The piano is one of the grandest musical instruments ever invented, and it is a quite complicated instrument likewise. It is also expensive because it is so intricately and cleverly constructed. Pianos are not machine-made. They must have laboriously been built by very skilled craftsmen. Moreover, its different small parts (around 12,000 individual parts) are so complicated that they need to be meticulously crafted so that they could work together to produce perfect sounds.
Many parts of the piano are crafted from selected materials for longevity and strength. The outer rim, for example, is made of hardwood like those of beech or hard maple. Hardwood provides massiveness so that the piano could be essentially immobile. The underside thick wooden posts of the piano are made of softwood for stability.
The piano also has thick metal for structural strength. The hardwood, together with the thick metal makes the piano very heavy. In fact, the largest piano in the market today weighs around 1,260 pounds or roughly 570 kilograms.
In the early years of the existence of piano, the keys of pianos were usually made of sugar pine. However, in 2010, spruce or basswood becomes the staple materials for piano keys. Spruce is generally used for high-quality pianos.
On the other hand, the black keys are traditionally made of ebony, while the white keys are usually encapsulated in strips of ivory. However, with the ban on the use of ivory, piano makers resorted to the use of plastics. Yamaha, for example, invented Ivorite—a material that mimics the qualities of ivory.
The Number of Octaves on a Piano
Most contemporary major pianos come with 88 keys (52 white keys and 36 black keys). This means that the total number of octaves in contemporary pianos are seven, plus a minor third. These seven octaves span the range from A0 to C8. An octave refers to a musical interval consisting of 12 semitones that generally exists between two notes.
A piano is basically a set of 12 keys or octaves, each set consisting of 8 white keys and four black ones. These notes span from A to G. However; the piano inventor decided to count from C – B. Hence, if you look at the notes of each octave, you’ll notice that they are C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. Well. These are the same notes as those of A to G, though the arrangement in piano starts with C.
Since each octave is made of 8 white keys, you can play an octave if you play starting with a white key and moving eight white keys downwards or upwards the keyboard.
Octave Counts According to Piano Type
Pianos can be categorized based on octave counts. Some are 49-key pianos (small), while some are 61-key pianos (medium). Medium/large pianos, on the other hand, have 76 keys, while large pianos have 88 keys.
1) Small (49 Keys with 4 Octaves)
These pianos are extremely basic. They feature springs that are loaded with action. However, this type of piano is mostly designed for practice and for learning the rudiments of piano playing. These pianos are also specifically designed for beginners, wanting to learn the fundamentals of piano playing without shelling out too much money for a piano unit. Nevertheless, the 49-key pianos are not designed to last long. Moreover, you will surely outgrow them, especially if you are desirous of further honing your piano playing skill.
2) Medium (61 Keys with 5 Octaves)
The medium-size pianos are the most appropriate for learning the rudiments of piano playing. This size is also the standard for electronic keyboards. This one is slightly larger than the 49-key pianos. Many musicians have this type of pianos at hand. And these pianos come in handy for most musicians. You will also find this type of piano in many studios.
3) Medium/Large (76 Keys with 6 ½ Octaves)
If you are a serious musician, you should opt for this type of piano. It has 76 keys with 6 ½ octaves. You can use this type of piano for playing beginners as well as intermediate repertoire. Many keyboards at this level often have touch sensitivity features and weighted keys.
4) Large (88 Keys with 7 Octaves)
This is the standard for most acoustic pianos that are manufactured today. It comes with 88 keys. This type of piano is referred to as full-size pianos. As a serious pianist, you should go for this type of piano.
Should You Use Full-size Pianos with More Octaves?
When you study the piano, you will learn that there are 8 notes that you need to learn. You don’t need to memorize, for example, all the keys of the full-size 88-key piano for that would be overwhelming for your mind. You simply need to memorize the 8 notes, which are referred to as an octave.
You simply need to memorize 12 keys of all the 88 keys. The notes only repeat themselves in each octave of the piano. So, if you know what notes make up an octave, you already know the different keys of the 88-key pianos. It all boils down to how you break the study of piano into its basic components.
How Did the Piano Octave Evolve?
The first piano was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori, though the exact year when he invented, it is not known. However, by the year 1700, there was already a piano, and the 3 pianos created by Cristofori that have survived up to this day are dated 1720.
The period from 1790 to 1860 had seen significant innovations in the modern piano. These innovations were partly due to the demands of pianists and composers for a more powerful sustain of piano sound. Bach, for example, criticized the early pianos for their lack of dynamic range. This criticism was constructively taken by makers of early pianos.
In the later years, Bach applauded the piano for its ability to play soft and loud sounds, which indicated that the makers of the early pianos heeded his criticism. Moreover, the availability of better strings and precision casting paved the way for more massive pianos. Thus, during the time of Mozart, pianos had already evolved from having five octaves to seven octaves or more.
Many early innovations on the piano were attributed to Broadwood, a firm that manufactured pianos. Joining with Robert Stoddart and Americus Backers, the three designed a piano with a harpsichord case, which paved the way for the evolution of the grand piano. They achieved this innovation around 1777.
They soon gained the reputation for producing powerful pianos, and their pianos were played by Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven. The Broadwood firm was credited for creating the pianos with more than five octaves. So, by the 1820s, the seven-octave pianos were already available.
Other firms such as those of the Viennese makers of piano soon followed the Broadwood in producing pianos with seven octaves. However, the Viennese manufacturers created more sensitive instruments while Broadwood went on with manufacturing pianos with more robust action.