Jeff Bauer (Keyboard Concepts ) gives expert video advice on: How many keys does a piano have? and more...
What are 'piano keys'?
The keys are the portal by which you make music. The keys basically are what you hit, and what you play to make the hammer age playing to the stream.
What are 'piano hammers'?
The hammers are the final part of the action, which is a big mousetrap, that are actually the end result of you playing the key, and they're flying into the string. When they strike the string, the string resonates and you hear the sound. The hammer has to both be built very well so that it can sustain multiple strikes into the string without breaking, and the tip of the hammer or the part that's striking the string is actually made out of wool. The wool is bent - it's compressed and then bent around a wooden piece that makes up the base of the hammer, and that's actually what's striking the string and creating the tone that we know as the piano sound.
What are 'piano strings'?
After the hammer strikes the strings, the piano strings are going to vibrate and that's what we're hearing. The piano strings are going to give us the pitch. But it's a misconception that the strings are carrying the tone that we're listening to. The strings are different lengths. The longer the string is, the lower the pitch. And so as the strings get shorter, you're getting higher notes. And that's what defines the piano's shape in the first place. The piano doesn't have to be as long on the right side as it does on the left side. On the right side, the strings are shorter and as you go to the left of the piano, it gets longer. So, on a baby grand piano or a grand piano, that's why you see the shape that you see - where it's shorter on the right and gets bigger towards the left side. And the strings are vibrating, they are carrying the sound through, they're connected to a bridge and vibrating a sound board, which is then carrying most of the sound that we're hearing from the piano.
What is the 'piano soundboard'?
The soundboard in essence is a transducer. It takes the vibration of the strings, transfers the vibration of the strings into a larger more massive vibrational energy, and that adds tone and substance to the sound of the strings. It is made out of spruce, which is a popular type of wood used in pianos today; well pretty much all the time. The spruce wood is known for long straight grains and vibration travels along its path of which resistance is the grain of the soundboard. So, the better quality of the sound board, the more grains per square inch, which in turn means the better the sound. It's going to be able to carry the sound of the string that vibrates the air that carries to your ears.
What does the 'pedal mechanism' do on a piano?
The pedal mechanism on a piano is used for expanding upon the ability to express the music that you are playing. In essence, the right pedal, which is the most commonly used pedal, lifts all the dampers off the strings. The dampers are the piece of a piano that stop the strings from vibrating. When you push the damper pedal, it lifts the dampers off the strings and it lets them ring freely. When you are playing a piece using the sustain pedal as you play, the piece is more legato. The middle pedal is called the "sostenuto pedal". It will sustain a cluster of notes that you have played, and once you've played the notes, while you're holding them down, if you push the middle sostenuto pedal down, it will sustain only those notes, and then you can play other notes--that you didn't previously play--staccato, while the other notes are still ringing. This is commonly used in music where a pedal tone is needed, where a pianist will play a bass tone, and then hold that pedal down, and then free up both hands. While that is ringing, they can play something with both hands up toward the top of the piano. But it's used in other forms of music, as well, and in other ways. A lot of people have figured out creative ways to use the sostenuto pedal. The una corda pedal is the far-left pedal. It's called "una corda" because that means 'one chord'. It moves the whole hammer mechanism over just enough to clear one of the multiple strings the hammer is striking to create a different sound, and a slightly more mellow sound and less resonant sound. Usually, the una corda pedal is used to reduce the volume of the piano. If a pianist has to play something quickly at low volume, this helps assist that. Or if they want to play something that is quieter, oftentimes a pianist will use the una corda pedal to help assist in playing quieter.
What do the 'white piano keys' and 'black piano keys' do?
Well, the white and black keys are all separated by, in musical terms, a semi tone and the crematic scale. The reason why there are white and black keys is to help free the pianist of any confusion as to where they're playing. If the keys were all white or all one color, it would be hard to tell one key from another. So having white and black keys in the pattern that they're set up, makes it easier to see chords and to hit the correct notes when necessary. The white and black keys don't sound respectively other than the fact they are different pitches and each key is it's own pitch.
What do the 'notes' mean on a piano?
The musical notes on the piano aren't unique to the piano. There are other instruments that use the same thing. We use a 12 tone scale in Western culture based on the notes A through G and semitones in between. And so, essentially the piano is set up in such a way that A through G are actually white notes, and the semitones between them are black notes; however, there are some instances where, for example, B to C and E to F is actually a semitone, whereas C to D or G to A, that is what we call a whole tone which is two semitones. What separates those two notes is a black note, and this is part of the pattern that defines for pianists what it is, where they are as far as what notes are playing and what chords are made up of what notes. It makes it easier then to play chords on the piano.
How many keys does a piano have?
The reason why the piano has eighty-eight keys is because that is the standard that became the accepted rule for the piano, and today not all pianos have eighty-eight keys. In the old days of pianos, not all pianos had eighty-eight keys, but as it evolved, the low a, which is the lowest note on the piano, became the lowest note that most people felt was deemed musical. You could hear the pitch and the tone of that note and it sounded pleasing. Any notes below that had too many harmonics in it, hard to hear the pitch, and it didn't sound very good at all. As far as the top note of the piano, the last octave, from c to c, those notes get pretty high. You don't get much sustain, but it still is really useful for times when you need to get a percussive attack. When you get up there, if you play an octave or full chord, you get a pretty neat sound, especially when you mix it with the middle tones at the same time.