1 What is a Piano?
Pianos are acoustic, stringed musical instruments invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori in Italy. Although the precise year of this invention is uncertain, pianos came into being around 1700. The instrument has strings that are struck with wooden hammers, which have a coating of a softer material. While some early piano hammers had were coated with leather, the modern ones come covered with a dense layer of wool felt. The piano is played with the help of a keyboard made of a row of small levers known a the key.
The performer or pianist uses their fingers and thumbs to strike or press down the keys to make the hammers strike the strings. If you have ever played the piano, you would know that unlike other woodwind instruments such as xylophones, which have up to forty keys, pianos come with a whopping 88 keys. Each of them represents a different note. It gives the piano a vast array of sounds. Have you ever wondered why there are 88 keys and not 212 or 44? It has both practical and historical aspects.
2 The Historical Aspects
The piano came into existence as a modified version of the harpsichord, which had sixty keys. Hence, pianos, in their first stage, generally had sixty keys. They represented the five octaves as there as twelve notes in each octave. As pianos' manufacturing started gaining momentum, more and more composers began to compose music for this instrument. It did not take them long to move ahead of the five octaves which were initially available on the pianos during that time.
Composers also started working with piano manufacturers for creating pianos with more keys. It would help them in writing new music with more options and a bigger range. If you go through the history of pianos, you will find many different versions of the instrument. The number of keys also varied from time to time. Towards the middle of the 1800s, pianos ha reached up to the full seven octaves.
3 The Coming in of 88 Keys
Towards the late 1880s, well-known piano maker Steinway came up with an 88-key piano, which is now the standard piano. Steinway's lead was followed by other manufacturers, and since then, pianos with 88 keys have become the standard. These pianos have the full seven octaves along with some other notes. (See 10 Hottest Male Country Singers)
4 Why Not More Keys?
You must be wondering why did the composers stop at just 88 keys. Why didn't they move beyond that? It is mostly because musicians do not write music that includes notes other than the ones already there on the 88-key pianos. Moreover, notes higher or lower than those on an 88-key piano are challenging to hear for the human ear. It becomes challenging to differentiate the notes from the ones that we already have. Yes, pianos with more keys can be made, but there are many reasons why it does not happen.
Other than the fact that our ears cannot differentiate among the added, pianos' price and weight with more keys will also differ. The 88-key pianos will be smaller and lighter than the long, heavy pianos with more keys. The latter will also be expensive. For instance, if Stuart and Sons create a piano with 102 keys, it would cost you no less than a whopping $300,000!
5 The Pianos of Today
In today's times, the modern piano has 36 black keys and 52 white keys. The musical tones A, B, C, D, E, F, and G are represented by the white keys. On the other hand, the black keys represent the sharps and flats, which are the notes' half-step intervals. What we call an octave is made of five black keys and seven white keys that together form the twelve notes. Like any other artist, piano makers are also trying their luck to experiment with the instrument and push its capabilities. The famous Australian manufacture Stuart and Sons has now broken the 88-key piano norm and is making a "super" giant piano with 102 keys.