Is Piano a Percussion Instrument? (Not what you think)



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I recently was in a heated debate about whether a piano was a stringed or percussion instrument. We are nerds, I know, but the cool thing is nerds will eventually take over the world, so there’s that… 


The answer to that question might seem straightforward at first glance, but as with many things in life, it’s not quite as simple as it seems.

The piano is a stringed instrument. Its music flows from the vibrations of its strings when struck by felt-covered hammers.

Yet, this hammer action has sparked an ongoing debate among musicians and music enthusiasts alike: does the piano’s hammer strikes also categorize it as a percussion instrument?

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the acoustic piano mysteries dying to be unraveled!

We’ll dissect what defines various types of instruments and where exactly the piano fits within this broad family of instruments. 

piano strings

What is a Piano?

A piano isn’t just any music-making device. It straddles the line between two different families of instruments: percussion and string. This is regardless of it’s digital as well. In fact, my favorite digital piano a Yamaha, read our Yamaha P-71 review.

Why can a piano be considered a percussion instrument?

When we think about drums or xylophones, what comes to mind? They’re both percussion instruments because they make sound when something strikes them.

And guess what? That’s exactly how a piano works too!

When you press down on one of its keys, it triggers a felt-covered hammer that hits – or rather ‘strikes’ – a wire string inside the instrument.

This hammer action sets off vibrations in the strings that our ears perceive as music.

So if we examine the mechanics of an acoustic piano, we’ll see it shares this striking similarity with other members in the family of percussion instruments.

In fact, every time those hammers strike against those tightly wound strings inside your beloved upright or grand piano, you’re technically making percussive sounds.

Why can a piano be considered a string instrument?

Now let’s flip things around and consider another aspect: Despite its hammering mechanism akin to percussion types of instruments, isn’t it clear that without those elegantly spun wires – often referred to as ‘piano strings’, there would be no melody or harmony? Yes indeed!

The pitch produced by each key depends entirely on which specific string (or group of strings) gets struck by the corresponding hammer within this complex apparatus we call the ‘piano’.

The length and tension level of these strings directly influence their vibrational frequency and thus determine their assigned notes.

Therefore, much like guitars and violins which are widely recognized as quintessential stringed instruments due to their reliance on vibrating strings for sound production – pianos, surprisingly enough, fall into this category too.

So in a way, every touch of the keys by a musician brings about a symphony of string and hammer strikes, painting an acoustic picture that’s as rich and complex as the instrument itself.

So there you have it!

A piano is both – a percussion and string instrument. It’s the best of both worlds which makes it such an incredibly versatile musical tool. Now, aren’t you glad you asked?

What is a Percussion Instrument?

A percussion instrument, at its core, is any musical instrument that produces sound by being struck or shaken. You’re probably thinking of drums and cymbals right off the bat – and you’d be correct! But there’s more to this family of instruments than just those.

Picture an orchestra for a moment. See the wide array of types of instruments?

Now think about how many of them generate sound through striking or shaking – xylophones, tambourines, maracas…the list goes on.

That’s the beauty of percussion instruments; they encompass far more than most people realize.

Now think about how a super popular instrument in the acoustic piano.

When a musician presses one of the piano keys, it triggers a felt-covered hammer action which then strikes the piano strings to create sound – so basically hammer strikes = sound!

So yes, while pianos are technically part of the string instruments category due to their strings generating sound (hence “piano string”), they also fall under the percussion category because that sound wouldn’t be possible without some good ol’ fashioned hammering action.

It’s fascinating isn’t it?

percussion instrument

Is Piano String or Percussion?

What Makes Something A String Instrument?

Stringed instruments are musical marvels that produce sound through vibrating strings.

When you pluck, bow, or strike a string on these types of instruments, it vibrates at a specific frequency creating the notes we hear. Guitars, violins and cellos are prime examples of this family of instruments.

The piano also falls under this category because it has strings – over 200 in fact!

Each time a pianist presses down on one of those black or white keys on an acoustic piano, there’s magic happening inside. A felt-covered hammer strikes a string (or set of strings), causing them to vibrate and emit that familiar beautiful piano note.

But wait! Isn’t striking something with a hammer sounding eerily similar to how percussion instruments work? So why isn’t the piano classified as percussion?

Why Can The Piano Not Be Considered a Percussion Instrument?

Just to be clear, a piano classifies as both percussion and string, but a case can be made either way.

Percussion instruments are typically defined by their ability to create sound when they’re hit or struck. Think about drums, tambourines and marimbas.

They rely solely on the actual impact itself to generate sound.

However, there’s an essential distinction here: In case of pianos, the hammers don’t create the music; they merely act as intermediaries between the musician and strings.

While pianos have elements that share characteristics with both stringed and percussion families – it’s technically accurate to say they belong more firmly in the realm of stringed instruments due to their fundamental mechanism for producing sounds.

man working on piano strings

So, what’s the verdict?

Let’s circle back to our initial understanding of these two types of instruments.

A percussion instrument makes sound by being hit or shaken, while a stringed instrument produces sound through the vibration of strings.

And as we all know, an acoustic piano creates its melodies when you press the keys, causing felt-covered hammers to strike steel strings inside the piano.

So where does this leave us in our debate? Well, because those hammer strikes are involved in producing sounds from a piano string, I’d say it definitely shares some characteristics with percussion instruments.

The hammer action is akin to how you would play a drum or xylophone after all.

But at its core – no pun intended – an acoustic piano falls under both the family of string instruments and percussion. With the general consensus being percussion first and string second. 

That’s because even though there’s hammering going on behind-the-scenes (or should I say beneath-the-keys), those beautiful notes we hear are ultimately made possible by vibrating strings.

So there you have it! It seems our beloved piano wears two hats – one as a member of the string family and another as an honorary member among percussionists.

And isn’t that just music to your ears, no?

Check out our other piano tips and guides articles to get a full understanding of the piano.