Differences Between Piano, Keyboard, Organ and Harpsichord (and their digital versions)

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In this blog post we explain the differences between piano, keyboards, and digital pianos. We also explain the differences between piano and organ and organ and electric organ


The main types are 2 when it comes to acoustic models :Grand Piano and Upright.

1 . The “Grand” version is the one that you usually see in concerts and big events: it is very large and can take a large area as it has a sort of “tail” that goes in width.

This can be also subdivided in more categories that have different lenghts (and this is the main difference between those different models), as we have:

  • Baby Grand (About 1.5 meters of lenght);
  • Parlor Grand/Boudoir Grand (going from 1.7 meters to a maximum of up to 2.2 meters);
  • Concert Grand (between 2.2 and 3 meters)

2 . The “Upright” version (also called “vertical” because of the way smaller size) is most commonly used in homes for practicing pieces and studying songs, as it’s smaller and way more compact.

Another mention should also go to the Hybrid models, that are in fact acoustic but with also a built-in MIDI platform that allows them to be also used as MIDI controller despite being also capable of generating the sounds with acoustic means.

Piano vs. keyboard: main differences and perks

Piano and keyboard are two of the most popular musical instruments in the world.

The differences between those two are many, though, and some of those differences are:

  • How they produce sound: a piano is an acoustic instrument that uses strings (despite not being visible because they’re inside the piano, but in fact the notes are produced by some types of hammers that press a string when you press the corresponding key on the black-and-white typical set of keys on the instrument), while a keyboard reproduces sounds using circuits and usually using a so-called keyboard matrix circuit that helps reducing the amount of required wires;
  • The internal structure: as said in the previous point, in an acoustic piano you have strings, damper (for blocking the sound) and hammers for generating the sound, while in a keyboard there are only electronic switches that are activated by the pressure of a key;
  • The dynamics and the sound’s nuances: in a piano you can control how loud is the sound (controlling the pressure of the keys), the lenght of a note and its fading (by using piano pedals as well) and overall the dynamic of the instrument, while in the majority of cases in a keyboard there isn’t a change in sound whether you hit the notes softly or strongly;
  • The size: obviously you can’t take around a full acoustic piano in a easy comfortable way, while a keyboard has the huge advantage of being fully portable (for this reason it’s also commonly known as portable/home/ digital keyboard);
  • The sounds that can be eventually produced: a keyboard can emulate also other instruments and doesn’t limit to this sound;
  • The number of keys: traditionally a piano has 88 keys, while a keyboard can have different number of those depending on the size, usually stopping at 66 keys for biggest models

These are the main differences between those two: in short, the main one is that the first is an acoustic instrument while the latter is basically a synth that replicate the sound of the first using circuits and electronic mechanisms

Piano vs Digital Piano: what’s the difference?

The main difference between those 2 is basically the same difference bewteen the first and a keyboard: a digital piano is in fact made for resembling more the look of an actual piano but the sound is basically the same of a keyboard.

Also, this digital version is only focused on pianoforte sounds, while in the other case it can also have more instruments in the built-in sound catalogue: basically, digital pianoforte is nothing more than a hyper-focused keyboard.

Piano vs. Organ: what is different between them?

  • First has the already mentioned sound system with hammers hitting the built-in strings in the instrument, while organ works by modulating the air pressure withing the pipes of the instrument. When you press a key on the organ’s keyboard, you activate an internal mechanism that blocks the air and redirect it to a specific pipe, and the “travel” (and how long does it last) also influence the air pressure, that will generate a different sound because it will go to a different pipe with a differeng overall lenght (as you usually see every pipe has a different lenght that influence the pitch of the sound);
  • A pianoforte has traditionally 88 keys (that goes through 7 octaves as sound range) all in the same row of keys, while on the other instrument you have more rows (those levels of keys are called “manuals”) and the most common type has 61 keys (but it can also vary a lot depending on models)

Organ vs. Digital Organ: differences between those 2 instruments

The differences between those 2 instruments is in fact the same difference between piano and digital pianos: the acoustic sound system is replaced by electronic circuits and MIDI, so the size could also become a lot smaller in digital models (usually, though, they are made in order to look similarly to acoustic models).

The sound is then amplified internally and become output thanks to loudspeakers or amplifiers.

The Hammond Organ B3

One very well-known model of Digital Organ is the Hammond Organ b3, invented by Laurens Hammond in 1934, that uses the so called “tone-wheels” to generate sound.

In short, those tonewheels works in tandem with sliding drawbars and generate sounds using magnetism, and the generated soundwaves are then sent to the output (an amp speaker).

One of the most used speakers model for the Hammond is the Leslie, and Leslie Speakers have become the most popular option for speaker section despite the two founder of Hammond and Leslie were not actually fine with the “collaboration” (as the first had already designed its own speaker models that were meant to be used together with the digital organ, but then Leslie designed other speakers that were despised by Laurens because not sounding like how he wanted them to sound, and because he considered those new speaker models as some ripoffs).


The Harpsichord is basically the ancestor of the piano: actually, the second is just a re-design of the first, made by Bartolomeo Cristofori in Italy around the year 1700 because he wanted more control over the sound and also he wanted a more loud volume (the first one, by the way, is thought to be invented somewhen in the 12th century period).

The piano was also originally called “Clavicembalo col piano e forte” (Translated in English with “key cimbalom with soft and loud” because it allowed way more dynamics and nuances in the sound), then shortened in “pianoforte” or “fortepiano” (translated in english with “soft and loud” or “loud and soft”); in the end, the name was then shortened to the modern version, “piano” (you can read more about this name history on here).

The main differences between those two are:

  • The sound mechanism: the harpsichord works with plucking the internal strings (when you press a key there is a plectrum that goes to pluck the corresponding internal string of the instrument) while his “redesigned” version works with hitting the string with a hammer-like mechanism;
  • The number of keys and therefore the octaves range that can be obtained with those: the pianoforte has 88 keys and can reach 7 octaves of sound range, while the other has usually 60 keys and can play notes within 5 octaves;
  • The keyboard: in the harpsichord the keys are made in wood and can have reversed colours than a piano (with the so called reverse keyboard), while the pianoforte was made since the beginning with ivory keys (and today also plastic);
  • The sound and the dynamics: notes can last longer with piano because of the hammer/dampener mechanism (when you press a key you hit the string and when you release the pressure on the key the dampener comes and mute the sound, but if you keep pushing that for a longer period you delay the action of the dampener, so you can make notes last longer); on the other hand, because of the plucking mechanism of the other instrument, the resonation and the sound lasts way less (just like in a guitar)


As you’ve seen, the differences between the acoustic versions of those mentioned musical instruments are definitely remarkable, but when it comes to their digital versions they basically work in a very similar way.

Seen from another point of view, the electronic versions are also nothing more than some synthesizers that just emulate the sound of their “ancient” versions that worked with acoustic and mechanical pieces.


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