7 Epic Piano Facts (National Piano Month)

Charmaine Li  /  Articles  /  UPDATED Sep 7, 2023

September is National Piano Month! Isn’t it awesome that we pianists get a whole month to celebrate our favorite instrument? If you haven’t already, this is also a good month to wow your friends with some epic piano facts. Here are a few.

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#1. It’s not your imagination: bass keys are heavier and treble keys are lighter.

It’s called graded action. As you move your way down the keyboard from high notes to low notes, the keys get longer. Bass notes also use bigger and heavier hammers. And bass strings are thicker. This all combines to make it slightly harder to press low notes than high ones.

Many digital pianos now imitate this design to give their keys a more authentic feel.

#2. You can trill faster on a grand piano than an upright piano.

Again, the magic is all in the action.

On a grand piano, the hammers return to rest using gravity. But on an upright piano, the hammers need the help of springs to return to rest. This gives acoustic grand pianos the fastest action.

According to Yamaha, horizontal grand piano action can perform around 14 repetitions per second. Meanwhile, vertical upright piano action can only perform around seven repetitions per second.

HOT TIP! If you’re a beginner, we recommend you start with an upright first from a reputable but affordable brand. Digital pianos have also come a long way in imitating authentic key action, so they are a perfectly acceptable choice and a lot more affordable. For more buying advice, take a peek at our free guide.

#3. Synthesizers hark back to the 1800s

The Teleharmonium, an early electronic musical instrument, got its start in the 1897 and it was enormous. (The Mark III version weighed 200 tonnes.) Played through the telephone system, it was housed in the basement of the Metropolitan Opera House. But Thaddeus Cahill’s electric achievement was eventually abandoned because it kept interfering with naval communications.

The Teleharmonium in 1897 (source).

Synthesizers made their big leap forward in the middle of the 20th century, with Robert Moog’s Moog Modular Synthesizer. Moog remains a recognizable synthesizer brand today. And while most synthesizers are digital now, analogue synths are enjoying somewhat of a renaissance.

#4. The sostenuto and sustain pedals do different things!

> How Piano Pedals Work

“What do all the different piano pedals do?” This is a common question we get. It depends on the piano, but in general, grand pianos have three pedals. From left to right:

Three piano pedals labelled (left to right) una corda, sostenuto, damper/sustain.
  1. The una corda shifts the keyboard so that hammers hit only two out of the three strings they would normally hit. This slightly dampens the sound so that it’s easier to play softly.
  2. The sostenuto pedal sustains a selection of notes while leaving unselected notes unsustained, so you can play clearly over a sustained note.
  3. The sustain pedal is responsible for the “reverb” sound of piano pieces. Get comfortable using this pedal, as it can drastically improve your playing!

In acoustic uprights, the middle pedal is usually a muted practice pedal that allows you to practice in the middle of the night without annoying your neighbors. See? No excuses not to practice!

#5. Harpsichord strings are plucked. Clavichord strings are hammered.

Old, intricate wooden keyboard instrument with lid open showing strings.
The inside of a harpsichord at the Museu de la Música de Barcelona (Sguastevi, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons).
Old, wooden clavichord displayed in a museum with a painting of ships on the inside of the lid.
A clavichord in the Musée de la Musique in Paris (Gérard Janot, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons).

Harpsichords and clavichords are both ancestors of the modern piano, but they sound very different.

While harpsichords have a sharp, stringy sound, clavichords are fairly quiet. But their biggest difference is the mechanism: harpsichords have little quills on their hammers that pluck the strings, while clavichords use hammers. However, not all clavichord models have keys that can be played at the same time.

> A Complete History of the Piano

#6. Mozart was a fan of the Stein action, and Beethoven was a Broadwood supporter.

The tradition of artists being associated with certain brands and models goes way back. A piano maker called Johann Andreas Stein pioneered the Stein or Viennese action, which Mozart was a fan of. The action produced a bright tone, which partners very well with Mozart’s playful composition style.

Meanwhile, Beethoven favored the craftsmanship of the Brits. Thomas Broadwood heard that Beethoven was poor both financially and in health, so he shipped over a Broadwood piano to cheer him up. The British piano, with its big, dramatic sound, was louder than most pianos and served Beethoven well, since he was hard of hearing.

Posthumous (1819) portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by Barbara Krafft.
Broadwood fortepiano (Gérard Janot, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
1820 portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler.

#7. The most expensive piano we could find cost $3.4 million

According to Broughton Pianos, the most expensive piano ever sold was a Heintzman piano. It was bought by a private bidder at an auction for $3.22 million.

One of the most expensive and famous pianos is the Steinway & Sons Pictures at an Exhibition piano. Painted by Paul Wyse, it was designed after the Modest Mussorgsky piano suite of the same name.

As of this article’s publication, the most expensive piano we could find is the “As Time Goes By” piano, valued at $3.4 million. This piano inspired a famous line in the movie Casablanca, so it’s famous not because of how nice it sounds, but by its cultural impact.

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Charmaine Li is a Vancouver writer who has played piano for over 20 years. She holds an Associate diploma (ARCT) from the Royal Conservatory of Music and loves writing about the ways in which music—and music learning—affects the human experience. Charmaine manages The Note. Learn more about Charmaine here.

Headshot of woman with short platinum hair against a studio background.

The easiest way to learn beautiful piano chords.
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