How do pianos work and make sound

Here’s more on How Pianos work. Until a couple of decades back, acoustic pianos were common, but most buyers today feel they are no longer practical and gravitate more towards digital keyboards and pianos. Having said that, acoustic pianos still continues to get used (for certain reasons). While it is not necessary to know how piano works, it will definitely give you a better understanding of your piano (comes handy assuming something goes wrong with the piano).

Why You Need to Know?

Knowing how pianos work may come in handy if, in case, anything goes wrong with your piano. It will help you to determine what needs to be fixed. It will also help you to examine a used Piano, if at all you have to do it for somebody.

So go ahead, press a key and check how the various parts inside a piano move. Lift the lid and see how piano works!

Acoustic Pianos vs Digital Pianos

Most of the discussion in the following paragraphs relates to acoustic piano, which includes several parts that come together to create sound.

A digital piano (or keyboard), on the other hand, uses electronics within the body to generate the sound. In the memory, you have several piano (and other instrument) samples that are triggered when you press the keys.

Here’s more on how acoustic pianos work.

Highlights: How a Piano Produces Sound

  • The piano is like a huge frame which is shaped like the (grand) piano. It has a soundboard, which is sort of the bottom of the piano. The soundboard is like the back of the cello or the back of the violin or bass, and provides resonance. Without a soundboard, the sound won’t go anywhere.
  • A piano has close to 230 strings, and it’s these strings which produce the sound. When you push down a piano key, a hammer is pressed against one of those strings to produce a sound.
  • The key of the piano works like a lever, it pushes a whole bunch of little pieces (that are connected to a little hammer) to produce the sound. When you press the key, all those things start to move, the roller rolls the hammer up, which strikes the string, and the damper gets lifted up. When you release the piano key, the sound stops (the hammers rest against dampers).
  • Science students may probably already know about this – the length of the strings makes the pitch sound higher or lower. Shorter and thinner strings produce higher pitched notes (the ones on the right side of the keyboard). The longer and thicker strings producer heavy (bassy) tones, these are located on the left side of the keyboard.

How Pianos Work Diagram

Main Components / Parts of Piano

Generally speaking, any acoustic piano will have these main components / parts which work together to produce a sound.

Its Different On Digital Piano Keyboards

A digital keyboard instrument runs on electricity; its more like a computer with several chips inside that not only stores the various sounds, but also processes whatever keys you press and displays it on the lcd display. So it’s more like a mini computer, but an inexpensive one.

Digital Means Samples! That’s correct; digital keyboard instruments use samples (sound recordings) of various acoustic pianos, and those samples are stored in a chip on the digital piano. The chip then produces the various sounds on the digital piano.

In a digital one, the sound producing mechanism is digitized. Recordings of the sounds in various situations such as when the keys are played harder or softer, is recorded and is used whenever required.

There is a sound bank that not only stores the sounds for each and every key and octave, it also stores how it should sound depending on what pressure / velocity is applied to the keys. These are sounds that are captured during real recording sessions involving a traditional piano. A sensor beneath the keys then captures your finger movements, the pressure you have applied and so on, and the digital piano then plays a matching sound from the sound bank.

The keys on digital piano keyboard also have weights attached, so that it mimics the action of real piano keys. Keyboard instruments can come with several numbers of keys and with various action, but when it it comes to piano keyboards, one would expect it to have more than 61 keys, and weighted, preferably with graded hammer like action.

A digital piano, on the other hand, works a bit differently from acoustic pianos (though the key & hammer mechanism could be similar to get a real piano like feel), the sounds are generated digitally (recorded samples).

An electric keyboard (synthesizer) come with Tone Generators & Oscillators that can produce a variety of sounds. Synthesizers allow you a lot more control over the sound, and also have an arpeggio generating feature. Such tones are usually created using oscillators. So you would basically have a combination of samples and/or oscillators to generate the sounds. That is how an electronic piano works and produces sounds.

Knowing how piano works may not be necessary but it has its own benefits. I hope the description above gives you a clear picture of how piano works.

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