Before I can answer that question, I need to identify exactly what sort of piano we are talking about. Depending on which type of piano it is, there is quite a range in the number of keys. It isn’t as simple as just asking how many keys does a piano have?
An Instrument That Has Changed
Over the centuries, there have been many piano variations from the harpsichord days of JS Bach and the Baroque period until today. The piano, in a similar form to what we know today, was invented in Bach’s lifetime. He even wrote some pieces for it.
Eighty-eight Became The Norm
In those days, the piano had just 49 keys. And the colors were the other way around to what we see today. Black keys were white, and the white keys were black. Since the 1880s, though, 88 keys have been the norm and the standard to which nearly all pianos are built.
Are there exceptions?
Of course, we will need to the difference between pianos and keyboards. There is the digital piano, which will have between 61, 66, or 72, as well as the full-size 88 keys. There are also pianos these days that have over 100 keys, but they are not often seen.
A digital keyboard, however, can have 25, 45, 78, 84, 101, 102, or 104 keys. The difference between the two is in the name. The piano is a dedicated instrument with various piano sounds. The keyboard will have piano sounds but many other sounds as well. There will also be facilities for combining sounds and layering.
From the original piano versions, composers needed a larger range than the smaller-sized number of keys allowed them. With a smaller number, it limited the work’s expansive nature. Having 88 keys gave the composers more scope.
But Why Only 88?
It is all about tone and hearing the sound. Below the ‘A’ that is the lowest note on an 88-key piano, the tone can hardly be pitched and recognized by the human ear. The same can be said of notes that are above the highest ‘C’ on the 88-key piano.
The 88-key design fits within the comfortable hearing range of humans. Although, some people can hear a little outside that range. So, the 52 white keys and the 36 black keys have been established as the norm.
If you are planning to play classical piano or make your career as a pianist, then the 88-key version is a must. Let’s take a look at the types of piano and the number of keys they have.
The Grand Piano
As you are probably aware, there are several different types and sizes of ‘grand‘ pianos. They can measure between just under five feet to nearly ten feet in length. And, they can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. They can cost from $10,000 up to $200,000.
The way they are constructed produces the sound that most people agree is the best piano sound you can get. They have longer strings because the soundboards are horizontal, which gives the pianist much more control over the tones. It also produces a much richer, warmer sound.
Most pianists agree…
The Grand Piano, in one of its forms, is also easier to play than its upright relative. This has something to do with the hammer action. With a Grand Piano, the hammers are not having to move against gravitational forces to strike the strings.
Types of Grand Pianos
A Grand Piano, in all its incarnations, has 88 keys. Let’s take a quick look at all the options in size.
- Petite Grand – smallest of the options at its tallest 4-feet ten inches.
- Baby Grand – a little bit larger, usually measures five feet by six feet long.
- Medium or Classical Grand – considered the medium size of the range. Nearly seven feet in length.
- Professional Grand – can be over seven feet in length and is the piano you will see many modern professionals play.
- Parlor Grand – designed to enhance a room in a large house, it measures nearly eight feet in length.
- Concert Grand – the largest of the range and the piano you will usually see being played in concert halls with orchestras.
There are plenty of benefits to having a grand piano, and the fuller, louder sound is just one. They are also a visually elegant addition to any living space. However, there are negatives, of course.
These pianos are costly, and you do need to make sure you have the room size in your accommodation. They don’t come flat packed, so carrying up the stairs or even in a lift is a no. All of the above examples have 88-keys. Let’s move on to the next piano option.
The Upright Piano
This is the second of the options for playing the piano. As I have already said, one of the negatives is that the hammers are working against gravity to strike the strings. This can make playing harder work, and you can lose a little of the ‘feel’ of the grand.
Another negative is the sound. The soundboard and strings are vertical, which limits their size. This has a detrimental effect on the sound when compared with a grand piano.
Upright Pianos Sizes
As with the grand, there are a few options for upright pianos:
- Upright or Vertical – stands just over four feet tall and weighs up to 500 pounds.
- Spinet – the smallest of the ‘uprights’ this will fit in an apartment with a height of just over three feet and under feet wide.
- Console Piano – similar to the Spinet but just a little larger at four feet tall and five feet wide.
- Professional Upright – if you are going to see a professional playing, either solo or in a modern-day band, they will likely be using this.
- Studio Piano – known for its durability and good sound, you will often find them in music schools.
If you are buying new, then an upright can cost anything from $2,500 to $10,000. Second-hand upright pianos in a decent condition can be acquired for about $500. That does show a significant depreciation which is worth considering.
Benefits to Buying an Upright Piano
They cost far less and are easier to deliver and move around, and they will take up far less space. The downside is depreciation, as I have already said. And the sound has less quality than a grand.
The important point to note, though, is that, like the Grand piano range, the Uprights all have 88 keys. Let’s move on to our third main option when talking about the number of keys a piano has, the Digital Piano.
The Digital Piano
In some circles, the much-maligned digital piano. The digital piano has a very important role to play in many ways. There are those whose budget doesn’t extend to a full-size piano. Or those who don’t have room at home. In either case, they are a great option.
The number of keys on a digital piano will vary, which can be a good thing in some respects. However, if you are planning to learn classical piano, you will need the 88-key version. And there are plenty of those to choose from.
A Different Construction
The keys look the same but feel somewhat different. You will find 88-key instruments with weighted keys that give the impression of a ‘real’ piano. But, there is still a difference.
There is also a difference in sound. Some digital pianos create an excellent Grand Piano sound. It just lacks a little of the resonance of the real thing. Understandable. There are no hammers or strings; the sound is created using a digital sample of a piano sound.
There are often plenty of extras that you would never get with a real piano. On some, you can record yourself, split the keyboard working with a tutor, and even have other instruments built-in.
But, one of the real benefits of a digital piano is its portability. Even those built into nice furniture pieces can easily be transported and don’t take up too much room.
Of course, there are those that either sit on stands or can be placed on a tabletop. They take up even less room and can be stored away when not in use.
You can expect to pay anything from a couple of hundred dollars to six or seven thousand depending on the quality. That is much less than the real thing. I shall include some quality examples at the end of this article.
They Have Their Advantages
So, we can see that there are some advantages to the digital version. You can get a piano with a variety of numbers of keys. But there are plenty with 88 keys. That means you can still begin to learn on the full-size keyboard, which could be important for the future.
They are much less expensive, and they will fit into the smallest of rooms. There are plenty of extra features available if you want them. And that includes some useful learning aids.
Care Is Needed
You do need to be careful if you are considering a digital piano. The established manufacturers will provide you with an instrument with a good piano sound.
Some of the better keyboards, like Roland, Korg, Casio, and Yamaha, have excellent Grand Piano sounds. They even offer a choice of pianos to suit the genre of music you are playing.
If you choose to buy one of the less recognized makers, then check the sound. You need to make sure it has plenty of depth and is clear sounding.
Choosing The Right Number of Keys
If you are asking yourself, “How many keys does a piano have?” then you are probably in one of two situations:
- A complete beginner, unsure of what to buy and how many keys a piano should have.
- You currently have a smaller keyboard and are looking to upgrade to more keys.
You should have established what you want from your piano playing. Knowing why you are going to play will probably make your mind up for you.
Playing For Fun
All you want to do is play at home and learn a few tunes. Maybe even have some backing tracks play with you. In that case, the digital piano route is probably for you.
How Many Keys?
The number of keys on your keyboard is a little less important if you are playing for fun at home. You will find digital pianos or keyboards with 61, 66, or 72 keys, as well as the standard 88.
Quicker To Learn With Fewer Keys?
There is a theory that it is quicker to learn the piano if there are fewer keys. I don’t go along with that. It isn’t as if there are 88 different notes. Let’s just remind ourselves about the keys on a piano.
The white keys…
Represent the notes in the C major scale. That is, C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. The next note is C again, but an octave up from the first one you played. So effectively, there are seven notes to learn, and that is all.
Then they start again and continue with the same seven notes, in the same order. And then once again, as you travel up the keyboard.
The same thing happens if you come down the keyboard. The white notes are the key of C. Once you have learned the seven notes, then it becomes easier. Likewise, the same principle applies to the black notes, which are Db, Eb, Gb, Ab, and Bb.
Always a ‘C’
As you come up the keyboard, the notes do become one or two octaves higher. But they don’t change their appellation. The white note to the left of two black notes is always a C wherever you play it.
That only becomes more important if you are learning the piano to become an accomplished player. Then you will need to understand the relationship between the different C’s etc., and where they appear on a music score.
If you have a small child that wants to learn, then you can also get keyboards with 44 keys. To a child, that will be far less daunting visually than the full 88. Although, it might be better to start them off at around 61 keys or slightly higher.
Playing To Achieve
It might be that you want to become an accomplished player or even have your sights set on a music career. If that is the case, then my advice would be to go straight to 88 keys, even for players down to age five or six.
Even at that age, they need to accustom themselves to the full-size keyboard. They don’t have to try and play pieces using the full length. But, it takes away the risk of not being able to cope when they upgrade later.
The Type of Piano
I would also recommend a ‘real’ piano rather than a digital version. I say this because that is probably what they or you will be playing in the not-so-distant future.
You can learn on an 88-key digital piano, of course. But, nothing beats the full-size experience. Even the ‘Baby’ Grand is an excellent investment for the serious player.
Of course, that will depend on the available budget and if you have living accommodation big enough to accommodate it.
Choosing the Right Piano for You
By now, you should be able to answer our original question, “How many keys does a piano have?” I mentioned earlier about digital piano options available. So, let’s take a look at some.
An exceptionally great digital piano. Stunning reproductions of various grand pianos make this a standout choice.
If you have your eyes on something a little more cost-effective, then this is a nice option.
If you are a little tight for space and need a fully portable piano that can sit on a table or stand, this is a good option.
Nice digital piano package for a slightly smaller model.
Great for a very young player. Casio makes some excellent keyboards.
Interested in the Piano?
We have you covered. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best 88-Key Keyboards, the Best Digital Piano With Weighted Keys, the Best Portable Keyboard Pianos, the Best Digital Pianos For Beginners, and the Best Cheap Keyboard Piano you can buy in 2023.
Also, have a look at our detailed reviews of the Best Digital Grand Piano, the Best Kawai Digital Piano, the Best Yamaha Digital Pianos, the Best Digital Pianos for Under $500, and the Best Digital Pianos For Under $1000 currently on the market.
How Many Keys Does a Piano Have – Final Thoughts
We have seen that although the 88-key is the standard, there are plenty of other configurations. The Grands and the Uprights all have 88 keys. And, if you are planning a career in music, then that is the standard – the 52 white keys and the 36 black keys you will need to know all about. Consider what your plans are and choose the number of keys accordingly because having the right number of keys for you is going to greatly assist your development.
Until next time, let your music play.