What Are The Differences Between An Upright And A Grand Piano?

Apart from the form factor, upright and grand pianos may seem very much like the same instrument. However, there are several differences between them worth considering.

What are the differences between an upright and a grand piano? There are significant differences between upright and grand pianos, such as their form factors and action mechanisms. In addition, though both pianos have three pedals, they vary in purpose. Furthermore, the upright and grand piano have the soundboard and strings mounted differently.

In this article, we'll discuss the differences between upright and grand pianos, focusing on the action mechanisms, pedals, and general aesthetics.

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The Difference Between Upright And Grand Piano

The upright and grand piano are among the most favoured instruments for pianists. Grand pianos are generally used in professional orchestra and solo performances, while upright pianos are more popular for home use. There are other, perhaps more important, distinctions to be made between the two piano types.

To find out what makes these two pianos so unique, we'll consider the differences in the following factors:

Action Difference Between Upright And Grand Piano

There is a significant difference in the action of the upright and the grand piano. The action refers to the mechanism by which a hammer strikes the strings when a key is pressed.

As a result, this mechanism may cause the piano to feel different when playing.

The hammer strikes a vertically mounted string when a key is pressed on an upright piano.

As the strings are arranged vertically, the hammer produces a force in a horizontal or sideways motion. This means that after the hammer has struck the string, it will not be able to return to its resting position without assistance.

Therefore, a spring is attached to the hammer to return to its original state. Due to this spring mechanism, the upright piano is slightly limited in that you can play fewer repetitive notes than a grand piano.

The key repetition rate that can be achieved is approximately seven times per second.

On a grand piano, the strings are mounted horizontally, which means that the placement of the hammers is different from that of an upright piano.

The hammer is located below the strings in a grand piano, with the hammer felt pointing towards the strings. So when you press a note, the hammer moves in an upward motion, striking the string.

As a result, the hammer does not require a spring; instead, it relies on its own weight and gravity to return to its resting place.

Additionally, grand pianos utilize a double escapement mechanism, which allows for the fast repetition of notes without the need to release a key completely.

These mechanisms enable fast repetitions to be performed smoothly. For example, on a grand piano, key repetition is possible at a rate of 14 times per second.

Pedal Difference Between The Upright And Grand Piano

Another significant difference between a grand piano and an upright piano is the pedal. Even though both pianos have three pedals, their functions and purposes are quite different for the most part.

An upright piano's left pedal, also known as the soft pedal, reduces the sound volume. This sound reduction is accomplished by moving the hammers closer to the strings when the pedal is depressed. As a result, the hammer gains less momentum before striking the string, resulting in a softer sound.

The upright piano's middle pedal (also referred to as the practice pedal or muffler pedal) is used to muffle or dampen the sound. When the practice pedal is depressed, a thin piece of felt is dropped between the hammers and strings. This barrier impedes the full impact of the hammer striking the string, resulting in a considerably muted sound.

The right pedal of the upright is called the sustain pedal, or damper pedal. This pedal, when depressed, will sustain the notes played even after your finger has lifted off the key. This sustaining is accomplished by moving the dampers away from the strings, allowing the strings to vibrate continuously. This sustained note will last until the foot is removed from the sustain pedal or until the note fades out.

A grand piano's left pedal is the shift pedal, soft pedal, or una corda pal. When this pedal is depressed, the entire action assembly is shifted to the right. So not only is there a volume change, but the tonality of piano changes.

The middle pedal is known as the sostenuto pedal in a grand piano. This pedal gives the musician the ability to sustain selected notes. By depressing the pedal, the dampers are kept away from the strings of any of the keys played. Therefore you may sustain specific notes while other notes are unaffected.

The right pedal of the grand piano is the sustain pedal and serves precisely the same function as the sustain pedal in the upright piano. When the pedal is depressed, all the dampers are lifted so that the strings can continue to vibrate once struck by the hammer.

For a more in-depth discussion on piano pedals, check out my article Why Do Pianos Have Pedals & How Do The Pedals Work?

Design Difference Between The Upright And Grand Piano

The soundboard of an upright piano is made of wood and is positioned vertically. The strings are also placed vertically, with dampers on top of the strings. The hammers are vertically standing, with the hammer felt facing towards the strings.

Typically, most modern upright pianos have wood or ivory-covered wood keys. Subsequently, as a result of how the piano is designed, the upright piano is smaller than a grand piano.

The upright piano's space effectiveness makes it an excellent option for those with limited space. Its smaller size and lower weight make it easier to move as well, in case the piano must be relocated.

Unlike the upright piano, the grand piano is built from cast iron, which significantly increases the piano's weight. The soundboard consists of thin wood and is mounted horizontally across the piano. The strings are placed horizontally across the piano, with the dampers lying on top of the strings.

The hammers are placed below the strings, with the felt head facing the strings. The keys are made of wood or ivory-covered wood–keys. Grand pianos more closely resemble the earliest forms of the piano compared to the upright.

Due to the soundboard differences, grand pianos tend to be louder than upright pianos. Their upward-facing soundboards emit a great deal of sound. Conversely, upright pianos emit sound from their back end, which is often placed against or facing a wall.

Related article: Top 8 Methods To Make A Piano Quieter

Similarities Between Upright And Grand Pianos

It's also worth considering the similarities between the upright and grand pianos. After all, they are both pianos.

Upright and grand pianos both typically have 88 keys, arranged in the same chromatic manner. Therefore, they are played in the same way.

Both pianos rely on keys, hammers, strings and their own resonance to produce sound, though as we've discussed, there are slight differences.


There are significant differences in the design and functionality of the upright and grand piano. However, some of these differences may prove advantageous, like playing a high number of key repetitions or being space-effective.

Nonetheless, the upright and grand pianos both have fantastic designs. So next time you are around a grand and upright piano, see if you can notice any of these differences yourself.

This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.


Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and the author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or producing music. For more info, please check out his YouTube channel and his music.

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