Time to tackle one of the most common questions in the piano world. Upright, or grand?

Some of the biggest differences between uprights and grands are hidden beneath the piano lid. We are going to focus on the differences in feel (Action + Key length), overall sound, and of course, a price point comparison.

Action

Grand Piano ActionGrand piano strings lie horizontal to the ground. Once a hammer has struck the string, gravity does the work of resetting the hammer. The quicker you can reset a hammer, the faster you can play that note again. So yes, on average, grands play faster than uprights. 

Upright strings lie, well… upright! So once a hammer strikes a string, it relies on a series of complex mechanisms to reset the hammer. These mechanisms have become so advanced, many mid to high end upright pianos have a faster reset speed than entry level grands. It just takes some creative engineering to outsmart gravity.

Over the lifetime of the piano, this fundamental 90-degree orientation difference is significant in the performance and consistency of the two styles of instruments. – CIG To Buying A Piano

If you have been taking piano lessons for longer than 8 years, a grand piano will make playing those faster passages much easier. 

A good upright action is often enough to take pianists up to a university level of playing. Though most entry level and some mid level uprights will not be able to reset hammers fast enough to allow for high level playing.

Key Length


Grand piano
keys are longer than uprights. The size of the visible key is the same on all pianos. It’s the part of the key hidden behind the fall board we are comparing. A piano key acts as a seesaw. Push down on one end, and up it goes on the other side.

upright actionThe longer the key is, the less effort it takes to move the hammer to strike the string. This translates to a greater amount of control over dynamics.

 If you are playing music that focuses heavily on subtle nuances in tone and dynamics, a grand piano key length with be very beneficial.  

Upright keys are shorter. Not always by a lot, but they are shorter keys. A shorter key will results in slightly less control over how much control you have over dynamics.

Some upright pianos have become very creative in finding ways to extend the length of keys. When you compare a well designed upright, and a small baby grand piano, the key length is not very different.

The shorter the key, the less it weighs. Also, short keys generally have to angle more at the back to reach the action at the breaks. This causes more side pressure on the bushings. Lastly, think about a key as a lever or pry bar. If you’re trying to turn a rusted bolt, you put an extension on your wrench to make it longer. Shorter keys give less leverage. Via Shusterpiano.com

High level classical pieces play differently on uprights than grands. If you are use to practicing on an upright piano, the surplus of dynamic control on a grand piano might take some getting use to.

Size

Grand Piano Livingroom

Please find me a pianist who has not dreamt of coming home to a 7” grand piano glimmering in their living room begging to be played. They don’t exist. Trust me. But with that grand piano comes a rather large footprint, and room size requirements to get the most out of the piano. 

Grand pianos range from 4’5″-10′ in length, and 4′-7′ ft. in width. Uprights – which are measured in inches or centimeters – range from 36-60″ (91-152cm) in height, 24-36″ (91-61cm) in depth, and usually have a width of 58″ (147cm). Via About.com

Even a baby grand piano in a small room will often be too loud even for musicians that crank their amps to 11. The size of the room needs to be paired to the right piano to allow for optimal tone, volume, and visual aesthetics.

Upright Piano Livingroom
Credit: Studio 7 Interior Design

Uprights take up considerably less space than grands. Even when looking at a baby grand you jump from a 3” x 5” footprint, to a  5” x 6” footprint at a minimum with a grand.

The upright piano is not as loud as a grand. The smaller soundboard results in a quieter piano.

When you’re looking to fill a hall with music, an upright piano is a poor choice. However, an upright piano can sound as full and loud as a grand in a small to medium sized room.

If you have a room smaller than 12” x 12” an upright piano will often make the most sense. If you are thinking about moving house often, an upright piano is also less expensive to move.

Tone

Grand SoundboardThe piano’s speaker is it’s soundboard. Grand pianos have a significantly larger soundboard and longer strings often resulting in a much louder and fuller sounding piano. This “fullness” is in reference to the lower bass tones of the piano.

The larger a soundboard, the greater the volume of air it is able to move. Bass and midrange tones require a large amount of air to be moved. A low note on a grand piano will sound much fuller and deeper than the same note on an upright piano.

All else being equal, longer pianos with longer strings have larger, richer sound and lower inharmonicity of the strings. Inharmonicity is the degree to which the frequencies of overtones (known as partials or harmonics) sound sharp relative to whole multiples of the fundamental frequency.

This results from the piano’s considerable string stiffness; as a struck string decays its harmonics vibrate, not from their termination, but from a point very slightly toward the center (or more flexible part) of the string. The higher the partial, the further sharp it runs. Pianos with shorter and thicker string (i.e. small pianos with short string scales) have more inharmonicity. The greater the inharmonicity, the more the ear perceives it as harshness of tone. Via Music.Stackexchange.com

Upright SoundboardAn upright piano’s soundboard is on average much smaller than a grand piano’s soundboard. Most uprights will not sound as “full” or “big” as a grand. The size, and quality of an upright piano soundboard will have a big impact on tone.

The taller an upright piano, the larger the soundboard can be. The size of the soundboard has the biggest impact on the low and mid register of notes. The top 3rd of the piano’s range on uprights and grands are almost identical.

 

 

Grand Price Point

Upright Price Point

On average, grand pianos are more expensive than upright pianos. A piano’s price is largely determined by the size, and tier of quality. As you go up in size, you will also go up in price. Here are the average starting price points for grand pianos.
Entry level ————–$8,000 to $15,000Institutional level —– $15,000 to $40,000Top Tier  ————— $40,000 +
Upright pianos will come in at a lower price point than most grands. On average they take less time to build, and use less materials. As with grands, size and tier level determine price with a larger size being more expensive.
Entry Level ————-$3000 to $5,000Institutional Level —- $5,000 to $20,000Top Tier —————–$20,000 +