Grand piano (keyboard instrument)

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A Bösendorfer grand piano with a closed lid
Keyboard, frame and strings of a Schiedmayer grand piano from the 1920s

The grand piano is a type of piano . Its body consists u. a. from the frame holding the strings and the soundboard and lies horizontally on three legs. With these, it reaches a total height of around one meter.

The curved body shape is similar to the wing of a bird or angel and gave this piano shape its name. The keyboard , mechanics and sound post are located at the straight end of the body . The top of the housing is covered with a lid that can be opened to allow the sound to escape upwards. A grand piano is usually open at the bottom, with the exception of very early 18th century instruments. The construction to which the pedals are attached is called "Lyra", as the shape of older instruments is based on the Greek stringed instrument of the same name .

While the upright design of the piano, the pianino , is mainly used in private homes and schools for reasons of space and costs , the grand piano, which has a stronger sound and can generally be played in greater lengths, is the instrument for committed amateurs as well as for professional and concert musicians.


The wing shape was already the norm for the harpsichord . The designation wing was in German-speaking to about 1,800 of the generally accepted, colloquial name for the harpsichord, while still quite new fortepiano in the 18th century, more than fortepiano or pianoforte was called. It was only after the harpsichord was completely out of fashion at the beginning of the 19th century that the term wing was transferred to the wing-shaped pianoforte discussed here , as it is still common today. Today the harpsichord is sometimes called the keel wing (with the harpsichord the strings are plucked with so-called quills).

The English term for grand piano is grand piano ("large piano") or grand for short . The French name is piano à queue ("piano with a tail").


Schematic structure

1 Cast frame
2 Front cover
3 Capo or push rod
(front string limitation)
4 Damper
5 Back cover
6 Damper arm
7 Part of the pedal mutation (wobble board)
8 Part of the pedal mutation (pusher)
9 Part of the
pedal mutation 10 Pedal bar
11 Pedal
12 Bridge
13 String attachment
14 Cast frame
15 Soundboard
16 String


The curved shape of the body gives the grand piano its name. The body, together with the catch, is the load-bearing element of all components of a grand piano. Today, the outer contour, the so-called “rim”, is created almost exclusively from long layers of hardwood glued together, stretched onto a rimbie block and then dried until the glue sets well. In the case of complex instruments, the plywood is preferably made of maple. This manufacturing method goes back to an invention by Theodor Steinweg in 1878. Before that, wing housings were built from individual parts, the most complex of which is the curved S-shaped plank. The larger grand pianos from Bösendorfer are still made this way today.

The notch at the bottom of the wing housing, made of large planed, grooved, mortised and milled square timber , has the task of

  • to attach the legs and the lyre to it,
  • to support the soundboard and the sprue and
  • to keep the wing contour in shape or under tension.
  • For some manufacturers, the functioning of the soundboard (curvature, camber, also the tuning of the voice) depends on the exact shape of the rim contour. With other manufacturers, the soundboard is arched in a load-bearing manner or the rim contouring can be adjusted, e.g. B. Mason & Hamlin .

Another element is the keyboard back. It serves as a support for the game mechanics and is made of grooved woods. Behind the keyboard back is the dam, a board that stands transversely in the grand piano, to which the grand piano's damping is attached. The dam separates the game mechanics from the sound system.

The lid of the grand piano can be opened - often in several stages - and removed if necessary, depending on how the sound is emitted. In the past, the housings were laboriously polished with shellac . In the USA, it is common to paint wings in a satin black finish.

The visible parts of the body are usually provided with a polyester layer in production in Europe or Asia , usually glossy black, less often white or colored (or colorless if the case is veneered). The application of the polyester lacquer in several layers, also called "wing lacquer", and in particular the subsequent sanding and polishing of the polyester is specialist work: It is dangerous because of the flammable sanding dust and can only be carried out in specially equipped workshops.

After the rim and catch (the "piece of furniture") have been completed, the sound system (cast frame and soundboard) is usually installed. Some manufacturers (for example Grotrian-Steinweg ) first build the ratchet and sound system, then the rim to the body or the furniture around the sound system.

Cast iron plate

Sprue of a Steinway D-274 concert grand piano

The cast iron plate is the load-bearing element inside the wing. It holds a tensile force of 150,000 to 250,000 Newtons (which corresponds to a weight of 15 to 25 tons) that is placed on it by the strings . It used to be poured exclusively in sand molds, but for some years now it has also been manufactured using a vacuum process. Vacuum-formed panels sometimes have better surfaces or require less manual finishing in order to achieve the desired panel surface quality. Historically since the 1840s, the material of the cast plates had initially been ordinary gray cast iron, but individual manufacturers have been using special cast formulations, some of them since the end of the 19th century, which make the material much more resistant to pressure and bending than ordinary gray cast iron.

Historically, a pure wooden frame was initially used in front of the cast plates. With increasing tensile forces, thicker hammers and strings for ever larger auditoriums, steel brackets were used to bridge the hammer shaft. Later, from around 1820, steel struts absorbed part of the string tension, struts that were screwed to the sound post and the attachment plate. Then the one-piece cast frame came up. The construction principles that apply today for grand piano plates were developed by Henry Steinway Jr. in 1859 and his brother Theodore in 1869 , namely the bass crossover and the cover of the sound post.

Modern tools such as CAD and finite element systems are largely used today to design new sashes and frames . Fazioli is a prominent example, companies in China (Hailun, George Steck) and Japan ( Kawai , Yamaha ) and others also work with modern software.


Light wood soundboard on the underside of a grand piano. You can see the assembly of boards glued together and the stabilizing ribs, underneath the black squared timbers of the supporting frame.

The soundboard , which contributes significantly to the sound characteristics of an instrument, is mounted on the soundboard bearing below the strings. It absorbs the vibrations of the strings transmitted by the bridge and emits them as sound to the environment.

It is made of spruce wood with a thickness of around ten millimeters and is curved upwards, uniaxial (cylindrical geometry) or biaxial (spherical surface section). Its curvature is on the one hand stabilized by the soundboard ribs attached to the underside, and on the other hand it is partly formed by external forces. In addition to the curvature of the soundboard , the piano maker also measures the so-called bridge pressure , the rise of the bridge against the normal position of the strings in the bass, middle position and treble, which should often be two millimeters in the bass to about one millimeter in the treble. In the corners or edge areas, the soundboard is often ground down to six millimeters thinner in order to achieve better vibration (patent from Paul Bilhuber, “Diaphragmatic Soundboard”).

Soundboards made of spruce tonewood age. Steinway and many US-American piano makers state the general useful life of a soundboard at around 50 years and then often recommend replacing it - European piano makers, on the other hand, often prefer to repair old soundboards that have become cracked (chipping, wedging). Furthermore, soundboards are subject to requirements in terms of temperature constancy and, above all, maintenance at relatively uniform humidity. Ideally, a soundboard should be around 50% relative humidity. Grand piano or upright soundboards in modern houses can be “heated up to nothing” if, in winter, it is not taken into account that the humidity can drop well below the permissible range. As soon as a minimum air humidity of 40% cannot be maintained, it makes sense to use a humidifier to protect the sound floor. Grand pianos should never be stored in basements or garages; their soundboards are soaked with water; The next time you heat them up, they often tear. Professionals arm themselves against this when buying a used wood moisture meter.

Individual manufacturers also offer soundboards that have been specially varnished, the bars of which are screwed to prevent de-glueing in tropical environments ( Blüthner as standard, Steinway as an option).

Tonewood, densely grown red spruce wood with narrow, even annual rings, comes in Europe from the high altitudes of the Alps, often from the Fiemme Valley or Val di Fiemme, where the violin makers from Cremona got their wood from in the 17th century, from the Czech Republic and from Eastern Europe. American suppliers have been processing Sitka spruce from Canada and Alaska since stocks of white spruce tonewood from the Appalachians were exhausted in the 1920s.

Nowadays, materials apart from spruce tonewood are sometimes used, either a soundboard made of a glass plate (an Australian development) or made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (“Phoenix” system from Florida, available as an option from Feurich and Steingraeber ). Alternative soundboard materials are often accompanied by a different way of attaching the strings to the bridges: clamping clasps instead of the string guide via bridge pins.

Sound post

The sound post is located in the front part of the body, be it as an insert in the rim or as a screwed unit under the frame. He carries the tuning pegs with which the strings are tuned. The sound post is made of laminated hardwood ( red beech , maple ). On modern grand pianos, the sound post is covered by the cast iron plate, in this case often also referred to as armor plate. This is to improve the mood . The sound post is a critical component because the holding forces or the breakaway torque of the tuning pins must be very high. If the tuning pin clamping moments in the sound post fail, this results in a poor vocal posture or even failure of the instrument and requires expensive repairs to replace the sound post. Depending on the construction of a grand piano, it is not only necessary to relax the strings, but also to expand the frame.


Schematic representation of the keyboard (excerpt)

There are seven root tones per octave and a total of twelve keys with five semitone steps in between . The main tones (CDEFGAH) can be found on the mostly white front or lower keys, which used to be ivory and are now plastic . The five shorter, mostly black rear or upper keys are still made of ebony on higher quality models . Modern grand pianos usually have 88 keys (the lowest note is called subcontra-A, the highest c 5 , the range is 7 ¼ octaves). Stuart & Sons in Australia builds grand pianos with 108 keys.

Only the middle key of the black group of three is in the middle between the white neighboring keys. The remaining black keys are offset slightly outwards so that the fingers can reach them more easily.

In the international trade in grand pianos, problems often arise due to the largely used ivory for the key pads. Countries such as the USA and Japan have strict legal regulations not to allow grand pianos that contain ivory into the country unless it is proven by a CITES report that the material (or a grand piano) was manufactured before the 1980s. These regulations are strictly enforced: wings are torn off the ivory by the customs officers during import; the owner receives an invoice for this type of "service". An alternative to the special plastics mixed with ground ceramics today are coverings made of bone or mammoth ivory. It is also possible to buy new ivory keyboards from CITES-secured stocks in Germany; the surcharge for a Steinway grand piano with ivory is around 3000 euros (as of 2011).


The mechanism (the grand piano mechanism) transfers the force of the key to the hammer, which strikes the strings. The hammers consist of a wooden core and a pressed felt board made of long-fiber wool threads attached to it under tension; they strike the strings from below. The dampers are lifted off the strings shortly before the stop. After releasing the keys, they return to the starting position and at the same time mute the sound. The parts of the grand piano mechanics are made of hornbeam, maple, birch, plywood and partly also of plastic.

Around 1700, Bartolomeo Cristofori first replaced the plucking mechanism of a harpsichord with a hammer mechanism, which allowed you to play smoothly (piano) to loud (forte). The pianoforte was thus invented. In 1825, Sébastien Érard constructed the so-called repetition mechanism, which made it possible to repeat notes with minimal key movement. To this day, repeater mechanisms are almost only built into grand pianos, rarely into pianinos. Since then there have only been selective improvements to the wing mechanics.

The keys consist of a beech wood plate, today often machined with a CNC milling machine for storage on steel pins with felt-lined pockets ("garnishes") and then divided into individual keys on a band saw. A keyboard frame under the keys is used to store the keys and the mechanics built above them. The keyboard frame can be moved laterally on the keyboard bottom of the grand piano for the Una-Chorda function (see below). The entire playing mechanics of grand pianos can be removed in a few simple steps after removing the key cover and removing the wooden blocks ("cheeks") on the side, a process that often arouses great astonishment among those who are not familiar with it. With around 11,000 individual parts, a wing game mechanism contains twice as many parts as a modern car.

Theodore Steinway invented the Steinway patented tube frame in 1870 for storing all mechanical parts above the keys. Woods are pressed into brass tubes, which allow the hammer nuts and repeater nuts to be screwed into wood, with increased stability (compared to mechanisms at the time). The brass tubes are soldered to frame brackets. However, due to the enlargement of the wooden profiles and, since the 1960s, the work of Japanese wing manufacturers with aluminum profiles, comparable and sometimes better stabilities are available today.

Since the 1960s there have been extensive attempts to use newer materials instead of wood for the repetitions or lifting links or as components in them. Steinway (USA) stored hammer and repeater axles in Teflon bushings instead of felt from 1962 to 1982 . However, this change was abandoned after 20 years: the different expansions of the wood components and the Teflon sometimes led to uncontrollable, quiet clicking noises in the transitional seasons.

Since the 1980s, Kawai has been developing its grand piano mechanics with parts made of plastics, some of which are fiber-reinforced, suspended on aluminum rails. Today's system of “millennium action” and also the competing product from Yamaha can be seen as established and reliable in the market. European suppliers still rely on wooden components with felt bearings.

Since Steinway recently (2011) stopped building its own machine heads in New York and used the same acquisition as Steinway Hamburg (Kluge Remscheid for keyboards, lifting links based on the Steinway design by Renner and Renner hammer heads), one can say that it is There is no longer a complete vertical range of manufacture in wing construction - mechanical components are now purchased parts from all well-known manufacturers.

The latest developments in keyboard mechanics are repeaters and hammer handles made of plastic reinforced with carbon fibers. This game mechanic is made by Wessell, Nickel & Gross from the USA and Parsons Music Ltd. from China for grand pianos and upright pianos.


A grand piano has about 230 steel strings. In the treble and middle register there are three strings per tone ( string choir ). In the bass range there are one, two or even three strings wound with copper wire (formerly also brass and iron wire) per tone. The calculation of the string gauge (length of the strings, strength, percentage load, tension, ...) is an essential, for the sound characteristics of the instrument (e.g. the inharmonicity ) decisive work in the construction of a grand piano. Long strings are beneficial for volume and tonal purity, especially in the bass. The more mass is wound onto ever shorter strings, the more impure the sound becomes. Short wings under 180 cm are therefore disadvantaged in terms of sound.

Lyre and pedals

Lyra with pedals

The component to which the pedals are attached is called “Lyra” in technical usage, as its shape in older instruments was initially modeled on the Greek stringed instrument of the same name . Pedal actuation affects the sound:

  • With the right pedal all dampers are lifted from the strings, so that every note continues to sound after a key is struck and released. In addition, the now undamped strings of other notes resonate, giving the piano a fuller, rustling, but also blurred sound.
  • The middle pedal (also known as “ sostenuto ” or “tone holding pedal ”) was developed in France ( Jean Louis Boisselot 1844, Claude Montal 1862) and patented in the USA ( Albert Steinway 1874). Today it is at least offered as an option by almost all grand piano manufacturers. It is used to hold individual tones or sounds. Its actuation prevents the already raised dampers from falling back again. The above dampers are held up with the sostenuto pedal. All other dampers, however, continue to react to playing and releasing the keys. In some piano works of the 20th and 21st centuries the use of the sustain pedal is mandatory.
  • Pressing the left pedal ("shift pedal") shifts the entire keyboard mechanism to the right, so that the hammers no longer hit all three strings of a string choir, hence the name una corda ("one string"). More precisely: One string less is struck - with the exception of the lowest bass notes, which only have one string anyway. In addition, other parts of the hammer felt hit the strings during the shift. These points on the hammer head are some manufacturers specifically " intones ", ie, for the professional (Intoneur). B. loosened and softened with voicing needles. Shifting with the left pedal then changes the timbre and a slightly lower volume.
  • The manufacturer Fazioli offers a fourth pedal for its model 308, which, like the piano pedal on a piano , brings the hammers closer to the strings and thus facilitates piano playing without changing the timbre like the left pedal on other grand pianos.
  • Steingraeber optionally offers a left pedal that works in combination: first it initiates the una-chorda shift, then it lifts the hammers closer to the strings to make it easier to control the piano playing.
  • The Pédale Harmonique , which is available from the manufacturer Feurich as a fourth pedal as standard on all grand piano models, combines the possibilities of three pedals in one:
    • the traditional forte pedal
    • the "overtone resonance" - the special sound of the Pedale Harmonique
    • the sostenuto or tone hold pedal
When the pedal is completely depressed, the damping behaves like the traditional forte pedal; When the pedal is pressed halfway, only the dampers of the keys played and then left out fall on the strings in sequence. All other strings remain free; the overtones of the notes or chords continue to sound.

Sizes and weights

Bechstein salon wing from 1893

Wings are made in many different sizes. A non-standardized classification is:

  • Baby or Mignon grand piano (length approx. 140 cm to 180 cm, weight approx. 280-350 kg)
  • Salon, conservatory or studio grand piano (approx. 180 cm to 210 cm, approx. 320-450 kg)
  • Semi-concert grand piano (approx. 210 cm to 240 cm, approx. 400–500 kg)
  • Concert grand piano (approx. 240 cm to 308 cm, approx. 480–700 kg)

The width of today's grand pianos is generally around 150 to 158 cm, with the exception of instruments with an extended range. Historical grand pianos can also be a lot slimmer with a reduced range.

Baby grand piano

The term “baby grand piano” for a short grand piano comes from the 19th century, when music-making became increasingly common among the bourgeoisie and there was a great need for instruments. In the palaces of the nobles there was enough space for up to 3 m long grand pianos , not in the smaller living rooms of the citizens. So old long instruments were shortened - "trimmed". The first baby grand piano according to today's understanding of size as a new construction, i. H. Ernst Kaps Piano Factory AG built it in 1865 without trimming a longer grand piano .

With the shortening, a change in the strings in the lower middle register and in the bass becomes necessary, which leads to a significant proportion of the sound changing disadvantageously. Baby grand pianos can easily be surpassed in sound volume by larger pianos (upright pianos ) because their soundboards are larger. In order to have sound advantages over good pianos, the length of the grand pianos should not be less than 170 cm. With short grand pianos, the compromises in the bass become too great: The inharmonicity increases, the bass sound no longer becomes round with shorter string lengths.

Compared to the upright piano (pianino), however, grand pianos of a shorter design still differ in terms of their mechanics, the shape of the soundboard and the sound radiation. Baby grand pianos retain the advantage of their grand finer playing style, which as a rule cannot be achieved by upright pianos. In addition, the pianist can look into the room over a baby grand piano, while on the high piano he sees the cabinet-shaped body in front of him.

Nowadays baby grand pianos are usually built with a length of 150 cm. Occasionally, even shorter specimens can be found, the strings of which are diagonally to transversely twisted in the bass and, with lengths of down to 128 cm, increasingly approximate the properties of square pianos , which were abandoned in the mid to late 19th century due to their design and tonal disadvantages.

Concert grand

A typical concert grand is around 270 to 285 cm long - the Steinway D measures around 274 cm. Occasionally, concert grand pianos are slightly larger, 290 cm for the Bösendorfer “Imperial” or 308 cm for the Fazioli F308. However, in view of the high tension of the steel strings, a technical limit of the materials available today is reached at around three meters.

Even longer grand pianos, which were built in individual pieces or on special order (Rubenstein 375, California, USA) do not have such high tensions in terms of construction and are therefore not suitable for providing sufficient sound for large concert halls such as Carnegie Hall ; their " scale length ", the design of the strings and sound system, is less suitable for today's concert business due to a lack of sound projection, sufficient volume and penetrating power. Their advantage is the lower inharmonicity due to the longer string lengths ; the result is a smooth and round sound.

The typical weight of concert grand pianos is around 550 to 600 kg. The Steinway D-274, the most common stage grand piano, is the lightest of today's “concert halls” and weighs only approx. 480 kg. Very large grand pianos like the Bösendorfer Imperial 290 can also weigh well over 600 kg. From the historically heaviest Steinway series production, the "Centennial D" around 1880, the predecessor of today's D-274, weights of almost 700 kg have been handed down. At 690 kg, the longest series concert grand piano, the Fazioli F-308 , competes in the same weight class . It is advisable to consult a structural engineer for setting up such heavy sashes on floors other than concrete.

Concert grand pianos can become very loud in series production; they must be able to hold their own against an orchestra in piano concerts in very large halls. After all, today's standard size was designed at the end of the 19th century to fill halls the size of a Carnegie Hall, which can hold around 3000 listeners. Today, piano concerts are given without electronic amplification in even larger halls ( Royal Albert Hall in London with 8,000 listeners).

In their normal setting, concert grand pianos are often less suitable for private living areas due to their maximum volume. However, they can be modified both by a softer intonation and by changing their mechanisms (lighter hammer heads, lever ratios, e.g. different pilot screw position) so that the volume is also unproblematic in living rooms below 100 square meters. Some grand pianos are played in private surroundings, for example when a concert pianist wants to practice at home in conditions that resemble the stage situation. Other ambitious pianists usually prefer semi-concert grand pianos with a length of approx. 210 to 220 cm at home.

Special forms

Pedal system with two Steinway & Son grand pianos
Pedal hammer grand by Joseph Brodmann

Bell wings

A special design of the baby grand piano is the rarely found bell grand piano. It gets its name from the distinctive symmetrical outer contour of a bell: the bass strings run diagonally towards the middle. Their rounding corresponds to the "bell suspension". Its string system enables mirror-symmetrical double rounding of the housing on both walls, bass and treble. Bell wings can therefore be easily placed in the corners of a room. In terms of sound, the bell grand piano is subject to the same restrictions as an asymmetrical baby grand piano.

In the symmetrical arrangement of the bell wing there were even concert grand pianos (Blüthner, 19th century).

Pedal wing

Another special form is the pedal wing, which has an additional pedal keyboard similar to a church organ. These instruments, like the harpsichords equipped with additional pedals, were primarily used to practice organ music without the player having to go to a church and relying on the help of Kalkanten . However, several composers such as Robert Schumann also wrote works specifically for pedal pianos.

Pedal wings either consist of two independent instruments placed one on top of the other, or the strings played by the pedal are attached under the actual piano body. There are also models in which the pedals are connected to the normal mechanics of the upper part and thus the same strings sound.

Well-known manufacturers

Well-known grand piano manufacturers (in alphabetical order): Baldwin , Bechstein , Blüthner , Bösendorfer , Borgato (pedal pianos) , Broadwood , Collard & Collard , Erard , Estonia , Fazioli , Feurich , August Förster , Gaveau , Grotrian-Steinweg , Ibach , Kaps , Kawai , Carl Mand , Mangeot , Mason & Hamlin , Pearl River , Petrof , Pfeiffer , Pleyel , Sauter , Schiedmayer , Schimmel , Seiler , Steingraeber & Sons , Steinway & Sons , Yamaha , Young Chang .

See also

Web links

Commons : Wings  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach : Attempt on the true way of playing the piano , first part, Berlin 1753 and second part, Berlin 1762. Facsimile -new edition by Bärenreiter, Kassel et al., 1994. Examples: 1st part, introduction: § 13, p. 9; and § 15, pp. 10-11; 2nd part, introduction, § 1, p. 1; and § 6, p. 2.
  2. See keyword: "Flügel, Clavicimbel", in: Kochs Musikalisches Lexicon , Frankfurt 1802 , pp. 586-588
  3. Stuart & Sons
  4. ^ Stanley Sadie (ed.): The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2nd edition, Macmillan, London 2001, keyword “Sostenuto pedal”.
  5. ^ Patent specification of the tone holding pedal on com (as of April 4, 2012).
  6. Martin Schmeding : The Pedal Grand Piano - Instrumental Revolution or Dead End of Musical Evolution? For the 200th birthday of Robert Schumann. In: Ars Organi . 58th year, no. 3 , September 2010, ISSN  0004-2919 , p. 139–145 ( online as PDF, 598 kB [accessed July 30, 2013]).
  7. Martin Schmeding: The Pedal Grand Piano - Instrumental Revolution or Dead End of Musical Evolution? For the 200th birthday of Robert Schumann. In: Ars Organi . 58th year, no. 3 , September 2010, p. 140 .