What is a Concert Grand Piano?

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You’ve probably heard the term “Concert Grand Piano” many times in the past and you might have wondered if there is something fundamentally different about a piano that would classify it as a “concert grand” instead of just a regular grand. So what does this term mean?

In some cases the term concert grand is used loosely by people to describe concert level grand pianos they might own. It sounds right, doesn’t it? They have a grand piano and it’s a concert level instrument, so it’s should be safe to call it a concert grand piano, right? Technically, no.

While there are concert level instruments that are smaller than typical concert grand pianos, they are not actually concert grand pianos! Standard concert grand pianos are around 9 feet long. The reason this term is designated to pianos of this size is because in a concert setting, particularly where a piano is used with a symphony orchestra, it will need to be this size in order to produce the volume needed to balance with the orchestra. Concert grand pianos are the standard for Classical performances and recording.

In certain cases where a concert grand piano simply won’t fit in a location or is impractical for a performance (such as with a chamber group where the volume could be overwhelming), a semi-concert grand piano might be an appropriate fit. These pianos are typically around 7 feet long and are fairly close to the sound and feel of concert grands.

So what makes concert grand pianos different from their counterparts? Is it just the size and the sound? There is actually a great deal that differentiates them from smaller pianos.

When I was a student in music conservatory and I was going to practice, I would always peek into the recital hall to see if either of the two concert grand pianos were available because even a few minutes of practice on one of the concert grands would benefit my practice tremendously because of primarily two things: the touch and the sound.

The touch of a concert grand piano is different from a standard grand piano. This is because the keys are longer on a concert grand. It’s not the part of the keys you see, but what’s behind the fallboard. In fact, when you go from a baby grand, to a parlor grand, to a grand and so on up to a concert grand, the keys get longer and longer as you progress to larger instruments. This makes a difference in the feel because on smaller pianos it is more difficult to press the keys down the closer you get to the fallboard. This is because the keys of pianos function like a seesaw. When you are closer to the middle, it’s harder to push down. Since concert grand pianos have longer keys, they have a more even feel from the front to the back of the keys. However, you will also be moving more mass which produces a more formidable feel.

The sound of a concert grand can be an ideal scale design. Smaller pianos offer compromises in sound and touch. Only on concert grand pianos do the strings get longer and longer as you go down the bass on the instrument. On grand and baby grand pianos, the strings are roughly the same length on the bottom half of the keyboard. Therefore, lower notes lack the purity of the fundamental pitch of a concert grand and and produce strong overtones which color the sound.

The tone also develops slower on concert grands than on smaller pianos. I’ve found through my personal experiences that I tend to play slower on concert grand pianos because the tone lasts so much longer, particularly in the bass and tenor registers. If you have the opportunity to play a concert grand piano you should certainly try one out and see how it differs from pianos you are used to.

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