How does a piano work?

The piano is a captivating instrument with a rich history and remarkable versatility.

In this article, we will explore the inner workings of a piano, including its parts, principles of operation, and maintenance.

Join us as we uncover the secrets behind the magic of this fascinating instrument.

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The piano is a fascinating musical instrument that has been captivating audiences for centuries. Its versatility and expressive qualities make it a favorite among musicians and music enthusiasts alike. But have you ever wondered how a piano actually works? In this article, we will delve into the inner workings of a piano, exploring its parts, principles of operation, maintenance, and more. So, let’s embark on this musical journey and unravel the secrets behind the magic of the piano.


What is a Piano?

A piano is a keyboard instrument that produces sound by striking strings with hammers when keys are pressed. It is classified as a percussion instrument, as the sound is created by the striking action. The piano is renowned for its wide range of pitch and dynamics, allowing for expressive performances across various genres of music.

Brief History of the Piano

The piano has a rich history that dates back to the early 18th century. Its precursor was the harpsichord, which lacked the ability to produce dynamic variations. Bartolomeo Cristofori, an Italian instrument maker, is credited with inventing the piano around the year 1700. His creation incorporated a hammer mechanism, allowing players to control the volume of the sound by varying the force applied to the keys.

Parts of a Piano

To understand how a piano works, let’s first familiarize ourselves with its key components.


The keyboard is the most visible part of the piano and consists of a series of keys. The standard piano keyboard has 88 keys, spanning over seven octaves and three pedals.


The strings are responsible for producing sound in a piano. Each key is connected to a corresponding string or set of strings. The longer and thicker the string, the lower the pitch it produces when struck by a hammer.


The soundboard is a large, wooden resonating surface located beneath the strings. It amplifies the vibrations created by the strings, enriching the sound produced by the piano.


When a key is pressed, it activates a mechanism that causes a hammer to strike the corresponding string(s). The hammers are covered in felt to produce a softer and more mellow tone.


Pianos have three pedals: the damper pedal, the soft pedal, and the sostenuto pedal. Each pedal has a unique effect on the sound produced by the piano, allowing for greater control and expression.

Working Principles of a Piano

Now that we know the key components of a piano, let’s explore how they work together to create beautiful music.

Pressing the keys

When a pianist presses a key on the piano’s keyboard, it sets a series of actions into motion. The key is attached to a lever called a key lever, which in turn activates the hammer mechanism.

Hammer Striking the Strings

As the key lever is pressed down, it lifts a small hammer. The hammer is connected to the key lever via a complex system of levers and joints. When the key is pressed down, the hammer is released and propelled forward, striking the corresponding string(s) with force.

The force with which the hammer strikes the string(s) determines the volume and intensity of the sound produced. A soft touch on the keys results in a gentle sound, while a stronger touch produces a louder, more powerful sound.

Soundboard Amplification

Once the strings are struck by the hammers, they vibrate, creating sound waves. These sound waves travel through the bridge and are transmitted to the soundboard. The soundboard acts as a resonator, amplifying the vibrations and projecting the sound into the surrounding space.

The size, shape, and quality of the soundboard greatly impact the tonal characteristics and projection of the piano. High-quality pianos often feature soundboards made from carefully selected spruce wood, known for its excellent resonance properties.

Pedal Effects

The pedals on a piano play a crucial role in shaping the sound and dynamics of the instrument. Let’s explore the effects of each pedal:

  1. Damper Pedal: The damper pedal, also known as the sustain pedal, is the rightmost pedal on the piano. When pressed, it lifts all the dampers from the strings, allowing them to vibrate freely even after the keys are released. This creates a sustained and lingering sound.

  2. Soft Pedal: The soft pedal, located on the left side of the piano, is often referred to as the una corda pedal. When pressed, it shifts the entire action slightly, causing the hammers to strike only one or two of the three strings per note. This produces a softer and more muted tone.

  3. Sostenuto Pedal: The sostenuto pedal, found in some pianos, is located between the damper pedal and the soft pedal. It allows specific notes to sustain while other notes played after releasing the keys are dampened. This pedal provides selective control over the sustain of individual notes, enabling complex musical effects.


The piano is an extraordinary instrument that continues to captivate audiences with its timeless appeal and expressive qualities. From its intricate mechanism and harmonious resonance to its diverse range of musical applications, the piano remains a symbol of artistic expression and technical mastery. Whether as a solo instrument, accompaniment, or compositional tool, the piano has shaped the landscape of music and enriched the lives of countless individuals. So, next time you sit at a piano, take a moment to appreciate the intricate workings behind its beautiful sound and let your fingers dance across the keys, creating melodies that resonate with your soul.

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