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How Many Keys on a Piano? All the information you should know

The piano is a canvas for musicians where they paint their imagination on silence. Or, you can say it’s a monster that screams when you touch its teeth. Here teeth mean the piano keys. Regarding this, we’ve been getting a question on and on.

That is, how many keys on a piano? Simply put, a modern, full-sized piano has 88 keys on average. Each key denotes a different note and generates a wide range of sounds.

However, that’s not always the case. There can be more varieties of different types of players. You can also find pianos with 76 keys or 61 keys. Why so many variations? Well, we’ll talk about it.

In this article, we’ll discuss all the ins and outs of piano keys. Also, we’ll answer a few more your questions like why it has 88 keys? What to look for in a piano keyboard? And more. Keep reading to get all your answers.

Understand the Piano: How it Works?

The Piano is a large keyboard musical instrument. It includes a wooden case housing surrounding the soundboard. Also, there are a host of metal strings strung under great tension on a metal frame.

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The strings are struck by padded, wooden hammers that have a corresponding key. The piano is played using a keyboard, which includes a row of keys or small levers. When the performer presses down the keys, it activates the hammers to strike the strings.

Then, the strings continue to vibrate at their corresponding resonant frequency. However, this vibration transmits through a bridge to the soundboard, and finally, it generates a sound. The sound ends when the performer releases the key.

Most people consider the piano as a “percussion instrument” because of its striking action. As you can see, the keyboard plays a prominent role in a piano. So, it is essential to understand how many keys on a piano.

Let’s Shed Some Light on the History

Let’s take a short trip back to the 17th century and the era of Vivaldi, Handel, and Bach. That time, the modern piano did not exists. Instead, there were different types of keyboard instruments.

One of the most used among them was the harpsichord, which has only 60 keys. The musicians of that time were limited to a short range of five octaves only. With the progress of music, the piano arrived, which was made by Bartolomeo Cristofori.

He revamped the old harpsichord and created the pianoforte. That piano used to produce sounds by using a brand-new hammer mechanism. But, the newly created piano had only 49 keys or a range of four octaves.

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Though the piano was limited both in quality and sound, it could make both soft and loud sounds. However, the instrument producer started to bring innovation in the old harpsichord.

Instrument producers like, Broadwood and Stein were determined to meet the demand of musical composers of that time. Later after, pianos used to have 72 keys with close to six octaves. That period was considered as the Beethovian period.

After a lot of replacement and evolution, the piano gradually reached its full-size. It was Chopin and Liszt, who first created the 88 keys pianos with seven and a quarter octaves. The composers now can fully express themselves with 88 keys.

How Many Keys on a Piano?

As mentioned, the modern, full-sized acoustic piano has 88 specific keys with seven octaves. It also constitutes a minor third spanning from A0 to C8. These musical notes are DO-RE-MI-FA-SOL-LA-SI or C-D-E-F-G-A-B (in English).

From DO on the left to the DO on the right, there is a distance of one octave. These notes are repetitive towards the bass or treble. Each of these notes is associated with a specific hertz.

It means the first severe DO will have some hertz, and a more acute will have some hertz. Even though they both are called DO, but they sound different. Note that each note has a distance of one octave.

However, there is one more thing to mention here. That is, a full-size piano will have a certain amount of white keys and black keys. How many? Learn it below.

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How Many White Keys Does a Piano Have?

A full-sized piano will undoubtedly have 52 white keys. In each octave, there are seven white keys. It means all the musical notes (DO-RE-MI-FA-SOL-LA-SI) are the white keys. Here think of the DO or C major scale. The keyboard will have seven white keys in a row that are tuned to major notes.

How Many Black Keys Does a Piano Have?

A full-sized piano will have 36 black keys among 88 keys. There is one black key in between two white keys. It means every octave has around five black keys. These five black keys are tuned to “accidental” notes C#/Db, D#/Eb, F#/Gb, G#/Ab, and A#/Bb.

The Difference between White Keys and Black Keys

In a piano, the distance between two keys denotes as semitones and whole tones (2-semitone). All 88 keys don’t have the same distance between them. There is always one semitone distance between any white keys with its adjacent black key.

For instance, the black key between two white keys FA and SOL is called F# (F sharp). So the distance between FA and F# or F# and SOL is a semitone. That’s because there is no other black key between FA and SOL.

It is different in the case of white keys. The distance between two white keys is a whole tone. For example, the distance between DO and RE is a whole tone, even if C# separates both.

The white keys are made up of natural notes. So it is easy for beginners to play. Conversely, the black keys are all in half-step intervals. These black keys are known as flats and sharps. That’s why a piano includes 12 notes pattern with seven white and five black keys. 

Why Do Pianos Have 88 Keys?

As you can see from the history, there were pianos with 60 keys and 72 keys. But, why 88 keys are considered standard? Why not 44 or 212? Since the 88 keys piano was created, very few musicians feel the need for more keys.

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Many composers believe that the notes beyond those 88 keys are either too high or too low for humans. In fact, they do not write music beyond these 88 keys. A full-sized piano has a full seven octaves along with a few other notes.

Beyond this range, it could be challenging to realize individual notes. Also, that being said, the lower and higher notes are not necessary for most songs.

Do all Piano Have 88 Keys?

No, there are a lot of exceptions.

Pianos with Additional Keys

Some piano makers are trying to push the boundaries of the piano’s capabilities. An Australian piano manufacturer, Stuart, and Sons are making a “super” grand piano with 102 keys, including nine octaves.

There are more who make pianos with a large number of keys. The Imperial Bosendorfer is another piano manufacturer. They manufacture a piano with 97 keys, including eight octaves. All of the extra nine bass keys are colored black.

So, both beginner and an intermediate player can distinguish them from the standard one. Pianos with extra keys are designed for professionals. They are longer and more substantial than the regular ones. So, it can impact the practicality of the piano.

Pianos with Shorter Keys

However, the smaller piano also does exist.

The most piano has 73 keys, which are used in the stage. This piano has a slight over 6 ½ octaves. The 73 keys pianos are enough to make a lot of music. Moreover, there is some entry-level piano with just 41 keys.

A synthesizer (an electrical musical instrument) will have just 25 keys. Those instruments are designed for lead playing or bass playing. Overall, beyond these options, a full-sized piano has 88 keys.

Piano, Piano Keyboard, or Virtual Keys: Which One is good?

Thus far, you know what a piano is usually like. Now you may want to know how they sound in real. Undoubtedly, a real piano sounds thousands of times better than others. But, it cannot own a piano; you can try a piano keyboard. 

The piano keyboard imitates the sound of an acoustic piano. This keyboard has a minimum of 61 keys. However, they are not as sensitive as piano keys. So using a piano keyboard with hammer action can help to make sounds close like a real piano.

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If you don’t have a piano keyboard, you can try virtual keys or a piano keyboard stimulator. Using a tablet could be the best option, as its wide touch screen will suit your fingers. You can try the app like Perfect Piano in your Android.

Most of all, virtual keys are great for testing chord and understand how they sound. If you are an intermediate player or a professional, a real piano or piano keyboard could be the best option.

What to Look For In a Piano Keyboard?

There are different categories of keyboards available with many features. You may not be familiar with all the features and terms. It is essential to understand the keyword-related terms. Here are a few features you should look into a keyboard.  

Number of Keys

As you already know, how many keys on a piano. The number of keys is ranging from 25 to 88 full-sized. Depending on your skill and type of music you’ll be playing, you have to consider the number of keys.

Key Action

It refers to the mechanism of a piano that generates sound. A digital keyboard will not have this like a typical acoustic piano. There are different types of key actions. Each offers a different feel than others.

  • Weighted action is built into the keys. It provides a response similar to a real piano.
  • Semi-weighted action mixes the weights attached to the keys with spring-loaded action.
  • Hammer’s action has the highest quality and expensive as well. Here each key moves a mechanical hammer. So, it provides a response similar to an acoustic piano.
  • Synth-action is the cheapest option. It is more like an organ. You can play the keys quickly as there is no resistance. Synth-action could be your option if you play fast lead passes.

MIDI Compatibility

It’s a communication protocol that allows communication between electronic instruments and computers. Instruments can talk to each other through MIDI messages. It is more important to have a MIDI interface if used with a computer.

Computer Connectivity

Having computer connectivity with the keyboard is a good option for beginners. You can connect the keyboard with the computer through USB, MIDI, FireWire, mLAN, etc.

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To Sum Up!

And, there it is. We hope now you understand how many keys on a piano. A piano with 88 keys is standard for all. If a piano has less than 88 keys, it will be considered more like a digital instrument. But, fewer keys make the piano more portable and less expensive.

Like you know, there are more or fewer keys available. What you need depends on your skill level. A piano with 61 keys and five octaves are suitable for newbies. But it’s a toy piano for skilled players. You’ll need a piano with more keys as your skill level develops.

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Ben Laughlin