How Many Octaves on a Piano? What is an Octave? 

 March 16, 2021

By  Zen Chung

Why is finding out the number of octaves on a piano essential? It is because any modern grand, upright or digital piano comes with seven and a quarter octaves. The word octave is defined as a series of eight, and the term is derived from the Latin word "octo," which means "eight." Musically, it can refer to different things, a scale and an interval. An octave is a piano's range or series of notes repeating through seven notes of any particular scale until you arrive on the starting note, but with one octave higher. It is also a musical interval that has 12 semitones that exist between two notes.

Octaves are vital because they make the sound better, but it is not a must to know when learning to play the piano. When playing more than one key with the same notes with a lower or higher pitch, the octaves add richness and depth to your music sounds.

The Number of Octaves on a Piano

Most pianos come with 88 keys where 52 white keys and 36 black keys. This shows that the number of octaves in contemporary pianos is seven octaves plus a minor third ranging from A0 to C8. The three treble notes in the seven octaves are A, B, and B flat.

The 88 key piano has 52 keys that are white for the C major scale notes (C, D, E, F, G, A, and B) and 36 black keys, with each octave, is made of seven white and five black keys. The black keys are raised above the white keys and set further back on the keyboard.

Octave Counts According to Piano Type

Pianos are categorized according to octave counts, where some small ones have 49 keys, and the medium ones have 61 keys. On the other hand, the medium/large pianos have 76 keys, and the large ones have 88 keys.

1. Small Pianos (49 keys with 4 octaves)

Of all pianos, these are the most basic, and they feature springs loaded with action. The pianos were designed for beginners and are primarily used for practice at home and learning the fundamentals of a piano without necessarily breaking the bank to purchase a unit for yourself or your child. Their most significant downside is that they are not designed to last long, and most people outgrow them, especially if they are serious about honing their talent.

2. Medium Pianos (61 keys with 5 Octaves)

Medium pianos are the most suitable size to learn the rudiments of playing the piano, and also, the size is considered the standard for electronic keyboards. With 61 keys, this one is somewhat larger than the 49 keys piano note board, and most musicians own this piano.

3. Medium-large Pianos (76 Keys with 6 ½ Octaves)

This is the best type of piano for serious musicians, which can be used with beginners and intermediates because of the weighted keys and touch sensitivity features. They come with 76 keys with 6 ½ Octaves.

4. Large Pianos (88 Keys with 7 Octaves)

The large pianos qualify as the standard for the pianos manufactured today with 88 keys. They are also referred to as full-size pianos, and any serious pianist should get this one.

The Evolving of the Piano Octave

Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the first piano but the exact year of the invention is not clear with a range of notes as few as 32, making the keyboard instrument consist of only four octaves. However, by 1700 there was a piano in existence and three pianos created by Bartolomeo Cristofori, which are still there to date. The instrument has a hammer, two keyboards, a range of four octaves, and a damper mechanism. Poet and journalist Scipione Maffei described the piano as a ‘gravicembalo col piano, e forte’ (harpsichord with quiet and loud) in 1711 and was here that the ‘pianoforte’ name was born.

The piano's introduction displaced the harpsichord, which often had more than a set of keys with each around four octanes in length. The majority of the early innovations were connected with a firm that manufactured pianos known as Broadwood. Together with Americus Backers and Robert Stoddart, they designed the first piano with a harpsichord case. This invention is what eventually paved the way for the grand piano evolution.

In the modern world, composers compose music in the range of an 88-key model, and this limit has been accepted as the limit as anything outside this octave range is either too low or too high for the human ear. After the Bartolomeo Cristofori invention, composers started writing a lot of piano music, and the four-octave range became limiting, and piano manufacturers started designing pianos with more keys. For example, in 2018, Stuart and Sons piano makers set a record by creating a nine-octave piano with 108 keys. Another example is Bösendorfer, who sells 97 key pianos where the nine extra keys are black so the pianist can distinguish them from the other 88 keys.

In the early years, the piano keys were made of sugar pine, where black keys were made of ebony. However, ivory use was banned, and piano makers started using plastic; an example is Yamaha piano manufacturers who invented Ivorite, a material almost similar to ivory.

Should You Use Full-size Pianos with More Octaves?

In a piano lesson, you will always be taught to learn eight notes when you learn to play the instrument. To successfully use the instruments, you need to memorize eight notes, also known as an octave, and 12 keys out of the 88 keys. In every octave, the notes repeat themselves and understand what makes an octave, and you need to know the different keys of the 88-key piano. Additionally, for classical music, the 88 keyboard piano is essential.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How many original Bartolomeo Cristofori pianos are left in the world today?

The total number of pianos Bartolomeo Cristofori built is unknown; however, three surviving piano instruments date from the 1700s, located in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

2. Does a grand piano have white keys?

Yes, grand pianos consist of 52 white keys. Most modern pianos consist of a row of 88 black and white keys, 52 white keys for the notes of the C major scale (C, G, D, E, F, A, and B), and 36 shorter black, which is raised above the white keys and set further back on the keyboard.

Zen Chung

I'm Zen Chung, a piano and violin teacher based out of Plano, Texas. I started this blog because my students (and their parents) kept asking about the best musical instruments to buy online. Look no further I'm here to save the day! 

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