Robert Estrin - piano expert

When Did 88 Keys Become Standard?

Learn more about the piano keyboard and its history

In this video, Robert tells you some background history behind the 88-key piano keyboard.

Released on February 26, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome, I'm Robert Estrin here at and with a viewer question. Nick asks, "When did 88 keys become standard on the piano?" What a great question. I'm happy to answer this one for you, Nick. Well, if you go back in time, the piano, when it was first invented, was actually an outgrowth of a harpsichord, and generally had about five octaves of keys. And this gradually grew during Beethoven's life. His music demanded more and more, not just keys, but more substantial structure of the instrument because of the dynamic range requirements of the music, and little by little the piano grew. Now, by the middle of the 19th century, pianos had typically, as you get to the later part of the 19th century, usually 85 keys was pretty standard.

However, there were pianos starting to emerge with 88 keys in the 1870s, in that realm, even earlier, but most pianos still had 85 keys. Well into the 1880s when 88 keys really became pretty standard, with some exceptions, pretty much the late 1880s, 88 keys became a standard in pianos. So thanks so much for the great question, Nick, and I'll see you next time. I'm Robert Estrin here at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Trevor Coultart on March 28, 2020 @3:28 pm PST
My piano has 85, but as far as I can tell was built in the 1930s. English manufacturer called Hopkinson.
Ramona Walter * VSM MEMBER * on December 6, 2017 @4:08 pm PST
Very interesting. Thank you.
Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on December 6, 2017 @6:45 am PST
This explains why my mother's piano had the C key at the very center, while mine has the D key. And I am fairly sure hers did not end with C at the right side. Regional Italian brand, Pecar, maybe around 1920. I wish I had taken a picture!
Robert - host, on December 6, 2017 @12:38 pm PST
Some pianos from the late 1800's have 85 keys which shifts the center of the keyboard slightly lower.
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