Afro American man playing piano

Is the Piano a Percussion or String Instrument?

On the surface, a piano is just another musical instrument. Go beyond the black and white of piano keys, though, and you’ll find that there’s so much more than meets the eye. For instance, the piano is one of the most intricate and complex instruments to build and design. But that’s not all, the piano is at the center of a great debate. Have you ever stopped to consider whether the piano is a string or percussion instrument? If so, you’re not alone.

In fact, it’s a pretty common question to ask among musicians, especially if you play both string and percussion instruments. You might even have asked yourself this question when deciding whether or not to take up the piano as a hobby. There are plenty of reasons why people might wonder about how to classify the piano—for instance, some people think that it must be classified as a percussion instrument because of its striking capabilities, while others argue that it’s more like a string instrument because of its plucking capabilities.

It’s a fair argument, the piano is made of wood and strings, much the same as any other string instrument, so how can it be anything but a string instrument? But then the piano also uses hammers to strike the strings, doesn’t it? And using some form of beater to strike or scrape and produce a musical sound is the very definition of a percussion instrument. You can see how this argument could go back and forth and cause a lot of confusion. So, what is the truth? Is a piano a percussion or string instrument? Or both?

The truth is: yes! The piano can be classified as both a percussion and string instrument! The reason for this is that there are different types of pianos with different types of actions (which refers to how they are played). For example, grand pianos have hammers that strike strings in order to produce sound; however, upright pianos don’t have hammers—they have strings that are plucked by felt-covered hammers attached directly to the backside of each key! And then there are keyboards, which have neither hammers nor strings. So technically speaking…yes! You can classify pianos as both string and percussion instruments because there are many different types out there.

So the piano can be both a percussion and string instrument? Technically, yes. But that’s not a very satisfying answer to the question, is it? If the piano is both a string and percussion instrument, it feels like a cop-out.

The bottom line is that a piano’s primary function is defined by its usage. So in truth, the answer may be different for each musician. If the keyboard is your instrument of choice, then you can safely say it’s a percussion instrument. If you prefer the tones of an upright piano, then you could argue that it’s a string instrument. And if you have a grand piano, then you could also argue that the piano is neither string nor percussion – it’s just gorgeous furniture.

Check out our 30, 45, or 60 minute piano lesson options, and learn about our team of musicians here at Rochester Conservatory of Music. We are ready to teach you! Give us a call today 248-656-1925.

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