We have to go back to 18th century Italy to pinpoint the birth of the piano.
A harpsichord maker decided to put a spin on the popular instrument with the fortepiano. This instrument expanded the capabilities of the harpsichord.
The popularity of the fortepiano lasted throughout the years until its name was shortened to the piano.
In the 21st century, the instrument known as the piano has many forms.
The Different Types of Piano Categories
Typically, pianos are categorized into two types: vertical pianos and grand pianos. In our new digital age, digital pianos have become a popular and sometimes more affordable option for many players.
Chances are, you may have noticed a vertical piano somewhere in the past. Maybe in your elementary music class or at your local church hall. These types of pianos are named after how they are built. They are designed to be placed up against a wall and are compact. They may have been created to solve the issue of little space in small studios or homes.
Grand pianos are also very famous because they are the go-to pianos for concert performances. These pianos are pretty much the opposite of the vertical piano. They are also called horizontal pianos. The strings in a grand piano extend horizontally away from the keyboard instead of up like an upright piano.
It is not as common for someone to own a grand piano because they are just so big. These pianos take up a lot of space, so they are more suited to grand concert halls and fancy homes. They are also much more expensive. It is a decent investment to purchase any kind of grand piano.
In the past, vertical pianos were preferred over grand pianos for private use. Nowadays, there are many brands and styles of digital pianos on the market that make it more cost-effective to own a piano. You can get some types of digital stand keyboards that you can easily transport or pack away, too.
Digital pianos have been developed over the years to offer a variety of features. Some options even have a similar look to vertical and grand acoustic pianos. The main difference is that, with a digital piano, you will not be required to hire a professional to tune and service your instrument regularly.
Types of Vertical Pianos
When it comes to vertical pianos, they are generally grouped into styles based on their height. Otherwise, they all have a similar width and depth. All types of vertical pianos are designed with vertical strings. The difference in the inner parts makes playing a vertical piano different to playing a grand piano. The same principles work, but you might notice a difference in how the keys feel when they are pressed.
The Upright Piano
This type of vertical piano is tallest. An upright piano can be anywhere from 50 to 60 inches in height, with most being 58 inches wide. This piano has earned the nickname Grandma’s piano because they are generally not made anymore. If you have a grandparent with an older piano, they probably have this kind of old-time upright piano.
The Spinet Piano
This type is the smallest of the vertical pianos. You will find spinet pianos between 36 and 38 inches tall. To accommodate the smaller size, the inner workings of this piano are compressed. This type of dropped action sometimes makes it harder to provide service to the complicated parts. Spinet pianos are also not actively manufactured.
The Console Piano
This vertical piano is probably the most popular option. A console piano ranges from 40 to 43 inches tall, making it slightly taller than a spinet piano. They work well in a home environment because they are not too large and are easily maintained.
The Studio Piano
Studio pianos get their name from the place you most often find them – a studio. They are usually slightly taller than console pianos, at 43 to 47 inches. Their extra height makes them a less popular option for the limited space inside a home. This characteristic is not as big of a problem for a studio. The sound is much richer than the other vertical pianos, so it is commonly used for music composition.
Types of Grand Pianos
Grand pianos come in several styles based on their size. A grand piano is measured from the front of its keyboard to the farthest end of the piano. It is always measured with its lid closed. There are no official guidelines, which means any categorization is based on general classification.
All grand pianos require much more space than a vertical piano because the strings are placed out from the keyboard. Despite the inconvenience of size and price, grand pianos are very popular because they look incredibly classy.
The Petite Grand Piano
A petite grand is the smallest size of grand piano currently produced. It ranges in length from 4 feet 5 inches to 4 feet 10 inches. Its smaller size does not take away from its rich, forceful sound, but some people criticize the tone of these kinds of smaller grand pianos. This tiny version of a grand piano is not a very popular option, and you will not find it in your local music store.
The Baby Grand Piano
You have probably heard the term baby grand before in some context. This piano is a little bigger than a petite grand, at 4 feet 11 inches to 5 feet 6 inches. It gets its popularity from its decent tone quality and affordability. It is not as big as other grand piano types, making it a better option for private use at home.
The Medium Grand Piano
The medium grand is usually a bit bigger than a baby grand piano. On average, it is 5 feet 7 inches in length. Keep in mind that the medium grand piano is not an extremely popular style. Most people go for the baby grand style for that sweet spot between size and sound quality.
The Parlor Grand Piano
Also known as a living room piano, the parlor grand piano averages 6 feet in length. It is not as large as a concert grand, making it a common sight in the homes of wealthy individuals of the past. Nowadays, it is unlikely that the average person would have the extra space to fit a parlor grand in their home. It may look incredible, but smaller options might be better suited to the living rooms of today.
The Ballroom Grand Piano
The ballroom grand piano is also called a semi concert grand piano. It is slightly larger than the parlor grand, at 6 feet 2 inches to 6 feet 7 inches. Mid to large-sized venues and halls might opt for a ballroom grand piano over a full-sized concert grand to avoid the monumental space it can take up. Despite its slightly more management size, the ballroom grand still averages 900 lbs in weight.
The Concert Grand Piano
You might have seen a concert grand piano in action if you have attended a professional orchestra performance. This is the grandest type of grand piano, with a length of over 8 feet. It is not uncommon for a concert grand to be 9 feet in length. It is not surprising for them to weigh more than 1000 lbs.
Types of Digital Pianos
A digital piano uses digital technology to reproduce the sound of an acoustic piano. They have been around since the 1980s and have even developed to include weighted keys, multiple voices, standard pedals, and other features in different models.
Sometimes people do not consider digital pianos the same as vertical or grand pianos. These people often care a lot about the history and sound of an acoustic piano. Whichever way you feel about digital pianos, however, they have opened up a lot of possibilities for the instrument. Digital pianos are often very portable, allowing someone to take their playing with them wherever they go.
Here’s a great video showing all of these types of pianos:
What about other types of pianos?
Vertical, grand, and digital are not the only types of piano. Throughout the evolution of the piano, there have been more iterations on its design. However, these types are not as popular for private or concert use. For example, a toy piano is recognized as having a distinct sound separate from other pianos. It uses metal rods to create sound, as opposed to strings. There are also electric and electronic pianos, which can have really funky sounds thanks to amplifiers, synthesizers, and other additions. Electric and electronic pianos are more popular for certain types of music, including fusion jazz, funk, and rock.
Is there a difference in sound between a vertical piano and a grand piano?
When it comes to sound, a grand piano is the likely choice of any professional pianist. The design of a grand piano allows for more sound projection and richer tonal quality. Its horizontal construction means that the soundboard on a grand piano has a larger area.
And you can play a grand piano with a lot more control because the hammers fall down quicker. One reason you see grand pianos at concerts, besides the broader view of the orchestra and audience it allows, is the control a pianist has when they play. Sound and control may not matter as much at home if you are playing simple songs. But someone making their way through a vigorous Rachmaninoff piece will appreciate greater control.
What type of piano is best suited for beginners?
Unless you have a dedicated space for a piano in your home, a digital piano is the best option for a beginner. Digital pianos are portable, which can be incredibly important for your continuing piano education. You can take it with you into your living room or keep it set up in your bedroom. It is better to give yourself more opportunities to practice when you just start out with the piano. Some digital pianos even have features created to help those learning how to play the piano.
The most important factors to consider are your space and your time. You should select a piano that will fit into your home but also fit with your intended use.
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Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.