When it comes to finally choosing an instrument, many questions to do with specs arise- digital vs acoustic, portability, dynamic range, MIDI and electronic integration capabilities… and so on. This article will take you through the thoughts to consider when having 69 keys, versus the full 88 keys, or the popular 61 keys for synths and MIDI consoles.
If you’re coming from a jazz or classical background, or you’re just looking to get started with piano playing, you are going to think, is that enough?
From an educational perspective, 5-7 years of studying piano is the experience you have when you start to need to think about playing the sub-bass and high notes on an 88 key piano. The general ABRSM piano curriculum starts to introduce these notes after Grade 6, but even in Grades 7 and 8, most exam pieces don’t require to have the extra range of a full-size piano. The scales requirements also are limited to 4 octaves (5 with two hands). Read more about piano education on Keybird here
Jazz pianists often make deliberate choices to refrain from extensively exploring the top octave and sub-bass regions, taking into account the musical context and ensemble dynamics. Within a jazz composition or arrangement, the pianist carefully considers the balance and cohesion of the ensemble. They may choose to focus on the mid-range melodies and chord voicings, allowing other instruments such as bass, drums, and horns to cover the extreme registers. This approach ensures that each instrument has its designated role and contributes harmoniously to the overall sound. By emphasizing their preferred range, jazz pianists can fully immerse themselves in expressive nuances, intricate improvisations, and delicate phrasing, showcasing their technical prowess and musicality within a comfortable and cohesive sonic framework.
Listen to some wonderful jazz players on the Keybird here
In the classical piano world, where a vast repertoire of pieces is written specifically for the piano, the limited range of 69 keys can present certain challenges and considerations. While it may seem restrictive compared to the standard 88-key piano, skilled classical pianists have mastered the art of expression and interpretation within this range. They utilize the available keys to convey the emotional depth and technical intricacies of classical compositions.
Pianists performing on a 69-key instrument must carefully select repertoire that fits within the given range. Thankfully, the majority of classical compositions can be played within this scope, as the extreme registers are not frequently utilized. Composers traditionally compose within the standard 88-key range, and while some advanced pieces may venture into the higher or lower octaves, the core essence of the music can still be captured on a 69-key piano.
Adapting to a smaller range requires pianists to make slight adjustments in their technique and interpretation. They must pay extra attention to voicing, dynamics, and balance, ensuring that the intended musical expression is conveyed despite the narrower range. This often involves octave transpositions or slight modifications to preserve the integrity and musicality of the piece.
While the 69-key piano may present limitations in terms of certain repertoire choices, it also encourages pianists to explore creative solutions and find alternative approaches to bring out the essence of the music. It reinforces the importance of mastery in interpretation, phrasing, and nuanced expression within the available range.
Ultimately, the choice to perform on a 69-key piano in the classical genre may stem from practicality, personal preference, or historical context. While it may require adaptations, skilled classical pianists can overcome the challenges presented by the limited range, delivering captivating performances that honor the spirit and essence of the compositions they play.
And if you’re looking for your first acoustic piano, read more here