How Does a Piano Make Sound?

The word ‘piano’ is a bit of an umbrella term since it can be used to refer to grand pianos, upright pianos, electric pianos and digital pianos, all of which generate sound in different ways. Want to know how? Just read on!

Acoustic Pianos

The two most well-known types of acoustic pianos are the grand piano and the acoustic upright piano. These are the kind of pianos you’ll typically find on stage and in lavish living rooms, and they both make sound the same way: via hammers and strings. Each key is connected to a hammer, so when they’re played, the hammers are slammed into corresponding strings which then start to vibrate, creating sound. While it sounds simple, this mechanism is more complex than you might think. Not only do the hammers immediately need to return to their natural resting position – yes, even if you hold down the keys – the damper for each string also needs to stay disengaged for as long as the corresponding key is held down. As soon as you release the key, the damper needs to do its job and kill the sound. Bear in mind that the lower notes are shaped by a single string per key, while the other notes are formed by two or three strings per key to make sure they’re loud enough. Check out the videos posted below to see how grands and uprights work with your own eyes.

Grand Pianos

The grand piano most closely resembles the original piano since it looks the most like predecessors like the harpsichord and pianoforte. It’s characterised by a long, horizontal body that houses the hammers and strings. Grand pianos also come in various sizes, where the up to three-metre-long concert grand is obviously designed for concerts, while the typically metre-and-a-half-long baby grand is often found in large living rooms.

How Does a Piano Make Sound?

Upright Pianos

Also known as vertical pianos or cottage pianos, acoustic uprights are equipped with strings that run vertically. Since this construction results in a more compact design compared to grands, the upright piano fits inside most living rooms. While the sound of grand pianos is often found to be richer than the sound of uprights – which is mostly down to the size of the built-in soundboard and the fact that grands have a lid that can be opened – that doesn’t mean grands always sound better than uprights. In fact, a high-end acoustic upright piano can easily sound better than a second-rate grand.

How Does a Piano Make Sound?

Electric Pianos

First off, electric pianos like the illustrious Fender Rhodes are not to be confused with digital pianos. Even though they’re likewise equipped with strings and hammers (or little tuning forks in the case of the Rhodes), electric pianos are more like electric guitars when it comes to the way they generate sound. That’s because the vibrations of the strings are converted into tiny electronic signals before being passed on to an amplifier and speaker which turn it into sound. Electric pianos also boast an entirely unique sound that can be coloured using effects. You do generally need an amplifier to bring one to life though.

How Does a Piano Make Sound?

Digital Pianos

Digital pianos are designed to mimic acoustic pianos but feature no internal strings. Instead, pressing the keys of a digital piano generates little electronic signals that get sent to a built-in processor, which then generates a pre-programmed sound based on the force applied as well as a few other parameters. The sound can be a sample aka a recording of a note played on an acoustic piano, but it may also be generated from scratch by an advanced processor based on what’s known as physical modelling. Some digital pianos are equipped with simple, lightweight plastic keys, while other models are decked out with actual hammer-action keys made from wood or a mix of wood and plastic. Generally, the more you pay for a model, the more ‘real’ the sound and playing feel gets to a grand piano.

What’s your favourite type of piano? Let us know in the comments!

» Digital Pianos
» Piano Books
» Stage Pianos
» Sustain Pedals

» Classical Piano Music for Beginners: 6 Well-Known Compositions
» Acoustic or Digital Piano? Which One Should You Go For?
» Playing the Piano: Correct Posture & Hand Position
» The Three Piano Pedals: What Are They For?
» How to Record a Piano
» How to play basic piano chords
» What’s the difference between a keyboard and a digital piano?
» What’s the Best Stage Piano for Me?
» What is the Best Digital Piano for Me?

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