What is the Piano Instrument: String, Percussion, or Both?

Explore the world of the piano, its mechanism, and its role in music production. Is it a string or percussion instrument? Find out in this blog post.

Is a piano a string or percussion instrument? Stay with me, folks, because this long-debated question hits all the right keys. We’ll dive into the heart of this musical mystery, exploring the intricate mechanisms behind the piano’s captivating melodies and rhythmic beats. Let’s hit the right notes on this one, shall we?

What is the Piano instrument? The piano is a complex and versatile instrument that combines elements of string and percussion categories. It creates beautiful melodies by striking tuned strings with padded hammers when you press its keys.

What is a piano?

A piano is a keyboard instrument that produces sound when the keys are pressed. It consists of a row of 88 black and white keys, 52 white keys and 36 shorter black keys. The white keys represent the notes of the C major scale, while the black keys are used for sharps and flats, allowing the piano to play 88 different pitches or “notes” spanning over seven octaves.

Image of a piano with bright backdrop.
Image of a piano with bright backdrop.

There are two main types of pianos: grand pianos and upright pianos. Grand pianos offer better sound and key control, making them the preferred choice for skilled pianists and venues with ample space and budget. On the other hand, upright pianos are more commonly used due to their smaller size and lower cost. When a key on the piano is pressed, coated wooden hammers strike the tightened strings inside.

When a key on the piano is pressed, coated wooden hammers strike the tightened strings inside.

The resulting vibrations are transmitted through a bridge to a soundboard, amplifying the sound and coupling the acoustic energy to the air. Releasing the key causes a damper to stop the string’s vibration, ending the sound. Pianists can sustain notes using pedals at the instrument’s base, which holds the dampers off the strings.

The sustain pedal allows for playing movements such as shifting hands between bass and treble while sustaining a chord, enabling melodies and arpeggios on top. The piano’s versatility, extensive use in classical, jazz, traditional, and popular music, and its availability have made it a widely employed instrument for solo and ensemble performances, accompaniment, composition, songwriting, and rehearsals.

My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

What is the piano instrument: string, percussion, or both? | 717qmgla7zl. Ac sl1500 | audio apartment
My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

I’m loving the AKAI MPK Mini MK3 for its compact design and the range of controls. It’s one of my essential tools. The velocity-sensitive keys and MPC-style pads are great for making beats, while the thumbstick and knobs give me precise control.

Is a piano a string or percussion instrument?

Ever stared at a piano and wondered, “Is this a string or a percussion instrument?” Bet you’ve come across heated debates about this question more times than you’ve heard the intro to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ Let’s unravel this mystery and bust this myth once and for all.

Why do people think it’s a string instrument?

Let’s kick things off with a bit of music 101. We have three broad categories of musical instruments – strings, winds, and percussions. String instruments, or chordophones, make sweet noises by vibrating strings. You can play them either with your hands or by using a bow. Examples are violins, guitars, harps, cellos, and maybe… the piano?

It’s nuts, but here’s why: when you crack a piano open, you’d see it’s packed with hundreds of strings. To tune it, you have to adjust the strings. But doesn’t that mean it’s a string instrument? Hold on; we’re not done yet. Let’s give percussions a chance too.

Why do people think it’s a percussion instrument?

Percussion instruments are all about that beat. You hit, shake, or scrape them, and you got rhythm! We’re talking drum kits, tambourines, maracas, and perhaps… the piano? Here’s why: a piano has strings but needs those keys to be hit first to make any sound.

The keys are linked to felt-covered hammers that strike the strings inside. Some might argue, “Percussions ain’t got tunes.” But surprise – instruments like xylophone, marimba, and timpani have tunes and definite pitches. So, now things are getting a bit complicated, aren’t they?

A piano can be both a string and a percussion instrument. According to the Hornbostel-Sachs system, that’s a fancy way to categorize musical instruments; a piano belongs to the percussive chordophone family. That’s like the equivalent of Avengers in the world of musical instruments!

According to the Hornbostel-Sachs system, that’s a fancy way to categorize musical instruments; a piano belongs to the percussive chordophone family.

But wait, we also got something called a keyboard. You’d typically associate it with an organ, a wind instrument, or a harpsichord, a plucked-string instrument. If we ignore the keyboard part, a piano is essentially a “hammered dulcimer.”

So, to keep things straight, while a piano has strings, it’s nearer to the percussion family because you have to hit those keys, activating the hammers to produce any sound.

Image of a steinway grand piano.
Image of a steinway grand piano.

When was the piano instrument invented, and how did it evolve?

Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655–1731) of Italy created the piano. Cristofori was dissatisfied with musicians’ lack of control over the volume level of the harpsichord. Around roughly 1700, he is credited with replacing the plucking mechanism with a hammer to create the modern piano.

Even though our modern piano looks nothing like a lyre or a lute, it’s got its roots in the same family. But it’s not just the strings alone. The piano owes its birth to three key instruments: the hammered dulcimer, the clavichord, and the harpsichord.

  • Hammered dulcimer: An early instrument from around 900 in the Middle East, the hammered dulcimer uses small mallets to strike wires. It was the first instrument to combine strings, a soundboard, and hammers to produce musical tones.
  • Clavichord: Fast forward to the 14th century, and we have the clavichord. This baby had a cooler twist – instead of mallets, it incorporated a keyboard. Press a key and bang – metal blades called tangents would strike the strings.
  • Harpsichord: Then, during the Renaissance, we had the harpsichord. Press a key, and a row of jacks would pluck the strings. This baby was louder than the clavichord, but you can’t control the volume.

Finally, we arrived at the piano. Invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori in the 1700s, the piano was initially called the gravicembalo col piano e forte, or “harpsichord that plays soft and loud.” Quite a mouthful.

Here’s a quick guide on piano playing:

Use dynamics to express yourselfDon’ts
Keep a steady tempoDon’t bang on the keys
Experiment with different stylesDon’t ignore the rhythm

Key piano specifications relevant to music production

Pianos are instrumental in music production – whether grand, upright, electric, or virtual. They serve as the backbone for composing, arranging, and even mixing. Here’s a snapshot that might help you appreciate how the piano’s unique qualities can enhance your music production experience:

ParameterGrand PianoUpright PianoDigital PianoVirtual Piano (DAW)
Hammer mechanismYesYesYes (in high-quality digital pianos)Based on sample/algorithm
Dynamic responseExceptionalVery GoodVaries (Good to Exceptional)Varies (Good to Exceptional)
Sound qualityExceptionalVery GoodVaries (Good to Exceptional)Varies (Good to Exceptional)
Tuning requiredYesYesNoNo
MIDI compatibleNo (unless modified)No (unless modified)YesYes
Comparative table of various types of pianos relevant to music production

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using virtual pianos in music production?

Moving to our digital age, let’s riff on the pros and cons of using virtual pianos in music production. It’s like going from recording to cassette tapes to laying down tracks in pro tools.


  • Virtual pianos offer a wide range of sound and instrument options, allowing producers to access a variety of piano sounds without the need for physical space or multiple instruments.
  • They are a more affordable alternative for musicians on a budget or home studio setups. Additionally, virtual pianos often come bundled with digital audio workstations (DAWs) or software packages, providing a cost-effective all-in-one solution.
  • Virtual pianos offer extensive editing capabilities, allowing producers to tweak and modify the piano sound to suit their specific needs.
  • Musicians and producers can access a piano sound anytime without needing a physical instrument. This accessibility allows for quick and easy composition, arrangement, and production.


  • Virtual pianos, although highly realistic, might not fully capture the nuances and depth of sound produced by a high-quality acoustic piano.
  • Virtual pianos rely on samples and algorithms to recreate piano sounds, which might not capture the full range of expression and dynamics achievable on a physical piano.
  • High-quality virtual pianos can be resource-intensive, requiring powerful computers or hardware setups to ensure smooth playback and real-time performance. Insufficient processing power or memory can lead to latency issues, glitches, or compromised sound quality, which can hinder the music production process.
  • Using virtual pianos effectively requires familiarity with digital audio workstations (DAWs) and software instruments. Learning to navigate and optimize virtual piano plugins may take time and effort, especially for musicians accustomed to traditional piano playing or recording techniques.

If you want even more great tips and information, check out the video.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Diving deep into the world of pianos, music production, and home recording studios can sometimes throw up unexpected questions. Here, I’ve struck a chord with some common queries about pianos.

Are all pianos suitable for home recording?

The best choice for home recording usually comes down to the type and quality of the piano and the available space. Acoustic pianos, including grand and upright pianos, often deliver the best sound, but they require significant space and regular tuning. On the other hand, digital and virtual pianos are compact, maintenance-free, and offer a wide variety of sounds and MIDI compatibility for easy integration into a DAW.

Can I use a piano for mixing in music production?

Absolutely! The piano is often used as a benchmark for EQ and dynamics during mixing. Its wide frequency range covers the entire spectrum of other instruments, and its dynamic versatility makes it a great reference point for balancing levels.

How do I record piano at home?

Recording a piano at home varies based on the type of piano and the equipment you have. For an acoustic piano, using a pair of condenser microphones and placing them strategically can capture a balanced stereo image. If you’re using a digital piano, you can directly connect it to your audio interface or record through MIDI. For virtual pianos, it’s as easy as programming or playing in the parts and recording them in your DAW.


Who would have thought that learning about the piano would lead us down such a high note? I guess it just goes to show that the piano is a key player in the grand orchestra of musical instruments. It’s definitely struck a chord with musicians, producers, and music lovers alike.

Do you have more questions about pianos? Just drop me a line in the comments section ( I read and reply to every comment.) If you’re vibing with the rhythm of this post, share it with others, and check out my full blog for more tuneful talks about music and instruments. Thanks for reading, and keep those keys clicking!

Key takeaways

This article covered the fascinating crossroads of the piano, its classification as a string and percussion instrument, and its role in music production. Here are some key takeaways:

  • The piano can be both a string and percussion instrument due to its unique mechanism.
  • It has its roots in historical instruments like the hammered dulcimer, clavichord, and harpsichord.
  • Understanding the percussive nature of the piano can enhance music production, especially while programming virtual piano parts.
  • Virtual pianos offer ease of use and flexibility in home recording but may lack the acoustic richness of an actual piano.
  • The piano serves as a well-rounded instrument in music production – from composing and arranging to mixing and mastering.

Helpful resources

Image Andrew Ash
Written by Andrew Ash, Staff Writer

Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I'm relatively new to music production, but I've been learning a ton, and documenting my journey along the way. That's why I started this blog. If you want to improve your home studio setup and learn more along with me, this is the place for you!

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Edited by Nick Eggert, Staff Editor

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