For folks who are looking for their first piano, either for their kids or for themselves, the process can be a little daunting, given the huge variety of pianos you can find in our showrooms. To that end, we wanted to make a “Piano Primer” to help folks understand the varieties of pianos available and what makes them unique, to help them find the perfect piano for their needs, space, and budget.
The first type of piano we will look at is a Grand Piano.
Now a grand piano has strings that go out horizontally, and we measure it from the keyboard edge of the piano to the back of what we call the tail. European and Asian companies measure their piano sizes with centimeters, while Americans measure with feet and inches. The bigger the piano, the longer the strings, and the larger the soundboard, which is a thin piece of wood underneath the strings that acts as an acoustic amplifier. The combination of longer strings and a bigger soundboard means a greater range of sound and tonal richness. A larger piano can produce both a louder sound and a more delicate sound. What’s counterintuitive is the fact that the larger the piano, the more control you actually have, because the keys are actually longer in a grand piano, and so you have more leverage. Having that additional leverage is very important to learn how to touch a piano and how to get most of the sounds that you need out of an instrument like this.
Grand pianos can range in sizes from over 9 feet long to just under 5 feet.
Upright or Vertical Pianos
In an upright or vertical piano, the strings don’t go horizontal like grand pianos; they’re vertical, so we measure them by size, by the height of the piano generally in inches. A good sized upright vertical piano would be approximately 52″ tall. The Europeans and Asians might call it a model 130, 131 in centimeters depending on how exactly large the piano is. Upright pianos of this size can really be an acceptable replacement for people who want a grand piano sound and a grand piano touch. In fact, many people who have grand pianos will trade them in when they’re moving into a smaller space to get these larger upright pianos.
What’s nice about the vertical pianos, is that they don’t take nearly as much depth in space. So this is a great option for folks who don’t have a lot of room but still want to have the experience of playing a nice acoustic piano. As with grand pianos, upright pianos are available in a variety of sizes. If you want something that’s a little less assuming in a space, you can get 48″ and 46″ models.
Years ago they made pianos as small as 30″, 32″, 35″. Those are generally not made today, they’re called spinets. And there are still a few consoles still being made, 42″ or so in height.
Acoustic pianos have been built with roughly the same designs, the same structures for hundreds of years. What’s interesting nowadays is that we’re starting to see a merger of digital technologies with traditional acoustic pianos. One great example of that is the silent piano. Silent pianos are available in both upright and in grand piano models as well. What’s really cool about this is the fact that they are fully acoustic pianos, but you can plug in a pair of headphones. You can hear the sound of the piano through the headphones, but nobody else hears you playing. This is perfect for people who don’t want to disturb anybody else in their living space or don’t want to disturb their neighbors. A wonderful solution, combining the best of acoustic as well as digital technologies.
Now, taking that one step further, we can go to the hybrid piano. A hybrid piano comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. You can get them in baby grand sizes or upright models, but they have all the moving parts and actions of an acoustic piano, so they still feel exactly like an acoustic piano, but it’s an all digital sound. What’s really interesting about that, there are no strings.
Now with acoustic grand and acoustic upright pianos, those strings will go out of tune. The strings will change their tension depending on the humidity, and that’s why they’ll start to sound a little bit strange when they’re out of tune. So for acoustic pianos, we recommend getting them tuned at least once, preferably twice or more often in the year. With a hybrid piano, there are no strings, so you don’t actually need to tune that piano. It’s always in perfect tune, always ready to play.
Now we’re going to go into the purely digital realm with digital pianos. One of the most famous brands of digital pianos is the Yamaha Clavinova. It is certainly the oldest brand, and Yamaha has made so many advances and really brought the digital piano into today’s market.
The CLP Clavinova was initially designed to be like the smaller upright pianos in terms of size, and they were designed to emulate an acoustic piano as much as possible in terms of the key action as well as the sound. In fact, Clavinovas emulate acoustic pianos so well that we have universities that choose them by the dozens for class piano labs, where you can fit several of them into one room. Because these are purely digital instruments, there are no strings to tune and you can use headphones and practice them silently also.
Now, take the Clavinova one step further and we get into what we call the CVP line of Clavinovas. These Clavinovas have all the action and sound of a digital piano emulating an acoustic piano, but now you can add thousands of other instruments, sounds, sound effects and even accompaniment styles, so that you can play and make it sound like a band is playing along with you. You can compose, you can create, you can even learn on these instruments. There are systems for “follow the lights”, where it will show you the music notes and exactly where to put your fingers on the keys. They’re great for beginners and they’re great for creative professionals as well.
Just as with all the other instruments that we’ve spoken about so far, the Clavinova can come in different shapes and sizes as well. We can get them in a beautiful small, grand piano cabinet that has more speakers and a bigger tone.
There is one piano instrument that takes elements of all the different technologies that we’ve discussed above and combines them into one instrument. We call that the Disklavier.
The Yamaha Disklavier really is every piano in one. You’ve got a fully acoustic piano, as well as a fully digital piano working together. You can put headphones on and play it silently. You can also connect the piano to the internet and have your favorite artists stream through and play through services like Disklavier radio, and even video programs like Disklavier TV. What’s more, the Disklavier can be used to record yourself, so that you can see if you’re playing really accurately, a great way to remember your kids when they’re first starting their first lessons. You can see the motion of the keys from what they’re touching as well as have video that’s synchronized with their motions.
One of the most exciting things a Disklavier will do is something we call Remote Lessons. That’s where we’ll have one piano in one location, and another piano in another location – it could be halfway around the world – and universities might have an artist play in one location, students playing in another and literally doing a masterclass or a lesson, where no one has to travel to another continent. We have so many universities and colleges that are beginning to use this amazing technology.
The Disklavier is the piano that even if you don’t play the piano, you can still enjoy. And if you are a professional, you can enjoy tremendous benefits from its recording and remote lesson capabilities.
So that’s a quick look at the world of the piano today. It’s quite exciting and it can seem a little overwhelming, but I think the really good news about all of these pianos is that we can find the perfect piano for you based on your needs and your budget.