Close up of piano keys

The Anatomy of a Piano

Just like the human body, the anatomy of an acoustic piano is quite fascinating! There are many different moving “body parts” and “limbs”  that must work together perfectly to make the oh so wonderful noise that we call piano music. In this blog post, I wanted to continue the theme of learning more about the piano itself, and dissect an acoustic piano.

*note – click on the title of each paragraph to see a picture

I’ll start with an easy one – the keys are the white rectangles we press down to make noise.  Although we only see about 6-7 inches of them, each key is actually closer to two feet in length.  The rest of it extends into the body of the piano and acts like a lever (think teeter-totter).

The hammer is a thin, wooden stick that has a ball of felt on the end of it.  The hammer is activated when a key is pressed down, which causes the back of the key to go up, and trigger a spring that causes the hammer to be launched at the strings and strike it to make it vibrate and make sound.

These are cushions that rest on the strings to “dampen” (clever name, huh?) the sound made by the strings.  When a key is pressed, it lifts the damper right before the hammer hits the string so that the string will make a sound. When the key is let go, the damper comes back down to stop the string from vibrating, thus stopping it from making any more noise.

The strings, which are made of metal and stretched veerrrry tightly, are what the hammer hits to produce sound. What you may not know, though, is that each note will have anywhere from two to three strings per note (the majority have three), instead of just one string per note.

You can think of these as funny little appendages sticking out of the body like feet! First, we have the sustain pedal (the far right one on most pianos, or if there is only one pedal on a piano or keyboard it is this one). When pressed, the dampers will be raised, allowing the strings that have been struck by the hammer to “sustain” their notes. Whatever notes are played, as long as the pedal keeps being pressed down, will sustain.

The middle appendage, lovingly called the sostenuto pedal, is similar to its brother, the sustain pedal, with its major distinction being that it will only sustain the note(s) of what are being held down when it is pressed, but none after that.  Think of it this way – in my Piano In A Flash Method, we typically play chords with the left hand.  If you wanted just the chord notes to sustain their sound (but nothing else you may play after), you could press that pedal right after playing the chord, and then proceed to play the melody or anything else and it would not get sustained. Pretty cool huh?

Last but certainly not least, is the far left appendage, the una corda pedal. Its nickname, the “soft pedal,” better describes what it does.  Remember how I mentioned that each note has typically 3 strings? Well, when the una corda pedal is pressed down, it shifts all the hammers in the piano to the right, causing them to only strike two strings, making a softer sound. Press that pedal down a few times in a row while watching the keyboard and you can see all the keys shift horizontally ever so slightly, then shift back once you release the pedal.

Although there is much more that goes into these beautiful instruments, these main “organs” (keyboard pun intended) so to speak are what really make up a piano and help bring our music to life.  I hope you enjoyed this “dissection” of this incredible instrument!

Happy playing
Scott Houston


  • Frank Barcelona
    Posted at 08:46h, 14 June

    Interesting, and I will try to use my pedals more .

  • Joseph bennett
    Posted at 09:27h, 14 June

    Thank you for basics facts that I didn’t know before your enlightenment.

  • Cindy
    Posted at 10:23h, 14 June

    Very nice article! I have played classical piano for 10 years and Piano in a Flash for four years. I have learned more in the four years with Flash than I have every learned! Great way to play and have fun.

  • Steve DeLong
    Posted at 17:57h, 14 June

    Very interesting! I wish I had something similar to disect my digital keyboard. Way too many knobs and buttons for an old guy like me

  • Glenda
    Posted at 01:50h, 04 July

    This is going to be sooo much fun. I have taken piano lessons for several years and this is all new information to me.

  • Irene Balowski
    Posted at 16:32h, 18 December

    I have never played any instrument and never learned to read music. I bought Lesson 1 after watching the introductory lesson and was elated to find myself actually playing a song using both hands fairly soon. My husband was so impressed, he bought me the remaining Lessons for Christmas. This is going to be so much fun! Thank you.

  • Christopher
    Posted at 06:19h, 07 August

    Great Article, Thanks!

  • Arthur Glover
    Posted at 09:20h, 09 October

    You forgot to mention the black keys and what they do. I always tell my piano students that the black keys have a split personality. They can make a note sharp (#) or flat (b). For example, the black note between the keys of C and D can be called C# or Db depending on the key of the song.

    Posted at 08:45h, 02 July

    very interesting and informative