Is the Piano a Percussion or Stringed Instrument?
Pianos are considered to be both stringed and percussion instruments. A piano is played by pressing keys/notes (by hand), upon which a hammer percussively hits a string within the piano.
Because of its unique working mechanism, many of us find classifying this instrument find a little bit tricky.
Invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori in the early 1700s, a piano is one of the most popular and generally most beautiful instruments. However, it is also one of the most complex instruments around, despite it hasn’t essentially changed for three centuries.
The Hammer hits the String
Besides the 88 keys on a piano, there are also 88 strings and 88 hammers. Every key is connected with one hammer. Once you press the key, the connected hammer will hit a string.
Each string features a different length, which determines the pitch. Therefore, if you open a piano, you will find something that looks a lot like a harp or lyre. If you go from left to right, the strings are shorter and shorter, which makes them sound higher and higher.
Why the Piano is a Stringed Instrument
If we take the Hornbostel–Sachs system of classification as a reference, a piano belongs to the group of chordophone instruments. Those are instruments that produce sound by string vibration.
As you may presume, this group includes instruments like harp, lyre, guitar, violin, and all other instruments with strings.
As the piano also produces sound thanks to string vibrations, it’s not hard to conclude that it belongs to the group of string instruments.
Why the Piano is also a Percussion Instrument
Soundwise, a piano belongs to the group of string instruments. On the other hand, if we take the method of playing as a reference, things are a little bit different. Things aren’t the same as with most string instruments that are played with a bow or by picking.
In this case, as we already mentioned, the sound comes from a hammer that hits the string once you press a key. If we look at what’s happening inside the piano, things are pretty similar to instruments like cimbalon.
A cimbalom is played with mallets and it’s all about hitting the strings with them. This is what puts an instrument like a cimbalom in the group of percussion instruments.
If we stick to the same principle, a piano also belongs to this group of musical instruments, which is known as chordophone percussion instruments.
To conclude, a piano belongs to both string and percussion instruments. As it makes sound through string vibration, it is a string instrument.
On the other hand, the way of playing makes it a chordophone percussion instrument. Therefore, you won’t be wrong either if you call the piano a string or percussion instrument.
If you want to sound 100% correct, it would be best to call it both a stringed and percussion instrument.