With its expressive range, sheer physical presence and colossal repertoire, the piano reigns supreme.


From Cristofori’s early 18th-century piano prototype to today’s gargantuan Steinway grands, the piano has been a constant presence in the concert hall, pub, jazz club and pop stadium – no other instrument is as versatile or wildly thrilling.

What are the different parts of the piano?

Piano strings

The quality of a piano’s strings is crucial to the sound and tone of the instrument. Strings are generally made from pure carbon steel, a material that can stand not only extreme tension, but repeated striking by the (felt-coated) hammers.

When any piano string vibrates, it produces both tone and overtones. The treble register, with its three short, stiff strings per note, presents a particular challenge.

To enhance the tone of these, in 1873, the Blüthner piano company introduced their system of aliquot scaling, where a fourth parallel but unstruck string vibrates in sympathy, increasing the sonority of each note. Steinway’s duplex scaling produces a similar effect.

How many strings does have a piano have?

The average number of strings in a piano is 230, but it does vary on the model.

Piano keys

The black keys were once made from the dense wood, ebony. Until 1989, the white keys were covered in ivory which, apart from its sensual touch, was ideal for absorbing sweat from the player’s fingers. This is why piano playing was often called tinkling the ivories. Now thank goodness synthetic materials (polymers and resins) are used for both the black and white keys.

There are 88 piano keys in total.

Piano pedals

The left hand (‘soft’) pedal is known as the una corda (Italian for ‘one string’). On modern grand pianos, it shifts the keyboard to the side so that fewer strings are struck; on uprights, it moves the hammers closer to the strings.

The right hand one is the sustaining pedal (sometimes improperly called the ‘loud pedal’) which raises the dampers from the strings, allowing them to vibrate freely until the pedal is released.

The (middle) sostenuto pedal on a grand allows the sustaining of certain notes or chords while others continue to be damped. On uprights, the middle pedal is usually a ‘practice’ pedal, muffling the strings to give some respite to one’s neighbours.

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The Soundboard is the piano’s speaker system and determines how an instrument sounds by the way in which it translates the vibrations of the strings into particles of sound. The Bridge (a grand has two – one for the bass strings, another for the treble) conducts the energy of the vibrating strings to the soundboard.

The hammers

The Hammers strike the strings of an individual note. Before 1830 they were covered with leather; nowadays it’s densely packed felt. The Damper is also made of felt and is the part of the mechanism of each key that stops the string vibration. If you don’t want others playing your piano, you close The Fallboard or Nameboard (the lid that covers the keys) and lock it!


Piano frame

Among the most important is the Frame, the part of the piano that bears the tension of the strings (on a grand, there are some 200 strings with a total pull of about 30,000lbs). Until the late 1820s, all pianos had wooden frames, though iron bracing was introduced in c1820. The American Alpheus Babcock patented the single cast metal frame in 1825. This design, modified by Steinway & Sons in 1853, became the basis for today’s instruments.