How Many Keys on a Piano Are There?

Many people ask how many keys are there on a piano. The short answer, is that for a full size piano there are 88 keys – 52 white and 36 black keys. If you’re wondering how a person can learn where all those keys are, it’s easier than you think.  Each set of 7 white notes and 5 black notes is a pattern that’s repeated across the keyboard.  So once you know the 12-note pattern of an ‘octave’ you basically know the entire piano.    

Why are there 88 keys on a piano?

There are both practical and historical reasons for the modern piano to have 88 keys. But you might ask, “how many keys are on a musical keyboard” as it wasn’t always the way.  Original keyboards started out with 49 keys. Instruments called Spinets, Virginals and Clavichords were around from the 16th century.  The harpsichord, which dates back to the 15th century, was a long lasting favorite that is still around and manufactured today. The piano originated from the harpsichord which had 60 keys

An Italian, Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731), invented the piano in 1700.  At first, because it was a modification of the harpsichord, Cristofori designed his new instrument with 60 keys. Musicians liked the new instrument but some composers felt constrained with only 60 keys.  

Over time, the piano developed more and more, always keeping Cristofori’s new ideas of hammers that hit the strings.  More and more keys were added until we got to the standard  88 keys. It was argued that this was the right number and anything beyond this would not sound pleasing, or even be heard.

The piano in Mozart’s time 

Mozart was born in 1756, so the piano was already well established. However there were only 66 notes on a standard piano at that time.  (The piano was a bit slow to be accepted since most people were used to the sound of the harpsichord). When you listen to any of Mozart’s early music, you won’t hear any really low or really  high notes as there were none at that time. 

Then along came Beethoven 

Beethoven is an important composer because he started to push music out of the Classical period and into the Romantic era. Beethoven’s much more dynamic and dramatic music required a larger range of notes.  Beethoven constantly complained to piano makers that the instrument wasn’t loud enough for his music.  Although he went deaf later in life, it wasn’t because of this, at least initially. Early pianos were small and quiet compared to modern pianos. Beethoven’s 1823 Broadwood piano had 78 keys.  

Can a piano have more than 88 keys?

The fact is the human ear will not be able to distinguish anything more than the 88 keys very well. However, A 156-key piano does exist and broke the world record for the biggest piano ever in 2010. Bosendorfer makes a 97 key piano which was the world record for 90 years. But this Bosendorfer is very expensive and for most, won’t make much of a difference to our ears. 

But there was a good reason for it being built.  Pianist and composer Ferruccio Busoni wanted to transcribe the works of J. S. Bach, which were written for the organ. The biggest organ has a range of 9 octaves, so he requested that Bosendorfer produce a piano which would make it possible to play his transcription.  

Where do you buy a piano?

You can buy your piano from a traditional music shop but these days you can buy them online as well. There are many online merchants that sell quality pianos and you can get a range to select from. In addition, to traditional ones, you can  buy digital pianos of various quality. You can also get time to time discounts that can sweeten the deal for you. Buying online can be quite beneficial for people looking to buy on a tight budget.

How to buy a piano?

You need to think about this seriously because buying a piano can be big decision and based on your requirements, your budget and how many keys on a piano. A piano can retain its value, but you need to think practically while purchasing one. For starters, you should think about the space requirement. If you don’t have much space, consider an electric piano or digital piano. Here are some more points to consider before investing in a piano:

  • Decide how much you’re willing to spend
  • If you are beginner, you can get an inexpensive piano and upgrade to a better model as you progress
  • Research the different keyboards, synthesizers and pianos available within your budget
  • Decide how many keys on a piano you want (between 49 and 88)

So, how many keys does a full size piano have? Now you know the answer is 88. And how many strings are linked to those 88 keys? The answer is 220. Should the question ever come up when you’re taking part in a general knowledge game, you’re going to be a star! 

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