Wonder Contributors

Today’s Wonder of the Day was submitted to us by our Wonder Friend, Lindsay of Lewis Center, OH. As of today, this Wonder submission has received 232 votes! Way to go, Lindsay! Keep WONDERing with us!

Have you ever played a real piano? If so, you know how fun it can be to start at one end of the keyboard and run your finger all the way to the opposite end, playing all of the notes in the process.

Unlike xylophones, which have up to 40 keys, or most woodwind instruments, which have a limited number of keys, pianos have a whopping 88 keys. Each key represents a different note, giving the piano a wide range of sounds.

Have you ever WONDERed why the piano has 88 keys, though? Why not 44? Or 212? Why 88? The answer, as it turns out, has both historical and practical aspects.

The piano got its start as a modification of the harpsichord, which had 60 keys. The first pianos, therefore, usually had 60 keys. 60 keys represented five octaves, since there are 12 notes in an octave.

As more and more pianos were made, composers began to write more music for the piano. It wasn’t long before their compositions took them beyond the five octaves available on pianos at that time. Composers began to work with piano makers to create pianos with more keys, so that they could write new music with a wider range.

Over the course of the history of the piano, you can find many different versions of pianos with many different numbers of keys. By the mid-1800s, pianos had expanded to a full seven octaves.

In the late 1880s, popular piano manufacturer Steinway created the 88-key piano that is the standard today. Other manufacturers followed Steinway’s lead and 88 keys has been the standard ever since.

The 88-key piano features a full seven octaves, plus a few other notes. Why stop at 88 keys? Most composers don’t write music that includes notes beyond those available on the 88-key piano. Plus, notes lower or higher than those on the 88-key piano aren’t easy for the human ear to hear as distinct notes beyond those that already exist.

Today’s modern piano has 52 white keys and 36 black keys. The white keys represent the musical tones A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. The black keys differ from the white keys in that they represent half-step intervals — known as sharps and flats — between various notes. A group of seven white keys and five black keys together make up the 12 notes we call an octave.

As artists tend to do, there are piano makers out there today who are still pushing the boundaries of the piano’s capabilities. Stuart and Sons, an Australian piano manufacturer, now makes a “super” grand piano that features 102 keys, 14 more than the norm.

Could pianos be made with even more keys? The answer is yes, but there are many considerations that weigh against pianos with even more keys. In addition to the fact that the human ear can’t distinguish many of these added notes, pianos with more keys tend to be longer and heavier than normal pianos — and more expensive. For example, a 102-key Stuart and Sons piano can cost as much as $300,000!

54 Join the Discussion

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  1. THOUGHT: A piano is a very nice instrument. It’s kinda like a slow kind of music.
    CONNECTION: My sister used to take piano lessons.
    PREDICTION: My prediction the instrument trumpet.
    WWOTD: Today’s wonder word distinguish: distinguish means mark as different. Antarctic terns can be distinguished by their bright red bills, feet, and legs.

    • Hello, Janiya! Thanks for WONDERing with us today! We loved your sentence using the Wonder Word, distinguish! The Antarctic tern certainly sounds like a pretty bird! :-)

  2. Thought: I thought the video was kind of boring!!!
    Connection:I have a connection. I have tried to play the piano, but it was kind of hard.
    WWotd: distinguish – mark as different
    I can distinguish prime numbers and a composite numbers.
    PREDICTION: I think it is going to be a related wonder.

  3. THOUGHT: I thought that the passage was informative, and the video was rather interesting.

    CONNECTION: I connected, because my older cousin is really good at the piano. My grandpa teaches me and her whenever we go over there together.

    PREDICTION:I predict that the next wonder will be about jazz music.

    WWOTD:distinguish-mark as different

    • How WONDERful that your Grandpa teaches you how to play the piano, Erick. We hope that you get to visit him as much as possible! Thanks for WONDERing with us, Erick!

  4. THOUGHT: I thought that pianos only had 54 keys, not 88.

    CONNECTION: My grandma has a piano.

    WWOTD: I can distinguish the difference between a prime number and a composite number.

    PREDICTION: I predict tomorrow’s wonder will be about jazz music.

    • We are so glad that you were able to learn something new today, Destiny! We hope that you get to play your Grandma’s piano as much as possible! Thanks for WONDERing with us! :-)

  5. Thought: How do people play the piano that good?

    Connection: My mom and grandma play the piano.

    WWOTD: distinguish – I can distinguish the difference between a prime and composite number.

    Prediction: I predict I will learn to play piano.

  6. THOUGHT:I liked the video.
    CONNECTION:I know how to play the piano.
    WWOTD:distinguish-mark as as different!
    PREDICTION:music.

  7. Dear Wonderopolis,

    We predict that tomorrow’s WONDER of the day will be about jazz music OR about people playing instruments.

    Thanks so much,
    Ms. Davidson’s Science B

    • Happy Monday, to Ms. Davidson’s Science B class! We are so glad to have you WONDERing with us today! Please check back with us tomorrow to see if your prediction was correct! :-)

  8. THOUGHT: I have played a piano before, and yes, I like holding the keys down and go from one end to another.

    CONNECTION: One of my family members back in the days, was a popular piano artist.

    PREDICTION: I predict that tomorrow’s wonder will be about jazz instruments.

    EXAMPLE: I can distinguish the difference between a prime number and a composite number.

    WWOTD: Distinguish means “mark as different”.

    • How WONDERful, Jenna! That is exciting to know that you have a famous pianist in your family! We think it would be fun and interesting to find out more about our ancestry! :-)

  9. We are still WONDERing:

    – How do pianos make low and high sounds?
    – Why are the high notes on the right side and the low notes on the left side?
    – Can there be more black keys than white keys?

  10. THOUGHT: I thought this sounded AWESOME.

    CONNECTION: I’m gonna ask my mom if I can have piano lessons.

    WWOTD: distinguish

    PREDICTION:I bet tomorrow’s wonder will be about jazz music.

    • WONDERful, Alex! We think taking piano lessons sounds like fun! Check back with us tomorrow to see your prediction was correct! :-)

  11. THOUGHT: I thought the video was kind of long.
    CONNECTION: I have a piano.
    WWOTD: DISTINGUISH-mark as different.
    EX: I can DISTINGUISH the difference between a prime number and a composite number.
    PREDICTION: Tomorrow’s wonder will be about jazz music.

  12. Thought:That was some good piano playing.

    Connection: Actually, I do like to run my finger down the keys.

    Prediction: Will tomorrow’s wonder be about jazz music?

    WWOTD: I can distinguish the difference between running and walking.

    • We are so glad that you enjoyed today’s Wonder, Christopher! Check back with us tomorrow to see if your prediction was correct! :-)

  13. THOUGHT: It was ah-mazing. How do you learn to play music like that?
    CONNECTION : I am getting a piano.
    WWOTD: I can distinguish the differences between a prime number and a composite number.
    PREDICTION: I predict tomorrow’s wonder will be about jazz and blues music.

    • We think it is cool that you are getting a piano, London! We are also glad that you enjoyed today’s Wonder! Keep WONDERing with us! :-)

  14. THOUGHT: I thought it was good.
    PREDICTION: Tomorrow’s wonder is about all types of music.
    CONNECTION: I can play the piano a little bit.
    WWOTD: distinguish-mark as different.

    • Hi, Jaylen! We think it is cool that you can play the piano, even if it is just a little bit. Keep practicing and WONDERing with us! :-)

  15. Thought:I think the video and passage are very interesting.

    Connection:I am learning how to play piano at home.

    WWOTD:I can distinguish the difference between solids and liquid.

    Prediction:I think tomorrow will be about musical instruments.

    • We think it is cool that you are learning to play the piano, Jeremiah! Thanks for WONDERing with us, and check back tomorrow to see if your prediction was correct! :-)

  16. Dear Wonderopolis,

    We predict that tomorrow’s wonder of the day will be about people dancing to jazz music OR about people playing jazz music.

    Thanks so much,
    Ms. Davidson’s Science A

    • What a great prediction from Ms. Davidson’s Science A class! Check back tomorrow to find out if you were right. Thanks for WONDERing with us! :-)

  17. Dear Wonderopolis,

    We enjoyed today’s wonder. A couple of students in our class take piano lessons! We predict that tomorrow’s wonder of the day will be about jazz music OR about the different instruments used to play jazz music.

    Thanks so much,
    Ms. Davidson’s Science C

    • Hello, Ms. Davidson’s Science C class! We are so glad that you enjoyed today’s Wonder! How cool that you all are taking piano lessons! Join us again tomorrow to find out if your prediction was correct! :-)

    • Hi, Josh! Thanks for WONDERing with us, today. Be sure to check out the article under the video. It is full of lots of information. If you still can’t find the answer to your question, be sure to submit your question to our, “What are you wondering” section. Your Wonder question could become a written Wonder of the Day! That is very exciting! :-D

  18. I am still wondering:
    1. Can a piano have less than 88 keys?
    2. How many types of pianos are there?
    3. How many black keys are on the 88 key piano?

    • What WONDERful questions, Abby! If you have access to a piano, it would be fun to count the number of black keys. If you do, please let us know how many you find. :-)

    • What a great Wonder question, Alex! We Wonder if there is a picture of one somewhere, where we could count the keys? Never stop WONDERing, Alex! :-)

  19. Burning Question: Who exactly made the piano?

    Ah-Ha Moment: The tune of that piece was kind of funny.

    Text To World Connection: Stuart and Sons made the super “Grand” Piano.

  20. I thought there was 8 notes in an octave, hence the prefix oct- and the 7 1/2 octaves on the modern-day piano, which I play.

    • That’s right, Noah! There are 8 notes in an octave, and 7 octaves plus a minor third on most modern day pianos. We think it is awesome that you knew the prefix oct meant 8. Way to go, Wonder Friend! :-)

  21. You have to re-word your comment about the guitar. Sure,they have only 6 strings, but multiply that by the number of frets, and you have 122 individual notes to play!

    • Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us, Jody! We updated the Wonder to reflect your comment. We’re really glad you’re WONDERing with us! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Why do pianos have 88 keys?
  • What’s the difference between the black and the white keys on a piano?
  • How many of each color key are there on a piano?

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Try It Out

Whew! Counting all the keys on a piano can take a few moments. Can we count on you to keep counting along with us as you try out one or more of the following activities with a friend or family member?

  • Do you have a piano at home? If you don’t, chances are that you might know someone who owns a piano. Many schools also have pianos in their music rooms. Your mission today, should you choose to accept it, is to find a piano and spend some time with it. Count the keys. Experiment with the low sounds and the high sounds. If you know a simple song, try to play it. If you can get help from a music teacher or someone who knows how to play the piano, ask them to take you on a tour of the piano. What does it look like inside? Can you see the hammers striking the strings when a key is pressed? Maybe you can even learn a simple song!
  • Feeling crafty? It would be extremely hard for you to make your own piano at home. Pianos are large, complex instruments that usually take many talented artisans a long time to make. They can cost thousands of dollars, too. If you’re musically inclined, though, you can Make Your Own Musical Instruments! Simple follow the given directions to make a variety of homemade musical instruments, including bottle flutes, comb clarinets, straw oboes, rubber band guitars, and maracas!
  • Up for a challenge? Jump online and read through Where Math Meets Music. You’ll learn about the mathematics behind the music and why certain notes sound great together…and why others do not. Have fun learning more about how music and math mix!

Still Wondering

Check out Illuminations’ Seeing Music lesson plan to help students visualize the chromatic scale.  

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Wonder What’s Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day is filled with the sounds of jazz!

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