Exploring Music's Complexities

The Piano-String or Percussion Instrument

String or Percussion


Is the piano, an instrument invented about 1700 in Italy, a string or a percussion instrument?  To begin, there is disagreement about the answer.  The following is a review the arguments.

Why do People Think The Piano is a String Instrument?

By definition a string or stringed instrument creates sound by vibrating strings.  When we look inside the piano we see hundreds of strings and a long row of evenly rounded felt-covered hammers.  The strings are stretched between two points.  When the strings vibrate they produce a sound.  The vibration is produced by hammers hitting the strings.  To tune a piano, one needs to adjust the strings. This makes the piano a stringed instrument because vibrating strings produce the sound (1).

Why Do People Think It’s a Percussion Instrument?

Unlike a string instrument, percussion instruments play sound after one hits, shakes, or scrapes.  Its purpose is to keep the rhythm of a piece while adding color and flavor. Although the piano produces sound by its fixed strings it requires someone to strike the keys which in turn activate the hammers that produce the vibration. Since it can’t produce a sound without hitting a back or white key, the piano is a percussion instrument (1).

They Can Be Both

According to Hornbostel–Sachs or Sachs–Hornbostel, a system of musical instrument classification devised by Erich Moritz von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs, the piano is considered a percussion chordophone.  The system is based on how an instrument vibrates to produce sound.

The original Hornbostel-Sachs system classified instruments into four main categories (2). The fifth category is a later revision to include the latest technologies in music performance. Within each category are many subgroups with a formal structure based on the Dewey Decimal classification system. The basic categories of the system are listed below, and a more complete version of the system is found in the appendix. (Musical Instrument Classifications).

1 – Idiophones:

Instruments which produce sound by vibrating themselves.

2 – Membranophones:

Instruments which produce sound by a vibrating membrane.

3 – Chordophones:

Instruments which produce sound by vibrating strings.

4 – Aerophones:

Instruments which produce sound by vibrating columns of air.

5 – Electrophones:

Instruments which produce sound electronically.

Even though the system has been criticized and revised over the years, it is the most widely accepted system of musical instrument classification used by organologists and ethnomusicologists (2).  Instruments of this type may or may not have a resonator box and include the piano and zither.


  1.  https://millerps.com/piano-string-percussion-instrument/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hornbostel%E2%80%93Sachs




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