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When starting up piano lessons it’s a good idea to have a real acoustic instrument in the home to practice on. The toughest decision is deciding between upright piano vs grand piano. So which is better?
So what’s the biggest difference between upright piano vs grand piano? Upright pianos are vertical pianos designed to save on space. They produce less sound and cost less. Grand pianos produce a bigger tone. They have longer strings, more refined action, faster key repetition, are more expensive than upright pianos.
There is a lot to consider when deciding between an upright and grand piano. If you plan to purchase one then I recommend looking at this piano purchasing guide. Let’s have a look at what benefits each type of piano offers. We’ll also look at a few of the disadvantages of both pianos and which one you should invest in.
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Benefits Of Upright Pianos
While upright pianos and grand pianos essentially perform the same function, they both offer very unique benefits. For upright pianos, the biggest benefits include their compact size and overall costs.
Upright Pianos Take Up Less Space
Upright pianos are compact pianos designed to save on space.
They are vertical pianos, so all of the action parts, hammers, springs, and strings stand straight up instead of horizontally as a grand piano would. The lid is located at the top, which allows for more sound without needing to change the position of the piano.
The piano bench can also be conveniently stored underneath the keyboard area. Pianists can also flip the bench upside down on top of the lid as well.
The average width of an upright piano is 5′. This includes both the keys and the sides of the console. Most standard uprights are at least 50″ or more in height. Standard uprights feature larger strings and soundboard is also larger than console and studio models.
More compact studio and console models measure 49″ or shorter. The smallest version of a vertical piano is a spinet which averages 37″ in height. Upright pianos are around 2′ in depth, which makes them ideal instruments to place along walls and windows.
Upright Pianos Cost Less
When it comes to costs, upright pianos cost significantly less than their horizontal counterparts. The average cost of a new upright piano is $3000. Higher quality upright pianos cost between $5000 – $8000.
Used upright pianos can cost as little as $500, especially if they are antique pianos. A quick search on Craigslist will bring up many people looking to just give an upright piano away.
Upright pianos are cheaper to produce and take less labor overall to make. Because of their design, the process of building an upright piano is much quicker.
Upright pianos use a lot of the same materials and parts that are found in grand pianos, however, they utilize much less overall.
Upright Pianos Are a Great Alternative To Digital Keyboards
Most beginning pianists invest in digital keyboards to start out. While digital pianos are affordable options, they are not the same as acoustic pianos.
Digital pianos work by using hammer action technology or weighted keys to simulate acoustic pianos. When a pianist presses a key, they’ll be able to control different dynamics and repetition aspects one would find on an acoustic.
While the technology has really improved over the years, there’s just never a complete replacement for an acoustic piano. Eventually, a pianist will need to upgrade to an acoustic instrument so they can fully develop their technical and musical skills.
This is why upright pianos are great alternatives. They are a major upgrade over digital pianos, yet they are not as big of investment when compared to grand pianos.
Pianists can still develop quite well with an upright instrument. Some uprights even feature duplex scaling to allow for quicker repetition comparable to grand pianos.
Disadvantages Of Upright Pianos
While upright pianos are great starter pianos, they do have some drawbacks. Most notably the sound quality, action responsiveness, and their look.
Upright Pianos Don’t Sound As Good
There’s no secret that upright pianos just don’t sound as good as grand pianos. The length of the strings and the size of the soundboard have an enormous effect on the overall sound presentation of an upright piano.
Because of their design, the sound travels straight up. In order to take full advantage of the sound, the lid has to be open every time you play or the piano will sound muffled. The smaller the upright piano, the weaker the sound will be.
Taller uprights are often preferred because they present a tone that’s more comparable to a grand piano. The mechanism inside the piano also controls the tone as well. Upright pianos are known for their bright and tinny tone quality.
Because of the size and length of the strings, the sound of an upright is not as deep as a grand piano. The blending of harmonies on upright pianos much less refined, particularly in the bass range of the instrument.
Inferior Action Compared To Grand Pianos
While upright pianos with duplex action are fantastic instruments, there’s just no comparison to what a grand piano can do. When a key is pressed on a vertical piano, the back end up the key lifts up which puts the mechanism in motion, striking the key.
Grand pianos utilize a repetition mechanism. This allows pianists to repeat a note quickly without having to ever completely release the key. After the hammer note is released the hammer falls back into place under its own weight.
In comparison with upright pianos, the hammer relies on springs returning to their default resting position. Learn more about how a piano works here.
Upright Pianos Are Less Visually Appealing
An upright piano has much less visual appeal than a grand piano. This is a piano that is designed to sit against a wall. Because of its box-like design, it looks odd in a room by itself.
Grand pianos have a much more elaborate design. They feature a variety of finishes such as ebony, satin, and even engraved models. Grand pianos are often the piano of choice for hotel lobbies, gala events, and concert halls.
Benefits Of Grand Pianos
Grand pianos are the more expensive option, however, there are many benefits to playing these instead of upright pianos. Advanced pianists will find a great deal of appreciation for what grand pianos can do for their artistic development, especially when it comes to tone quality.
Grand pianos are much larger in shape and size. The horizontal design allows for the maximum amount of sound and tone control. The strings are much longer, which helps produce a more powerful bass sound. With the lid open, grand pianos have much greater projection and are the preferred option in concert halls and recitals.
The tone of a grand piano is much warmer and deeper in nature. There are some grand pianos that feature a brighter tone like Yamaha. Steinway pianos, on the other hand, are known for their mellow tone.
Unlike upright pianos, grand pianos allow for musical expression, especially with its ability to change tones without completely releasing a key.
Grand pianos are also equipped with more sophisticated pedaling options. For example, the soft pedal on a grand piano effectively quiets the sound but also allows for color changes to the tone.
Upright pianos can do much of the same thing but lack the ability to change the color and character of the pitches. For artistic purposes, grand pianos are much more preferred.
Grand pianos are much easier to play than upright pianos. This is because the entire action mechanism is much different. With its repetition lever and no reliance on springs to release the hammer, pianists can play up to twice as fast on a grand piano.
The more expensive the grand piano is, the more refined the action will be. If a grand piano does not have the desired touchweight, you can always make an adjustment to it through a piano technician.
Different dynamic expressions and articulations are also easier to produce on grand pianos. Anything from successive staccato passages to rumbling tremolo accompaniments come through much better than on upright pianos.
Pianists can perform complex trills and scale passages and change dynamics instantly. Because the keys do not have to be completely released to repeat the note, this can be easily achieved.
Most quality grand pianos take up to a year to build.
Pianos are built by hand, and the entire process is quite detailed. This includes carefully selecting the spruce wood, preparing it for bending, merging all of the parts together, building in the action, cast iron plate, strings, and much more.
Not only is sourcing those materials expensive, but it takes a team of specialist to put them together and test them thoroughly. The entire process results in a quality instrument that’s built to withstand generations of use as long as it’s well cared for.
Grand pianos feature thicker wood frames which not only aids in the tone but also helps to protect the parts inside.
While all instruments are subject to changes in humidity, grand pianos do a much better job at withstanding those changes compared to uprights. In general, it’s still a wise idea to use a humidifier on a grand piano.
Disadvantages Of Grand Pianos
While grand pianos are a joy to play, there are some slight disadvantages to them compared to uprights.
Grand Pianos Are Expensive
The most notable negative against grand pianos is their cost. A new Steinway costs between $81,000 – $199,000. Steinway is considered to be one of the best piano brands in the entire world though.
Other top brands offer cheaper grand pianos, however, at the end of the day, all of their marquee models are comparatively priced.
When it comes to upright pianos, the only comparable prices would be against baby grand pianos. Because baby grand pianos are only about 5′ in size and produce a smaller dynamic range, many people opt for the slightly cheaper upright pianos.
Grand Pianos Take Up A Lot Of Space
If you live in a small apartment or have a small living room, an upright piano is a perfect option. Grand pianos, on the other hand, are horizontal in nature, usually taking up 5′ worth of space outward.
Because of the design, grand pianos cannot be placed alongside a wall as easily. The piano needs space on both sides, especially if pianists plan to lift the lid open while playing.
Repairs And Tuning Cost More Than Upright Pianos
All pianos will have to undergo some form of routine maintenance. Some will even need extensive repairs if they are not well taken care of. A grand piano tuning is usually more expensive than an upright. Piano tunings generally range from $150 -$200 depending on the reputation of the piano technician.
When it comes to serious piano repairs it’s much more difficult to handle the costs when it comes to grand pianos. In the case of a rebuild or significant change to the regulation, repairs can cost north of $2500!
The good news is that only old or used grand pianos that have been poorly maintained will need those sort of repairs done.
Upright pianos that need serious repairs often never receive those repairs because they can easily be replaced with another cheap upright piano.
Grand Pianos Are Tougher To Clean
Because of the design of the grand pianos are often a pain to clean. A shiny finish easily attracts fingerprints, dust, and other forms of grime. There are some great polishes for cleaning grand piano finishes, but it’s much more work than cleaning an upright.
The same can be said for dust collection, especially when the lid is open. Cleaning a piano takes a lot of work, especially when trash gets stuck in between the strings and falls on the soundboard.
Grand Pianos Are Expensive To Move
Occasionally you may want to move your grand piano to storage. Upright pianos are less expensive to move than grand pianos. In fact, you could easily roll an upright piano into the bed of a truck, strap it down, and safely transport it to the destination.
Grand pianos are more difficult to move however and require experts to help get the job done. Moving a grand piano requires many steps such as removing the legs, pedals, wrapping the body of the piano in plastic and transporting it onto a piano dolly.
Since grand pianos are very heavy, a team of movers with experience is often required. A typical grand piano move costs around $500 locally. Long distance moves cost even more than this.
Hello & thanks for stopping by! I’m a professional concert pianist and piano instructor. In the United States, I’ve given successful performances in several places including New York, Florida, Connecticut, & New Jersey, I have also performed internationally in Italy and made my Carnegie Hall debut in 2014. I enjoy blogging about the piano, the art of performance, general music, current events and the latest in music production.