If you’ve ever looked into buying a piano, you might have noticed that pianos are available in different sizes and might have a different number of keys.
This can be confusing, especially when it comes to deciding what’s best for you to play or purchase.
However, full-sized pianos always have the same number of keys, and learning why they have these many keys can help you decide if a full-sized piano is a right choice for you.
How many keys does a full-size piano have?
Full-sized pianos have 88 keys. There are 52 white keys and 36 black keys, making up seven full octaves plus three additional low notes below the last octave.
It’s the white keys on the piano that make up each octave, tuned to C-major, which includes the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, and B.
The black keys included above these white keys are tuned to C sharp, D sharp, F sharp, G sharp, and A sharp, and are called the ‘accidental’ notes. The three lowest notes on the piano make up a minor third, and they are often used to add depth and harmony to whatever song is being played.
Steinway was the first piano manufacturer to design and sell the 88-key piano, and today, not only do all full-sized Steinway pianos have 88 keys, but it’s the standard for full-sized pianos everywhere.
How did pianos become standardized?
The predecessor to the piano, the harpsichord, only had 60 keys, making up five octaves.
However, in the late 1600s and early 1700s, the instrument was updated, and a new hammer mechanism was invented, giving rise to the piano.
As the piano grew in popularity, the great composers of the time, such as Mozart, Liszt, and Chopin, began writing more music for it, and they wanted a greater range.
A larger piano size, with more keys and therefore more octaves, offered more options for creativity and how to play.
It wasn’t until the 1880s, however, that Steinway released the first 88-key piano.
Full-sized pianos are limited to seven octaves and 88 keys because it’s generally found that octaves above or below this range simply can’t be heard well.
Are there larger pianos?
Although 88-keys is the standard for full-sized pianos, there are some pianos, such as those made by Bosendorfer, that have up to 97 keys.
These additional keys offer more range at the low end of the piano, and although they are hard to hear, they can give extra depth to the rest of the music being played.
The extra keys on a Bosendorfer piano are colored black so they won’t be confused with the standard octaves usually found on a full-sized piano.
Stuart and Sons also made a nine-octave piano with 108 keys. The additional notes and octaves on this piano are rarely played since they can’t be heard well, but they can act as an accent or harmony to the other music being played on the piano.
Other types of pianos, such as the Emanuel Moor pianoforte, have two rows of keys, one set slightly above and apart from the other.
The top row contains 76 keys, while the bottom has the standard 88 keys. The top row of keys is tuned to be one octave higher than the keys in the row below.
When the player plays any of the keys on either keyboard, the corresponding key on either the top or bottom keyboard is also played.
This ensures that the player is always playing two octaves at the same time, creating a unique sound and offering many options for creativity.
How many keys do you need?
When it comes to buying a keyboard or piano, there is a wide range of size options available.
Most people won’t ever need a piano that has more than the standard 88 keys, but some people may not feel they even need that many.
Beginners who are concerned about saving space or only want to learn to play before upgrading to a full-sized piano or keyboard often start with instruments that have 66 keys.
This range allows players to comfortably learn the basics without becoming overwhelmed by the size of the instrument or the number of octaves.
Other pianos and keyboards have 72 keys, and this is a good compromise for people who want a range of creative options in their music but also want to save space.
In addition, keyboards and pianos that have fewer keys and octaves are not only smaller in size, but they tend to be somewhat less expensive as well, depending on the brand and model.
For people who are serious about playing, however, and plan to play a traditional piano, a full-sized 88-key piano or keyboard is the best option.
If you’re starting with a keyboard and eventually want to move to a full-sized piano, you may also want to invest in a keyboard with weighted keys.
These keys simulate the feel of the keys on a piano, which are heavier to play due to their string and hammer mechanisms.
Pianos and keyboards that are much smaller are also available. Thirty-two or 49 key keyboards are popular with people who need instruments for live music or making music in a small home studio setting.
People can also choose to go with pianos that are even larger than the standard 88-key piano, but the largest pianos are generally only used by professionals or those playing piano in a live setting.
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