with acoustic pianos, some older models have fewer keys than the standard 88 keys. While it’s common knowledge that some pianos have less than 88 keys, it’s not widely discussed that some of them have more.
Piano maker Bosendorfer is one of the world’s best piano brands that produce grand pianos with extra keys. They, for example, have pianos that have 92 keys added to the bass area of the keyboard. Then there is Stuart and Sons who produce pianos with 102 and 108 key pianos.
3. The Piano Used To Be Called A Pianoforte
Reading through a music history book often turns up some interesting words. One of those words is fortepiano (often written as pianoforte). This was actually the original name of the piano as we know it today. The name literally meant what it said.
It referred to the ability for the instrument to play both loud (forte) and soft (piano). At the time this was a breakthrough for keyboard instruments. Pianofortes used stops and levers to control the dynamics and sustain the pitches along with the hammer mechanism.
4. Most Grand Pianos Have Over 200 Strings
Most grand pianos have over 200 strings, usually in the range of 230. This is the case whether it’s a full-size concert grand or baby grand. The amount of strings is not the same for every single key on the instrument, however. For example, the bass notes on a piano require fewer strings than the middle or treble ranges.
230 may seem like a ton of strings for an instrument, but once you understand how piano strings work with the hammers and notes, it makes complete sense.
The really low bass notes starting with A and up the first octave have just one string. As the pitch reaches the Bass F to middle C region the piano keys will use two strings and then increases to three strings by the time you reach the highest notes.
Piano makers build more strings into the higher notes to help with sound quality, volume, and to make the notes audible. The hammers hit in different locations of the string compared to where they strike for lower notes.
5. Pianos Depreciate With Time
No matter how nice a piano may look or sound, the fact is they will depreciate with time. Much like a vehicle, a piano holds a certain value until it’s purchased. The unique thing with pianos it that the brand of instrument and current market all play a part in their depreciation.
Some pianos can, in fact, hold their value depending on those factors. The value of an old piano can also be maintained or increased by rebuilding it. Pianos are unique in that you can keep the frame, repair it and add new parts to the inside so that it essentially becomes a brand new instrument. Rebuilt pianos can bring close to the same value of a new instrument because it will function the same. You can learn more about piano depreciation here.
6. Pianos Used To Have Ivory Keys
Have you ever heard that phrase “tickle the ivories”?
Pianos used to have ivory keys before they were banned in the 1950s in the USA while Europe followed shortly after in the 1980s. It’s impossible to find a new piano with ivory keys these days, but a simple web search will yield plenty of vintage instruments.
Ivory keys have a unique touch and grip that made them quite popular in the 1940s. They were porous, so they always felt cool to the touch. The entire key wasn’t made of ivory but rather the thin keytop layer. There were some downsides to ivory keys though.
As they became dirty they would turn a nasty yellow color, far from their beautiful white shine. Professionals would need to use a cleaning or bleaching method like this one to keep them looking nice. Ivory keys were also notorious for cracking and getting chipped easily.
These days, pianos are made with plastic keytops or synthetic ivory. These keys have a different touch, but hold up much better.
7. Pianos Can Weigh Up To 990 lbs
Did you know that some of the biggest concert grand pianos in the world can weigh up to 990 pounds? That’s insanely heavy and often takes a skilled piano moving team to transport an instrument of that length and density. Most pianos that we have in our homes weigh much less than that though.
A conservatory-style or a baby grand piano can weigh between 622 – 690 pounds. Upright pianos weigh even less, often in the range of 300 to 500 pounds. There’s a lot that factors into how much a piano weighs. This includes things such as the thickness of the instrument casing and the type of wood.
Other factors such as the cast iron plate, metal strings, piano legs, lid, hammers, piano keys, and even the soundboard can all be significant contributors to the instrument’s weight. Learn more about piano weight here.
8. Pianos Should Be Tuned After Moving
Anytime a piano is moved it should be tuned. This has less to do with the actual moving of the instrument, and more to do with elements the piano will encounter. Most moving trucks will expose the piano to higher levels of humidity. These things can cause the parts to swell or loosen with prolonged exposure.
Even if the actual moving truck is climate controlled, once a piano reaches its new home, it needs to adjust to the new environment. While it’s tempting to tune a piano immediately after it enters a new home, it’s advisable to wait at least a week. This will give the instrument some time to settle and give you an idea of how much impact the move had on it.
9. Upright Pianos And Grand Pianos Use Different Action Mechanisms
Have you ever played an upright piano, transitioned to a grand piano and thought to yourself “wow this feels different”? That’s actually a very common thing, and it has nothing to do with one piano being fancier than the other. Upright pianos and grand pianos are built with completely different action mechanisms, although they may look and sound the same.
For novice players, this is not as noticeable, but a seasoned pianist can tell the difference right away. When someone strikes the key on an upright piano, the key itself lifts up on the back end and strikes the string. Grand pianos are different though in that they use repetition action.
When a grand piano key is struck, the hammer note is released and falls back into place on its own power. This allows pianists to play notes in fast repetition compared to what they can do on an upright piano. So in essence, upright pianos play slower than grand pianos.
There are some upright pianos that use duplex scaling though, but it’s not a replacement for what a grand piano can do. Learn more about upright pianos vs grand pianos in this article.
10. Most Piano Strings Hold Up To 20 Tons Of Tension
Earlier we talked about how many strings a grand piano has. In this case, usually 230 strings. The other interesting fact about that is that having all of those strings produces a ton of tension. Each piano string can have nearly 170 pounds of tension in each one, equally up to 20 tons total. Depending on the size of the piano, that number can increase another 10 tons!
11. The Most Expensive Piano Ever Sold For $3.22 million
It’s not uncommon to spend several if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on an elite piano. However luxury takes on a new meaning when a piano sells for $3.22 million at an auction. The piano which is entirely made of crystal was a special instrument that garnered worldwide attention during its use in the 2008 Olympic games.
Other pianos have not quite attracted that much money in an auction, but the prices are still impressive by any standard. Here’s a list of a few expensive pianos that have sold over the years and what they sold for.
- Steinway Sound Of Harmony – $1.63 million
- Khun Bosendorfer – $1.2 million
- John Lennon’s Steinway – $2.37 million
- Steinway AlmaTadema D274 – $1.2 million
12. Piano Has The Largest Note Range Of Any Instrument
Most instruments can play in several octaves, but none can achieve it quite as the piano can. A typical 88 key piano can play up to 7 octaves. That’s not even counting pianos with extra keys that can add an additional 2 to 3 octaves on top of that.
That is by far the widest range among any musical instrument. This makes the piano a versatile instrument that can play a wide range of literature and evoke emotions.
13. The Piano Is a Percussion Instrument
There’s long been debate about this, but in reality, the piano is actually a percussion instrument. It works by the keys being pressed which then causes the hammers to strike the strings. This is similar to a mallet striking a drumhead or woodblock.
The piano can also be viewed as a string instrument too, but the mechanisms involved in playing notes and producing sound make it equally a percussion instrument. You can learn more about how a piano works here.
14. No One Really Knows Why PIanos Have White And Black Keys
There’s a lot of information out there about piano keys and why the colors are black and white. No one knows the exact reasons for this, but it’s been thought to be a way to help the pianist play the instrument. The black keys are meant to break up the color pattern so that pianists can see which key they are in.
All of it syncs up with the octaves and makes playing much better. The color pattern also blends well with pianos whether they are dark or light-colored finishes. Another point to realize is that pianos were built with mostly ebony and ivory which naturally had those colors.
One interesting fact is that the key colors actually used to be reversed. The white keys used to be black, and the black keys used to be black! You can read this article to educate yourself on everything regarding piano keys and how they came to be.
15. Some Pianos Have Two Pedals
Did you know that not all pianos have the same amount of pedals? Smaller pianos such as studio consoles or small uprights may only have two pedals. Larger pianos such as a grand or high-end upright piano will have 3 pedals. Some pianos also have what is called “practice” pedals.
These are middle pedals that can be pressed down and angled into a slot. What this does is essentially mute the piano so that one can practice normally without having to physically play softer. These are commonly found on vertical pianos.