We get many questions at the piano store from customers who are trying to learn more about the instruments. But we also get inquiries from students and teachers as well, who are trying to learn more about their history, how they mechanically work, or some of the most basic questions like how many keys or strings do they have. Amongst musical instruments, pianos have both the highest number of both notes and strings, so it’s a worthwhile question!
We hope you enjoy the video and accompanying article where we discuss this very subject: the number of keys and strings on a piano!
How Many Keys Are on a Piano & How Many Strings Does a Piano Have?
Hi everybody, and welcome to another piano video here at Merriam Pianos. My name is Stu Harrison and today we’re going to be addressing a very popular and common question: how many keys are on a piano?
We’re going to expand that slightly to address another question that comes up, how many strings are also on a piano?
You might actually be surprised to realize that the number of keys that are standard on pianos today – the 88-key piano design – was not always the case if we go back in history. As acoustic pianos pianos were being experimented with and the whole design was evolving through the 18th and 19th century, there were keys as low as 40 on some of the early harpsichord instruments. Of course, by the late 1800s, that number had generally settled in at around 85. So you can still find vintage Steinways and vintage European pianos out there from the late 1880s or 1890s that actually have 85 keys on them. There were also some upright pianos built in the 20th century that also had 85 keys under the premise of a compact apartment-style. But here in 2019, the standard set of keys on both an upright and a grand piano these days is 88. Those 88 keys are made up of a combination of the white piano keys as well as the black piano keys, the lowest note being an A, and the highest note being a top C note. Modern piano keyboards make use of 52 white keys and 36 black keys, which brings us to a total of 88 keys. This stretches over seven octaves plus a minor third (from A0 to C8). The black keys are raised and are set farther back than the white ones. Each key on the keyboard represents a specific musical note. The white keys on a piano keyboard signify the seven-note names (A-B-C-D-E-F-G) and the black keys are used to identify sharp(a sharp, f sharp, c sharp) or flat(b flat, g flat, e flat, d flat) notes.
Even though 88 is common, there are some less mainstream instruments out there that have even more than 88 notes. The Bosendorfer Imperial grand actually has 97 notes and all of those extra notes are on the lower side of the instrument. That’s almost a full octave of notes that happen below that A goes all the way down to lower C again. And then there’s a manufacturer in Australia called Stuart & Sons and they fairly recently released a new model that has 108 keys.
Digital pianos come in three sizes normally: 88 notes just like an acoustic, 76 notes (one octave shorter) (6 octaves + a 3rd) and 61 notes (5 full octaves). Anything smaller than 88 note digitals are often called ‘keyboards’ and usually have slightly narrower, non-weighted keyboard keys vs fully weighted acoustic-style keys. In almost all cases, regardless of how many notes the digital piano as, middle C is still oriented in the middle of the instrument.
How Many Strings Does a Piano Have?
So now that we know how many keys there are on a piano, “How many strings are on a piano?” Well, there’s even less agreement between manufacturers on what the correct number of strings on a real piano should really be. It generally falls somewhere between 220 to 240 strings, 230 tends to be an average number. But here’s the reason why there’s no specific agreement on the number of strings even though there tends to be agreement on the number of keys. The lower section of strings, the ones wrapped in copper and with just one string per pitch, stretch between one and two octaves up from the bottom, but the moment it switches to two strings per note is a stylistic choice that depends on a multitude of factors. Likewise, the section of two-string notes (bi-chord) is also non-uniform in size…some do one octave, other builders do an octave and a half. And somewhere around 40% up from the bottom of the piano, it switches from copper-wound strings to steel, where each note has three strings and is known as the treble section.
There’s a manufacturer called Bluthner in Germany that on the very top part of the piano, there’s actually a fourth-string per note that’s added even though, interestingly, that string isn’t actually struck by the hammer. That string is just left open to resonate and that’s what they call their Aliquot scale. But they are the only ones that do that, most manufacturers just have those three strings.
So there you have it, the answers to both how many note names are on a piano and how many strings are on a piano. Eighty-eight is the standard number of notes with a handful being higher; the Imperial at 97, and even a few more going all the way up to 108 in one case. And, the number of strings ranging anywhere from around 220 to 240.
We hope you found the article helpful, and please check back for more videos and articles about the piano!