If you’ve ever had the opportunity to play on a traditional piano, you might have noticed that they have a multitude of keys, especially when compared to other instruments. For example, a xylophone only has 44 keys, whereas a piano has 88, which begs the question, why?
There are two main reasons as to why pianos have 88 keys—some being historical and others being for practical purposes. To learn more about why a piano has 88 keys and answers to other frequently asked questions about pianos, continue reading below.
How Were Pianos Invented?
Before the 1700s, pianos only had approximately 60 keys, and this was because they were created to emulate the appearance of the harpsichord, another instrument that only has 60 keys. What started the significant increase to 88 keys was when Bartolomeo Cristofori, a famous harpsichord maker, decided to add hammers in a piano that would hit strings, instead of having to pluck the strings.
The Development of Piano Music
Another major contributing factor that had a lot to do with increasing the number of piano keys was how composers would start to write their music. At first, composers would only rely on five octaves, which gave them relatively simple compositions; however, as they began to write pieces that were increasingly complicated, they needed a more extensive range of octaves.
Halfway through the 19th century, there were up to 85 different notes that composers would use in their music. But then, that number was rounded up to 88, which is what we know as the norm today. You’d be surprised to know that there are some pianos with even more keys, such as the Bosendorfer Imperial Concert Grand, which has 97 different keys to its name and with bass notes going all the way to C.
Who Made the First 88-Key Piano?
If you’ve ever done research into piano brands, you might have found that one of the most renowned names is Steinway, and for a good reason. Steinway was one of the first companies to create an 88-key piano. Nonetheless, if you were to look through an historical music book, you would see plenty of different variations of pianos. But as you make your way to the late 1880s, you’d see images of what we know as pianos today.
Surprisingly, according to The National Archives, Steinway wasn’t the first. Pohlmann and Sons was reportedly the first firm to create an 88-key piano sometime between 1823 and 1869. With that being said, it’s believed the popularity of the modern piano design became increasingly popular once Steinway emerged onto the market with an 88-key design. This is because all of the other manufacturers followed suit and gave composers seven different octaves that they could rely on to create some of the most astounding compositions that we know today.
Are There Pianos with More than 88 Keys?
Aside from the Bosendorfer Imperial Concert Grand, there are many other pianos that are created with more than 88 keys. However, there are a couple of important things to take into consideration before you start contemplating whether you should purchase one or not.
First, one of the main reasons as to why the bulk of piano manufacturers don’t offer more than 88 keys is because the human ear finds it incredibly difficult to differentiate and hear notes that are passed the 88-key range, which makes it relatively useless to have access to lower or higher keys than what is already offered.
Second, you’re going to have to start saving a lot of money as often as possible in order to afford a piano that has more than 88 keys, especially if you’re looking for a design that is known throughout the world. As an example, a Stuart and Sons 102-key piano can cost up to $300,000.
Finally, you can certainly expect that you will need much more room to store a piano with more than 88 keys as it not only means that the keyboard will have to be longer, but the entire piano will also have to be larger to accommodate different sounds. Also, the model will be exceptionally heavier than your traditional 88-key acoustic piano.
What to Look for in a Piano with 88 Keys?
If you’re interested in buying a piano for your own home, it’s important to know what to look for to make sure you’re making the right decision. There are several different things to think about, ranging from accessories that come with specific models to whether you want an acoustic or digital model. Below are the first three things that you need to think about when you start shopping for a piano.
- Digital or acoustic: Making the choice between digital and acoustic not only affects the price of the unit, but the amount of space that you’ll need for storage, and the features of the model. For example, digital pianos are going to have different voices to choose from, whereas an acoustic piano only has one. If you’re just starting to get into playing the piano, you may want to consider purchasing a digital model first.
- Comfort: There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to play the piano while standing, and if you’re unable to find a package deal where you can get a piano and a bench at the same time, it’s advised that you buy one on your own. The more comfortable you are, the more time you can invest into playing.
- Used or new pianos: It might be tempting to purchase a used piano, especially if you’re someone who wants an acoustic model; however, there are plenty of other things to think about before you buy someone else’s piano. If you can, buying a new model is your best choice. Though if you want a used one, make sure you confirm how often it is tuned, who does the maintenance work on the piano, and how frequently it has been used.
Why Does a Piano Have 88 Keys: Final Thoughts
Learning why a piano has 88 keys is simple enough, especially when you understand that it was designed to accommodate more keys so that composers had a more extensive selection of octaves to make different types of music. It’s important to remember that although there are pianos on the market that have more than 88 keys, the higher and lower frequencies are beyond human hearing range, which makes them truly unnecessary.