Each part of the piano works to produce the sound you hear. And while there may be some structural differences between grand pianos, uprights, and other types, the basics of piano anatomy are very similar across the board.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at the parts of a piano!
Parts of a Piano
In this section, we’ve broken up acoustic piano anatomy into basic parts and categories of parts:
Ask anyone about the parts of a piano, and they’ll probably mention the white and black keys. The standard keyboard has 88 keys: 52 white keys and 36 black keys. Rarely, you may find a piano with 108 keys.
As you likely know, you press the piano keys to create sound. Further down, we’ll get into the mechanics of how this action actually produces the sound you hear.
The piano keys rest in the keyslip or keybed, a piece of wood that includes some kind of bumper to deaden the thumping sound of a key hitting the keybed.
Traditionally, the standard keyboard included black keys made of ebony and white keys made of wood coated in strips of ivory. Now, almost every piano keyboard is made of some type of plastic. Many manufacturers have developed composite materials that feel somewhat like ivory.
Most people picture a guitar, cello, or violin when they imagine a string instrument. But since a piano’s vibrating strings create sound, it is also considered a string instrument. Just like on a guitar, the treble strings on a grand piano or upright piano are thinner than the bass strings.
Each note has one or more strings. Often, there will be three strings for a treble note. More midrange notes usually have two strings, and bass notes typically just have one. The reasoning behind this is simple: the number of strings per note is adjusted to ensure that each note you play is approximately equal in volume.
The strings are made of tightly wound steel wire. They are anchored by two sets of pins: tuning pins and hitch pins.
Tuning pins function much like the tuning pegs of a guitar or bass. Each string is wound around a tuning pin, and when a professional piano tuner turns the pin, it changes the string’s pitch. The tuning pins are all anchored on a part called the pinblock or wrest plank.
Hitch pins secure the strings toward the tail of the piano. Unlike tuning pins, hitch pins do not move. Hitch pins work similarly to the bridge pins on a guitar.
If you play guitar or a similar instrument, you know that strings exert considerable tension on an instrument. On a concert grand piano, all the strings for all 88 keys typically exert a total tension of over 45,000 pounds!
In order to absorb the tension and keep the piano body itself from breaking, each acoustic piano has a heavy cast iron plate, also called an iron frame.
The playing mechanism of a piano is simple in theory: you press a key, and a hammer strikes a string or group of strings, creating the rich, resonant sound of the notes played.
The piano action refers to a system of levers that controls the hammers and dampers (discussed further down). Depending on the exact type of piano you’re playing, the piano action can be quite intricate.
But while piano action can be complex, the hammers themselves are relatively straightforward. The hammer shanks and heads are made of wood, and the striking surfaces of the hammers are covered in felt pads.
Every stringed instrument has a soundboard. This is the piece of wood that transforms the resonant vibration from the strings into sound waves. Without it, there would be no tonal resonance.
Most piano soundboards are made of Sitka spruce. This highly resonant wood has a balanced tone and is commonly used to make the soundboards (tops) of acoustic guitars. But since pianos are much bigger than guitars, the soundboard is usually made of a few glued-together pieces of wood instead of just one piece.
While most of us know soundboards amplify sound, they also work to absorb it. One of the reasons Sitka spruce is so popular as a material is because it absorbs high-pitched overtones that can sound unpleasant.
The placement of the soundboard is different on grand and baby grand pianos than it is on upright pianos. On a grand piano, the soundboard is often called the “belly,” as it sits under the piano strings. On vertical pianos, the soundboard is also oriented vertically and is situated along the back of the piano.
In the picture above, the bridge is a curved piece of wood under the strings. And though it looks unassuming, the bridge has a very important job to do: it transmits the vibrational energy of the strings to the soundboard in order to produce sound. The bridge marks the end of the “speaking length” of each string. The “speaking length” is the part of the string that creates sound when hit by the hammer.
After the bridge, the rest of each string (the non-speaking length) reaches a bit further until it reaches its hitch pin.
Every modern acoustic piano has two bridges. There’s a treble bridge for treble strings and a bass bridge for bass strings.
But why even have the two bridges? Having two shorter bridges allows the strings to be cross-strung (or strung over one another diagonally). This configuration keeps each bridge toward the most resonant part of the soundboard and allows for the richest sound possible.
We saw above that hammers are used to produce sound on a piano. Dampers do the opposite. They are felt pads that can dampen sound or even completely mute strings. Normally, when a key is not being played, its damper is engaged. This is to stop other strings from sympathetically vibrating and causing additional notes to sound.
When you press the key, the damper lifts up right before the string is struck with the hammer. That allows the sound to ring out.
Once you remove your finger from a key, the damper becomes re-engaged and settles back on the string, stopping the musical note. If you want one or more notes to ring out even longer, you can make that happen with piano foot pedals, which we’ll discuss in a moment.
When looking at all the parts of a piano, it can be easy to forget the three pedals. These are pedals that you control with your feet as you play. As you grow as a musician, these pedals can be a great way to add expression to your playing.
Soft pedal (or una corda pedal). This is the leftmost pedal on the piano. And as you may have guessed from its name, the soft pedal makes notes sound softer. The way it does this is interesting. A soft pedal on a grand piano moves the hammer to the right as it strikes the string. The hammer only strikes two of the three strings on the higher notes. As a result, the sound is quieter.
The pedal creates the same effect on an upright piano, but the mechanism is different. On an upright, the whole hammer mechanism moves closer to the string so the sound is quieter.
Sostenuto Pedal. This one is a newer invention that works like a selective sustain pedal. It is the middle pedal on newer pianos. When you press the middle pedal, any notes you are playing as you press it down will be sustained. That’s because the sostenuto pedal only lifts up the dampers of notes that you’re playing.
If you play a note after pressing the middle pedal, that note will not be sustained. This gives you an opportunity to play over longer, more sustained notes or chords. It’s a great tool for creative expression.
Sustain pedal (damper pedal). The sustain pedal is the right pedal. And unlike the sostenuto pedal, this sustaining pedal is not selective. When you press this pedal down, all of the dampers are raised off all the strings. That allows all notes that you play to ring out and sustain for a longer period of time.
As a side note, on some pianos, the middle pedal may not be a sostenuto pedal. Rather, it may be a bass sustain pedal or a practice pedal that makes the notes very quiet.
The piano is easily one of the most complex stringed instruments out there. And since part of good musicianship is caring for and knowing about your instrument, we hope you now have a better understanding of how the piano works.
Let us know what you think! Did we leave out any major parts? Let us know in the comments, and please share if you found this list useful!