If you are taking up piano lessons, or are a proficient pianist, you would have come across the term octave during the music lessons, or while playing for a choir. The term Octave is derived from the Latin Word Octo which means eight. Wonder how many octaves are in a piano? An octave is a series of eight notes that are integral for composing a tune on a piano. There are also two types of octaves, namely the scale and the interval octave. Let us discuss the octaves in a piano tune and its variations in different pianos here.
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What is an Octave?
Pianos initially has only five octaves and soon they grew to be seven octaves. These additional notes help composers to write tunes on larger scales and pianists play new sounds. The octave scale is a series of notes, that iterates through the seven notes of a particular scale until the pianist arrives at the note that they have started on. For example, if we take the G major note, we iterate through all the notes of the G Major and finish on the G major. But it is not the same G that the tune started with, and it belongs to the next G up on the piano. This is referred to as an octave higher and it is referred to as the next occurrence of the note they started on.
The octave can also be referred to as an interval, in a way that the fifth note is five notes apart and an octave is eight notes apart. The bottom note in a modern piano is A, and there are also seven more A’s on the piano thus there are seven octaves. The number of octaves depends on the number of keys on the piano. Older pianos had only seven octaves, but the modern pianos have additional three notes, namely B, B flat, and C to endure seven octaves along with additional three notes.
Octaves in Different Types of Pianos
The modern-day piano is derived from the harpsichord, which had more than one set of keys. Each of its keys has around four octaves in length. When the first generation pianos were invented, it has only four octaves. Pianos underwent a series of continuous development before they settled into the current modern design. Its octave range expanded, mainly because the musicians demanded it. With an expanded key range and octave range, the pianist can compose elaborate music. Modern-day pianos are stronger and are capable of handling more strings, keys, and octaves. Let us discuss the different types of pianos and the number of octaves they have.
a. Extra Small pianos: (2-3 octaves)
These pianos have 25 to 37 keys and possess only two to three octaves. They are used to make electronic music only and are comprised of spring-loaded keys. They are useful for music composition and not for stage performances. These pianos can be plugged into the computer through a USB or MIDI port and it also makes use of programs such as Sibelius to compose music. These are not great for learning and practicing music.
b. Small pianos: (4 octaves)
The small pianos have only 49 keys and are still very basic. The keys of the piano feature a spring-loaded action and are designed for practice and learning. These pianos come with basic sounds and are designed for complete beginners, who are looking to play pianos without spending much money. These pianos are also extremely portable and are more of beginners’ pianos. The number of octaves in this piano is only four.
c. Medium-sized pianos: (5 octaves)
The medium-sized pianos have 61 keys and these are probably the best pianos for those who wish to start playing on the keyboard. These are the standard electronic keyboards and are slightly larger. These are standard pianos for gig and studio musicians who will use them for playing pop music. These are portable and versatile pianos and are great for composing good-quality music.
d. Large pianos with 76 keys: (6 ½ octaves)
This is an exceptional piano for serious musicians to practice and perform in the instrument. This piano with 76 keys are great for both beginners and intermediate pianist and its keys are weighted and touch-sensitive.
e. Large pianos: (7 octaves)
The large-size pianos have 85 keys and are close to real-size pianos. These pianos could be slightly limiting if you play music by some composers. The 85-key pianos are the same as that piano with 88 keys but they lack the additional three treble keys. These pianos are quite rare to find and are generally the format used in 1940s pianos.
f. Standard pianos: (7 ¼ octaves)
The 88-key pianos are standard instruments and are the standard minimum for a real piano. Most of the acoustic pianos that are manufactured in modern times belong to this standard range and comprise the full range of 88 keys. These pianos have 52 white keys and 36 black keys that offer them seven octaves and a minor third. The additional quarter octave gives these pianos the three additional treble notes, namely B, C, and Bb.
A full-sized piano has 88 keys with 52 white and 36 black keys. The white keys of the piano comprise notes C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. The black notes make up the sharps and flats notes. The F- sharp note is also referred to as G- flat. It is mandatory to use sharps in some instances and flats in other instances. In the standard piano with 88 keys, there are 7 octaves.
If we consider only the black keys, each octave comprises 12 notes and if we consider the white keys, the octave has 8 keys. There are only 7 different notes on the piano and the 8th note is the octave, which is the same as that of the first note. A thorough understanding of the octaves in the piano helps in piano composing and playing experience and enriches one’s musical journey.