The piano is a musical contraption consisting of a wooden case housing and a metal frame to hold a host of metal strings. Each string has an associated padded hammer. These hammers have a corresponding lever or key. A push on the key (lever) readily activates the hammer to strike the string that produces a sound. Due to this “striking” action, many people consider the piano a “percussion instrument.”
Every stringed instrument before the introduction of the pianoforte (an early name for piano) was played by plucking, strumming as in the case of guitar, or by using a bow as in the case of violins. The Hornbostel-Sachs instrument classification system otherwise categorizes the piano as a chordophone. A chordophone is a musical instrument that makes a sound from the vibration of a string that is stretched from two points.
The most prominent feature of a piano is its keyboard. A keyboard is a row of white keys with black keys in some places. A modern full-sized acoustic piano typically contains 88 specific keys which constitute seven octaves and a minor third spanning from A₀ to C₈. Each octave has seven white keys that are tuned to C, D, E, F, G, A, and B notes of the C-major. There are 52 white keys and 36 black keys in a piano. Moreover, each octave includes five black keys for the “accidental” notes C♯/D♭, D♯/E♭, F♯/G♭, G♯/A♭, and A♯/B♭.
Pianos with Extra Keys
While 88 is the de-facto standard number of keys of a piano keyboard, some piano manufacturers produce pianos with a greater number of keys. The piano manufacturer Imperial Bösendorfer markets a piano with nine extra bass keys for a total of 97 keys covering eight octaves. A more recent piano model from Stuart & Sons has 108 keys from C₀ to B₈ — a full nine octaves!
These extra keys are sometimes provided with a hinged covering or reverse color. The extra white keys are colored black. This feature prevents disorientation of pianists who are unaccustomed to extra keys.
Moreover, there is the specially-designed Emánuel Moór Pianoforte with two rows (manuals) of keys totaling 164 keys. The lower manual consists of 88 keys, while the upper manual has 76 keys. Despite having a large number of additional keys to this type of piano, both manuals strike just like a single set of strings. However, the key on the upper manual produces a tune that is an octave higher than that of the corresponding key on the lower manual. This allows a pianist to play two octaves with one hand. Pianoforte is a rare type of piano with only about 60 examples manufactured.
Pianos with Shorter Keyboards
There are many pianos that have less than 88 keys on its manual. As a matter of fact, earlier pianos only have 85 keys in total. Fifty white and thirty-five black keys made up the manual that spans seven octaves from A₀ to A₇. Piano types other than the grand and upright acoustic have fewer keys. For example, the minipiano’s manual consists of 73 keys that span six octaves from F₁ to F₇.
First introduced commercially in 1939, the electric pianos use the same mechanism found in acoustic pianos. However, instead of using a soundboard to propagate its sound, the electric piano utilizes the pickup. Moreover, the late models of electric pianos have built-in amplifiers. Like the acoustic type, electric pianos come in both the grand piano and upright models.
At present, there are three brands that market electric pianos: Yamaha, Kawai, and Helpinstill. All manufacturers offer 88-key models. These manufacturers also offer electric pianos with fewer keys.
Aside from the 88-key models, Yamaha also offers 73– and 76-key models. Kawai, on the other hand, offers both 75– and 76-key piano models in addition to 88 keys electric pianos. Kawai’s 75-key model has 44 white and 31 black keys spanning over six octaves from F₁ to G₆. Kawai’s 76-key models, however, have 45 white and 31 black keys from E₁ to G₆.
Helpinstill is marketing a 64-key model as well as two 88-key upright electric piano models. The Helpinstill Roadmaster-64 keyboard consists of 38 white and 26 black keys spanning five octaves from A₁ to C₇.
The electronic piano bores little if no resemblance to the traditional acoustic piano. The electronic piano only simulates the piano’s timbre. The sound simulation is accomplished using analog electronic circuitry. The electronic piano gained some acclaims in the late 70s up to the 80s. This popularity is due to the RMI Electra. The RMI electronic pianos have a 61-key keyboard that consists of 36 white and 25 black keys. The manual spans five octaves that start with the first F key and ends with the sixth F key.
The digital piano is currently the most popular alternative to acoustic types. This popularity is widely attributed to its cost. Some digital pianos cost less than a hundred dollars. But these pianos appear to be toy-like due to the limited amount of the keys they provide. Moreover, the price tag of electric pianos can vary widely depending on the number of keys, make, and brand name.
The number of keys on a digital piano may range from 32 keys up to the standard 88 keys. The key layout arrangement can vary from brand to brand. For example, in a 32-key manual, which consists of 23 white and 13 black keys, the manual can start with either C or F note. This also the case with 36- and/or 37-key manuals. For 49-, 54- and 61-key keyboards, the key starts with a C note. For longer keyboards like manuals with the 76 or 88 keys, the key starts with an A note.
Pianos with five octaves (61-key) have the best keyboard length for any serious newbie. The 61-key piano is more affordable than 76-key piano even with digital piano types. Moreover, the 61-key piano can’t be considered as a toy piano. But as your skill level progresses, you would certainly need a piano with more keys. Hence, if you intend to upgrade to a piano with more keys, a 76-key piano would surely be a cheaper alternative than that of an 88-key piano.