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Upright vs. Grand Pianos


Both the upright and grand pianos come in various finishes, decors and sizes. Whether you choose the different finish, elaborate decor or different sizes to match your furnishings and the amount of space you have at home, a piano will look beautiful in your home.

What are the differences between the upright and the grand?

Other than size, shape and cost differences, the most fundamental differences between the upright and grand pianos are in

  • Action
  • Keys
  • Pedals

Below you will find side-by-side comparisons between upright and grand pianos.

  Grand Piano Upright Piano
Action In grand pianos, the strings lie horizontally and the hammers hit the strings from below. This means the movement of the keys, actions, and hammers are all in-line with gravity. This helps to produce more rapid repetition and control.

Also in general, grand piano action has more advanced features such as a repetition lever to aid in the speed and reliability of repetition of notes.
In upright pianos, the strings are held vertically and the hammers hit the strings from the side. Thus, gravity does not work in its favor. Therefore, in general, upright pianos produce slower repetition compared to grand pianos.
Keys Grand pianos have longer keys. These provide greater leverage, allowing for better touch and more precise control of musical expression.

When we see the keys of a piano, we see only the visible part. However, they are much longer than what we see, extending further inside the piano. Even though the visible portion of the keys is not much different in length, the total length of the key belonging to a grand piano is significantly longer than the one of upright piano. Because the key uses a seesaw-like leverage system, longer the key is, easier it is to produce the same output. As we know, on a see-saw if you sit further away from the pivot, it is easier to lift the other side. This same principle applies to piano keys. This concept is easy to understand by an example, diagramed below.

As you can see, if the length of the key is shorter (B), it requires more input force from your end. More importantly, when you compare forces required for two hitting points on one key, we can see there is less of a difference on the longer key (A). This is because the distance between the two hitting points relative to the total length of the entire key is smaller when the key is longer. This is one major reason why a grand piano gives a more consistent touch. 

Keys are shorter than on grand pianos. Touch is not as good as grand piano, making subtle control of musical expression more difficult.

There are typically three pedals in a piano. They are called, from the left to the right, Una corda, Sostenuto, and Damper.

Piano Pedals 

  1. Una corda: The left pedal is known as the soft pedal. In a grand piano, applying una corda normally shift the whole keyboard slightly to the right, so that the hammers can strike only one or two of the two or three strings assigned to each note. The effect is softer tone since fewer strings are struck.
  2. Sostenuto: This is the middle pedal and least used in piano music. Sostenuto sustains only those notes which are being held down when the pedal is depressed, allowing future notes played to be unaffected.
  3. Damper: Also called the sustaining pedal, it is the right pedal on the modern piano. When applied, this pedal raises all the dampers off the strings allowing them to continue to vibrate and sound even after a note on the keyboard has been released.

In grand piano, all three pedals work the way they are supposed to work. Applying pedals, a pianist can have a control of subtle musical expression by changing sound and tonal color of the music.

Most upright piano has three pedals too but in most cases, the left and the middle pedals do not work as they do in grand pianos.

Una corda: On upright piano, the left pedal is not truly an una corda, because it does not shift the action sideways. In upright, when the pedal is activated, the hammers move closer to the strings, so that there is less distance for the hammer to swing. Therefore, Instead of hitting fewer strings, hammer strike all three or two strings assigned to each note with less force. The effect is more quiet sound rather than a softer tone.

Sostenuto: Even if a piano has a middle pedal, true sostenuto function is rare to find on an upright piano.

Damper: Damper works the same way both in upright and grand pianos.

Sound In the grand piano, the soundboard is placed horizontally facing up, and thus you get a feel that the sound rises up and surrounds you, filling the whole room.

Additionally, because grand pianos are generally larger (longer strings and bigger soundboard) than uprights, the sound volume is bigger.
The soundboard is placed vertically. Because in the upright piano, sound comes out at the back and the back of upright piano is almost always placed against the wall, sound go into the wall and bounce off to you, so you get the feel that the sound comes straight to you making subtle control of musical expression more difficult.

Some high quality tall upright pianos may have a bigger sound volume and better quality sound than extremely small lower priced baby grand pianos.
Space A grand piano takes up more space. However, even though grand piano takes up more space than upright piano, because it can be placed in any where in a room including corners, it is more versatile (especially smaller grands) in terms of space usage. Many people are happy to see how well a grand piano fits in their place. Takes less space. Generally placed against wall.
Moving Requires 3 or more piano movers to move. Easier to move.
Cost Higher Lower