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How Many Keys Are on a Piano

How Many Keys Are on a Piano

Before you begin your piano lessons, it is important to learn how many keys there are on it. It may seem a very childish question to ask, but not many are able to answer it correctly.
Batul Nafisa Baxamusa
It is said that in the year 1709, an Italian harpsichord maker, Bartolomeo Cristofori, invented the 'pianoforte'. This new musical instrument had a wooden frame like a harpsichord and a unique keyboard mechanism. It was very similar to the clavichord. Over the past 300 years, the pianoforte has undergone many changes. The shape, functionality, appearance, design, and sound has been modified into today's version of the piano.

Layout of Piano Keys

The modern piano keyboard was first established in medieval Europe during the 13th century. It had 12 basic notes, with a repetition of black and white keys. During the early stages, there were no black notes implemented as yet. Therefore, the layout of keys consisted of only seven basic notes. Then, after many long years, keyboard players were finally able to decide and implement the number of musical notes one could play on the piano. Thus, today there are 7 ¼ octaves, i.e., seven white notes and five black notes to an octave. This has made learning to play the piano so easy that you can even learn it yourself.

Total Number of Keys

The total number of keys on a standard modern piano is 88, the break-up being 52 white keys and 36 black keys. Initially, there used to be only 60 keys on the piano, just like the harpsichord. As the composers started to play this instrument more and more, they began to develop different musical notes. As the music played on, the piano got complicated and more keys were added to it. Then, during the 19th century, the piano had 85 notes. Finally, there were three notes added at the top.

However, there are some exceptions to the usual convention of 88 keys. The 7'4" Bösendorfer model 225 has 92 keys, while the 9'6" Bösendorfer model 290 has 97 keys. The Bösendorfer Imperial Grand model 290 has 97 keys that cover a compass of 8 octaves C to C. These keys have a different finishing from the regular keys to help you avoid playing them accidentally during a recital. The semitone keys are in white and the fulltone keys are in black. The Cottage piano does not have the top and bottom octaves that are found in the normal 88 key piano, and so only has total of 64 keys. Pleyel, a company that was established in Paris in 1807 and is now under Schimmel Piano Co. today, had once built a double grand piano. It had two pianos in one case, with one keyboard on either side. For this reason, this piano had 176 keys.

There are about 220 strings on a piano that has 88 keys. This means that each note has three stings in the treble, two strings in tenor and part of the bass, and one string in the very low bass. The average tension of a steel piano string is about 160 lbs., with a 15% increase on the bass strings. Different pianos have different weights as follows:
  • Baby grand 4' 11" - 240 kg approximately
  • Concert grand 9' - 490 kg approximately
  • Small upright 3' 8" - 184 kg approximately
  • Large upright 4' 2" - 215 kg approximately
The biggest piano ever made was by Challen England. They made an 11' 8" long piano in 1935 for the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Princess Mary. This piano weighed about 1 ¼ tons. It had the combined tensile stress of the strings that amounted to over 30 tons.