How Piano Is Played

how piano is played

As you start playing piano for the first time, the keys may seem intimidating. When starting out it helps to know that there are seven white keys.

Each color key corresponds to one letter of the alphabet. Black keys represent octaves; an octave is 12 notes (or semi tones) higher from where you began playing.


Pressing any key on a piano causes small hammers inside to strike one or more strings, sending vibrations across a bridge to be amplified on a soundboard. Each key has different number of strings and sounds tuned specifically to its tone note.

As soon as a pianist releases the key, a damper lifts to stop the strings from vibrating, enabling a pianist to quickly and precisely reproduce any given note without hitting it again. A piano’s keys can be made from either plastic or ivory (now rarely due to an international ban on ivory trade), with today’s contemporary keyboard and note system having been invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori who lived between 1730-1740 in Italy.

Modern pianos contain 52 white keys and 36 black keys. The white keys are used to play the natural notes of the musical scale: C, D, E, F, G A B while black keys can be used to play sharps and flats that lie a half step or full step from their natural notes – also known as accidentals because their name does not appear on traditional music scores; rather they are represented by symbols with sharps/flats inscribed onto them instead.

Each white key on a piano corresponds to a specific note in the musical scale, and when repeatedly pressing one will result in it becoming one octave higher or lower. Octaves start at middle C with each subsequent one becoming higher or lower; C-1 for example would become C-2 and so on.

Key selection is key when it comes to musical composition; it sets the mood and tonality for their piece. Beethoven often composed in minor keys – most of his over 50 symphonies were composed in this key – while Mozart usually wrote most of his pieces using major keys.


Pressing a piano key triggers a chain reaction which releases a small hammer onto the strings, causing them to vibrate and transfer into soundwaves via a large soundboard. Piano strings are typically made of steel wire bundled together with other metals in order to produce desired length and pitch, depending on manufacturer specifications; modern piano strings may even feature copper coating for improved durability.

Piano strings are typically tuned to a standard scale, though there can be variations depending on their maker and age of piano. Each octave uses different string lengths with the treble using longer ones while bass has shorter ones; overall a piano may contain up to 236 strings that help produce its beautiful sounds; longer treble strings may feature one, two, or three unison strings to help produce their pitch.

Acoustic pianos produce a range of tones from their strings and can be used to produce melodies as well as orchestral effects. Their wide pitch range enables composers to experiment with harmonic chords; making this instrument perfect for film and television scores.

Fine tuning a piano to achieve accurate sound requires careful adjustment of its keyboard to achieve precise pitch. First introduced by Marin Mersenne (1588-1648), fine tuning was later refined by mathematician Brook Taylor (1815-1879). As each string vibrates due to friction with its surroundings metal, piano tuners need to match these frequencies with those of all the strings within the piano for harmonious melodies of notes.

When the keys are activated, they trigger the “wippen” mechanism which pushes a hammer against agraffes – metal plates attached to strings – in turn lifting a damper that stops its vibration until the key is released and back in its initial position allowing its sound to continue producing vibration.


Pedals on a piano give you complete control of how long each note vibrates for. The far right pedal, known as the sustain or damper pedal, keeps notes from abruptly stopping when released; additionally it gives your music fuller sound quality and especially assists longer bass notes. Proper usage is crucial to successful piano playing; pressing too quickly or too hard can result in dissonant sounds which will have serious repercussions for musicality and harmony.

The soft pedal (una corda) on the far left of a piano is used to produce a softer sound by shifting hammers inside so they hit fewer strings when playing keys, or at least less forcefully. While many piano enthusiasts might mistake it for its upright piano counterpart’s mutes pedal, in reality this function works differently on modern pianos; modern middle pedals actually activate what’s known as mute rail which lowers felt sheets between hammers and strings and makes playing much quieter than playing both pedals down; older middle pedals functioned similarly but only held down notes already playing when press down; similar functionality existed as una cordas, though only held down any notes already playing when pressing down, but held down any notes already playing when pressing it for older pianos as opposed to older pianos where only notes already playing when pressing it;

Pianists use the una corda to alter the tone of their notes. For instance, by pressing down on the soft pedal while playing Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’ you can create more melancholy and saddened melodies which add emotion and expression to their music.

Some pieces of music include fermata markings, which requires you to hold down a key for as long as its note lasts. An una corda can help achieve this or can simply remain flat to allow the rest of the music to ring out for as long as desired. As always with pedaling, listening closely and trusting your own style are keys components in successful pedaling performance.


Piano action is an intricate mechanical system composed of thousands of components that must all work in concert to transmit musical intent from pianist to instrument. If even one component or process falters, it could ruin a performance and render the instrument unremarkable.

Depressing a key causes an action to engage several small hammers that strike strings that vibrate, producing sound. Each key represents one note from the chromatic scale; there are 88 keys — 52 white and 36 black — covering seven and a quarter octaves on a keyboard keyboard.

When keys are left alone, a damper sits atop their strings to stop them from vibrating in sympathy with other strings (an effect known as sympathetic vibration). When played, key strikes raise a mechanism which forces jack of hammer shank against roller or knuckle of hammer roller and raises lever carrying hammer thus raising lever carrying hammer which in turn raises it, striking string and producing sound note.

At this crucial juncture, the position, shape and surface texture of the hammer is crucial to producing an audible sound. Once it has struck a string however, it must leave quickly in order not to obstruct its vibrations and create unwanted resistance in its path.

Piano tuners devote much time and attention to tuning hammers’ escapements so as to leave strings at their optimal vibrational point when they release from contact with strings, thus blocking harmonic frequencies close to the chord or key pitch and muffle their sound. When in contact with strings, harmonic frequencies close to chord or key pitch will be blocked out by harmonic interference from other strings nearby; piano tuners spend much time tuning escapements so as not to block these sound waves altogether.

An escapement device was another key innovation, enabling the hammer to be lifted off of strings by gravity rather than through key control – thus streamlining and increasing volume production of piano music.