Ok, so let's look at some of my favorite piano facts!
Do you enjoy playing the piano? Do you play another instrument? Maybe you don’t even play music.
No matter your experience level, you’ll be interested to know that the piano is a multifaceted instrument with many interesting facts connected to it. Some of the trivia that follows may even surprise you.
Here are 17 piano facts both interesting and fun.
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The Piano Was Invented In Italy By Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco Around 1700
Bartolomeo Cristofori was an Italian instrument maker and is most famous for having invented the piano. That’s a significant contribution to the world!
We know that Cristofori lived from 1655 to 1731, but we don’t know the exact date the piano was invented (though some sources claim to know the exact date). It was somewhere around the year 1700.
During his lifetime, Cristofori mostly focused on the creation of keyboard instruments.
Early Pianos Were Called Fortepianos
Any instrument dating from around 1700 up to the early 19th century is technically called a fortepiano. Today, it mostly refers to the late 18th to 19th century instruments that Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven wrote on.
The fortepiano went the way of the dinosaur for several decades until it was revived in the 20th century because of a growing interest in historically informed performance.
Forte and piano are both Italian terms. Piano means “soft” and forte means “loud”. This gives us an idea of how dynamically responsive the piano is.
There Are Only 3 Cristofori Pianos Left
No surprise that most of his pianos didn’t survive multiple centuries after their creation.
The pianos that remain were all built in the 1720s.
The first piano from 1720 is in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The instrument, however, was not left intact and has been altered by many builders (the soundboard was replaced, and the 54-note range was shifted by roughly half an octave). The piano is playable, but probably sounds nothing like it originally did.
The second piano from 1722 is in the Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti Musicali in Rome. The instrument has a four-octave range (with “una corda” stop) but is sadly unplayable because it has been damaged by worms.
The third piano from 1726 is in the Musikinstrumenten-Museum of Leipzig University. Again, it has a four-octave range, also with “una corda” stop but it’s not playable.
Pianos Can Have Over 12,000 Parts
These parts support its six functional features, including the keyboard, hammers, dampers, bridge, soundboard and strings. Pianos are usually made with durable parts for longevity.
Most Pianos Have 88 Keys
Pianos typically have 52 white keys that make up the C major scale or natural notes (C, D, E, F, G, A and B) and 36 shorter black keys for accidentals (sharps and flats). That makes a total of 88 keys.
Today, there are specialty pianos that come with more than 88 keys, including the Bosendorfer Imperial Grand piano, which comes equipped with 97 keys.
The Piano Has The Widest Range Of Notes Of Any Instrument
The piano’s range is greater than seven octaves. This is part of what makes the piano so versatile and why it’s a go-to instrument for composing music.
Modern Pianos Have Three Pedals
This wasn’t always the case, but as pianos continued to develop, they came to have three distinct pedals.
The first pedal is the soft pedal (also known as una cord), the sostenuto pedal (for sustaining notes) and the sustaining pedal (also known as the damper pedal).
A Piano Has 230 Strings
If the piano only has 88 keys (notes), then it must have 88 strings, right?
As it turns out, most pianos have around 230 strings because three strings are strung for each key. As you move closer to the left side of the keyboard, however, the number of strings goes down to two and eventually to one for the lowest bass notes.
The strings are made of steel and are strung tightly. This is to give the notes projection when the strings are struck by hammers.
Each string holds a whopping 168 pounds of tension for a total of 18 to 20 tons of tension. Some grand pianos even hold 30 pounds of tension.
Opinions Are Split On What Type Of Instrument It Is
Some thought it was a stringed instrument. Others thought it was a percussion instrument. Both viewpoints are valid and understandable.
Experts have made a bit of a compromise, and today the piano is considered both a stringed and percussive instrument. Though, to be honest, it’s still a hotly debated topic.
Key Construction Has Changed Over Time
When pianos were fist being built, keys were typically made of sugar pine. Black keys were made of ebony and the white keys were covered with strips of ivory.
This is no longer the case, as ivory primarily comes from protected endangered species.
In the last decade, spruce or basswood have become the go-to materials for keys, with spruce being employed on more expensive pianos. Various plastics are now used in place of ivory.
Upright Pianos Have A Slower Response Than Grand Pianos
With so many differences, from size to tone, upright and grand pianos could almost be considered entirely different instruments.
Something subtle that not everyone notices is the action/response. Reportedly, grand pianos have a faster response, which can give the player more control and the ability to play faster.
The grand piano features a repetition layer, giving the player the ability to play notes, even when the key hasn’t fully returned to its original position (i.e. halfway up).
Meanwhile, on an upright piano, you must wait for the key to return to its original position before playing it again.
Pianos Require Regular Tunings
Piano is a little different from other string instruments like violin or guitar in that it doesn’t necessarily need to be tuned up before every rehearsal, performance or recording session.
But experts recommend tuning a new piano four times in the first year and twice per year following.
Pianos that live in theaters and performance venues often do receive a tuning before each performance, though the technician usually only needs to make small adjustments to get it in working order.
The Most Expensive Grand Piano Is A Steinway D-274
It was sold at an auction and it was a specially designed Steinway D-274 named Steinway Alma Tadema. This piano sold for $1.2 million in 1997 at Christie’s in London.
Prior to that, the most expensive piano went for $390,000 and it was also a Steinway.
The custom D-274 was said to have been built some time between 1883 to 1887 and it was designed by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, which explains its name.
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, by the way, was a Dutch painter of special British denizenship.
Today, this piano is on display at the art museum Clark Art Institute, and in 2006, Steinway developed an exact replica of this instrument.
Lubomyr Melnyk Claims To Be The Fastest Pianist In The World
Apparently, he plays so fast you can’t even hear all the notes he’s playing. Melnyk plays at roughly 20 notes per second.
Melnyk, by the way, is a Ukrainian composer and pianist who coined the term Continuous Music, which is how he describes his playing style.
Portuguese-American pianist Domingos-Antonio Gomes, however, holds the Guinness world record for most piano keys hit in a single minute. Gomes struck 824 keys in just 60 seconds, ousting previous record holder and Hungarian pianist Peter Bence, who struck 765 keys.
Ranker Has Frédéric Chopin As The Best Piano Composer Of All Time
This may not come as a surprise to some. But for those who don’t know, what exactly made Chopin so great? This depends on who you ask.
People have raised different points about his playing, such as the fact that he often played more freely, without structure, compared to his peers. There’s no question he was a virtuoso, and, he had a poetic sense about him, too.
Following Chopin in second to fifth place are Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt, Johann Sebastian Bach and Sergi Rachmaninoff.
Canadian Musician Gonzalez Holds The Record For The Longest Solo Concert
He was successful in playing the piano for a grueling 27 hour, three minute and 44 second concert, ousting previous Guinness record-holder Prasanna Gudi of India.
The Electric Piano Was Not Invented Until The Late 1920s
The piano has centuries of history behind it. Electric pianos, however, did not come along until much later.
The Neo-Bechstein electric piano was built in 1929 by German chemist Walther Nernst.
Piano Facts & Trivia, Final Thoughts
The piano is one of the most recognizable, popular and utilized instruments in existence. Other instruments may have come along and taken the spotlight at different times, but overall, the piano’s popularity is enduring.
That shouldn’t come as any surprise, as piano is a beautiful, versatile instrument. It’s perfect for composing, too.
What fun or interesting fact got your attention? Did you learn anything new? Is there anything we missed?
The piano is a fascinating instrument with a long history. I have no doubt you could uncover a lot of other trivia if you kept digging.