Attention of the Month (III): Piano the Instrument


June 4, 2011

This month I want to talk about our beloved instrument: the piano.

Sometimes we take certain things for granted: I assume students have a decent, well-maintained piano at home, located at a secluded corner away from TV and dining room, so one can practice with much concentration, without being distracted by noise/others. Parents/Students assume a keyboard can replace a piano and that would suffix for regular practice at home, because- what can I say- a keyboard does look very similar to a real piano, has the look-alike keys and pedals.

Now, I am going to make it very clear here: an electric keyboard is not a piano. It may look very similar to a real piano, it may even claim that it has the action or touch similar to a real piano, but no, it is not a piano.

A piano has a unique action, the hammer action. One presses down the key to lift the damper and activate the hammer at the same time to hit the string, and voilà there is sound.

The following diagram is an upright piano action:

(Photo from

Now this is how it works:

(Photo from

This is a grand piano action:

(Photo from

And this is how it works:

(Photo from

Watch the inside action of the piano here:
[qt: 640 360]

Now, an electric keyboard does not have any of those parts shown above: it does not have hammers, strings, dampers. Instead, a keyboard uses a digital or electronic sound module, or tone generator, to produce the sound it needs. Therefore, a keyboard is not the same as a piano and can never replace a piano (no matter some have been saying it can otherwise). Playing these two instruments require two different touches. Playing a keyboard does not require the same complicated detailed meticulous minute control like playing a piano. For me, it is frustrating to play a keyboard when such misfortune happens as it cannot detect the little details or even the essential volume adjustment required to play in the most simple piece. If one wants to learn to play the piano, do not use a keyboard instead; and if one does, one should change to use a piano as soon as possible.
(Read more from: “How Does an Electric Keyboard Work?” at

P.S. You can learn to play an electric keyboard, then you should find a teacher that teaches electric keyboard, not a teacher that teaches piano. But if you want to learn how to play a piano, then NEVER use an electric keyboard to practice with.

A piano should be tuned regularly (four-six months depending on how much you use it). When there is a piano technician around, you should ask him/her to check if there is any problem with the piano other than the tuning, e.g. the action, the hammers, the dampers, the strings, the pedals, etc. etc.

I ask my students to wash their hands every time before their lessons. I also clean my piano (especially the keyboard area) regularly for hygiene purpose. We should take good care of our instrument and do not take it for granted. A piano can be played for many years to come only if we maintain it well.

Teresa Wong

[ad#Google Adsense]

2 thoughts on “Attention of the Month (III): Piano the Instrument

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *