Is the piano a percussion instrument?
Or is it a stringed instrument such as the guitar?
This has been a long debate.
As a piano player AND a guitar player, I have a certain view on the subject. Let’s say that on the piano you don’t usually touch the strings. You don’t even need to know that they are there.
Unless you are playing on an acoustic piano that gets out of tune and you watch the piano tuner operating to save you from the ugly dissonances!
But in reality, it is both of course: the mechanism of sound production on the piano comes from hammers hitting strings of different lengths and tension.
So, you don’t touch the strings to produce a sound. Except if you go inside your piano (if it is not a digital one as most people now) to pinch directly the strings as in this video:
Overwise, I will consider it mainly as a percussion instrument. And yes, percussion instruments can have different pitches, such as timpani, xylophones, or tubular bells.
(If you don’t know the masterpiece Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, I beg you to listen to it now. Forget about this article and everything else for the next 48:48 minutes to discover this music. Worth it!)
Let’s see now why you should bother about the piano being a percussion instrument or not.
There are (at least) 3 reasons why knowing this will help you become a better piano player.
1. Learn to release the keys
If you play drums and you want to hit more than once the snare, you shouldn’t keep the stick on the snare after hitting it. The sound won’t be good and you will have to lift your hand again before being able to hit it again.
On the piano, it is a bit the same. You have to release the keys to be able to press them again quickly.
Also, it will help to use the full dynamics of the instrument for each note. And avoid resonance between notes to have a clean playing.
Not that easy to do but worth it.
Practice slowly your scales for example with a nice release of each key before pressing the next one.
2. Don’t press, hit the keys
I have seen people pressing a key and doing movements with their hands, like a vibration, supposedly modulating the sound.
Unless they play on an electronic keyboard with aftertouch, I don’t see the point. The sound doesn’t change on a piano once you have pressed a key.
What I wanted to say here is that you may have to hit the keys to make the sound you want on the piano. If you want to play louder, you have to hit faster. Not pressing more.
It may seem obvious, but it goes with the previous point. The release. If you want to play fast and loud, you have to practice hitting the keys without spending too much time on each key.
First, it will help you play faster.
Second, it will help you staying relaxed.
Indeed, when you try to press harder the keys, you will contract to exert this pressure. It will slow you down and you will be tense.
On the contrary, if you hit fast and strongly the key, your fingers will be back up ready to play the next notes and your hand will be stay contracted for a fraction of time only.
3. Use rhythm
This is more general to get a different view of the piano as an instrument and how you approach the playing.
If you see it as a percussion instrument, you will keep in mind the rhythmic aspect of playing the piano.
See for example Jerry Lee Lewis hitting the keys in this crazy rock’n roll:
So is the piano a percussion instrument? And why is it important for you?
So, what do you think? Percussion or string?
Next time you put your hands on the piano (today?), think of it as a percussion instrument.
Each note you play is a percussive event.
Do you want to play chords? The piano hammers have to hit the strings at the same time, with the same speed. So practice that.
Do you want your scales to sound clean at high speed? Practice first slowly focusing on releasing each key after the other.
You want to play rock’n roll? well, you know the trick.