Upright Versus Grand Pianos

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Today we’re going to compare uprights to baby grands and determine which are better. This is a very popular question. People may think they don’t have enough room for a baby grand piano and that a large upright will suffice or possibly sound better than a baby grand. This is because large uprights can have longer string length than smaller baby grands as well as larger soundboards. There is a lot to think about with this question.

Fundamental Differences between Baby Grands and Uprights:

I will tell you right out of the gate that I have a bias. I believe baby grands and grand pianos are fundamentally better instruments than upright pianos. There are a number of reasons why I believe they are superior instruments. First let’s consider why you might want to consider getting an upright piano.

There are 2 Good Reasons to Get an upright:

One reason to get an upright is if you have limited space. The other reason to consider getting an upright piano is if you have a limited budget. However, placement of a baby grand can sometimes be far simpler than placing an upright. Consider that an upright piano takes up 5-feet wall space which you may not have available. Whereas a baby grand piano looks good from any angle which offers more versatility in placement. As far as budget is concerned, you’re going to have to invest more to get a high quality baby grand compared to an upright. So this could be a final determination for you.

Reasons Why a Baby Grand Offers Higher Performance:

If you’ve talked to me about pianos in person or on the phone, you know I always stress the importance of considering the long term implications when purchasing a piano. Unlike buying a car, a refrigerator, almost anything else you buy, the piano you purchase you will probably keep the rest of your life if you buy the right one since they last a very long time.

Since the back of an upright piano is unfinished, they are almost always placed against a wall. Since the sound comes out the back of upright pianos, the sound goes into the wall. Whereas a baby grand or grand piano’s sound is projected into the room. So, there is a sonic benefit to the design of baby grands.

All Students Eventually Outgrow Even the Finest Upright Pianos

Something that baby grands and grand pianos offer is a superior action. In vertical piano actions on upright pianos, the hammers travel sideways. So, there is a limitation to the speed of repetition compared to a grand piano action which has the benefit of gravity since the hammers travel up and down. Even a mediocre baby grand piano can offer much more rapid repetition than a fine upright piano. Uprights will not repeat with a tremendous amount of energy because gravity is not working for it the way it does on grand pianos.

There is More to Piano Actions than Just Speed:

Another area in which grand piano actions are superior to upright actions is in key length. Grand pianos generally have longer keys than upright pianos – not the part you see, but behind the fallboard. Larger grand pianos have even longer keys than baby grands! This is important since pushing shorter keys on upright pianos is like being close to the center on a seesaw. It’s difficult because you are in a weak point of leverage the closer you get to the fallboard. It’s difficult to push black keys and between black keys on upright pianos relative to the ends of the keys. Grand pianos have a more consistent feel because the leverage is more even from the front to the back of the keys.

Pedals On Grand Pianos:

Only the sustain pedal has the same function on upright pianos as on grand pianos. The other two pedals on almost all uprights do not do what they are supposed to do. If you ever push the left pedal, you notice that the entire action shifts to the side slightly on grand pianos. Whereas normally hammers strike three strings through most of the piano, when you depress the una corda pedal, the hammers only strike two of the strings dead on when this pedal is engaged. This gives a change of tonal color. On upright pianos, the soft pedal does not change the tone. Instead, it alters the touch by making the hammers advance closer to the strings making it more difficult to play loud. One of the most extraordinary aspects of expressiveness on the piano is the use of the soft pedal. This is something that is important to experience. The middle pedal (sostenuto) which is rarely utilized in piano music usually doesn’t function properly on upright pianos. Usually they are practice pedals which make the sound soft by engaging felt between the hammers and the strings.

Well Worth the Investment:

So, if you have the space and the budget, you will be rewarded with superior action, projection of sound, full pedal functionality, as well as a more elegant piece of furniture if you get a baby grand or grand piano. Plus, piano students who practice on baby grands or grand pianos progress more quickly than those who have uprights at home since lessons, recitals and competitions are most often played on grand pianos and being used to these instruments gives students a competitive advantage.

This is Robert Estrin at LivingPianos.com. We welcome your questions and comments. Info@LivingPianos.com 949-244-3729