The difference between Grand Pianos and Baby Grands
grand piano vs baby grand piano - what's the difference

Grand piano equates with elegance and glamour across the globe. To have a grand piano in your home used to be an attribute of the Bourgeoisie, the emblem of status that signaled to the world that you have ‘made it’. Grand piano offers endless entertaining possibilities for you and your friends and family, turning your home into a fun, creative abode. Grand pianos of all sizes find their way to a variety of interiors and today’s offerings are the most exciting ever, particularly in the designer grand pianos segment.

By the end of the 19th century, 70 percent of European and American households possessed a grand piano. While the percentage of homes owning a grand piano has decreased today, the status symbolism has elevated even further. Indeed, it is prestigious to have a grand piano, especially if you are not in the music business (in which case it is more of a necessity). If anything, it means you have a spacious home that can accommodate a larger object such as grand piano, and associated cost. So yes – if you have a grand piano or thinking about getting one – congratulations! You have made it!

When we say ‘grand piano’ we have an image in mind – an elegant curvaceous instrument of substantial size that is horizontal. The upright piano is a vertical instrument that stands against the wall. While some upright pianos sound marvelous and are really well-made their main feature is that they coup less space. The inimitable allure of the grand piano is in its form as well as all the other valuable attributes. What does not seep into mind right away is that there are subdivisions to the sizing of the grand piano. And in this article, we are going to compare grand piano vs baby grand piano, learn about the pros and cons of both and get more acquainted with what those fabulous names actually mean in terms of the piano itself. Today you can acquire an excellent quality instrument from a wide variety of piano manufacturers.

Where does the name come from?

The expression baby grand is on everyone’s lips but what does that really stand for? Well, in simplest terms, the baby grand piano is a smaller grand piano, just like any baby is small compared to its parent. The legend has it that Steinway & Sons model O was referred to as baby grand vs its model A, which was referred to as parlor grand. It is unlikely to see grand piano and baby grand piano side-by-side in one space (outside of a piano shop) but if you did, it would sort of be like seeing a lioness (or any other beautiful creature) with her cub by her side. The same, but smaller. We decided to compare grand piano vs baby grand piano to illuminate the exact differences these two instruments have.

The name it got is really a 20th-century figure of speech which became a favorite way of referring to a smaller grand piano. Used across the board by all English-speaking world it frequently erroneously refers to all grand pianos that aren’t concert grand pianos (9’2 giants you find on the concert stage of Carnegie Halls of the world) This is, of course, a huge generalization to refer to all smaller/ish grand pianos as baby grand pianos. Most people think that the only difference in grand vs baby grand is the size of the piano. That is, of course only the tip of the iceberg. This article will inform you of all the intricate differences there are from a professional standpoint.

Size differences

Baby grand piano has a specific size range – from 5 to 5’8 feet (153 to 175 centimeters). Depending on the piano brand some fluctuate by 5 centimeters or so. The next size bracket is a Professional grand piano, however, the width remains the same as most new pianos have 88 keys keyboards (some, like Bösendorfer Imperial concert grand have more, while some older grands may have a couple of fewer keys). With the width of the piano remaining the same, the tail length is what determines the categories of grand piano vs. baby grand piano. That ratio of width+length also affects the proportions of the entire instrument and, consequently, its appearance and sound. Generally, one should familiarize oneself with the following sizing guide to all grand pianos.

Petite grand (or Mignon)

Petite baby grand piano dimensions

4’5 to 4’11 (138-150 centimeters) the smallest grand piano made. The proportions of this size of grand piano are not what our mind imagines simply because it is almost as wide as it is long. The average width of a new piano (88 keys) is about 4’9 feet (150 centimeters) so petite grand is almost a square. Some older grand pianos from the late 19th and first half of the 20th century have 85 keys which makes for a slenderer width but this practice has been retired decades ago as it diminishes the sound quality of the piano due to lesser resonance within the vibrating chamber.

Baby grand

Baby grand piano dimensions

5 to 5’8 feet (153 to 175 centimeters). Most purchased piano size in the world. The versatility of baby grand pianos allows them to be enjoyed by both professionals and recreational music lovers while smaller size requires less space and has a smaller price tag than its larger siblings. Most people acquire their first baby grand piano when they have children or decide to take the piano up themselves. If there is already a baby grand piano in the family home – often a piano lover will decide to upgrade to a larger size, space permitting.

Professional or Full grand

Professional grand piano dimensions

5′ 9 to 6′ 2 (177 – 188 centimeters). Often this size of the grand piano is also referred to as baby grand – as it still has a compact appearance of an instrument that is not a concert grand. The ubiquity of baby grand pianos makes it very difficult to argue the exact qualifying measurements as people generally tend to eyeball the guesstimate the piano size and category. A lot depends on the space it will be going into. The larger and loftier space the smaller true baby grand and professional grand will appear.

Music room grand

Music room grand piano dimensions

6’3 to 6’10 (190 to 210 centimeters). This is another popular size for a grand piano for home. Depending on the size of the room this can have an appearance of a large grand piano suitable for glamorous entertainment and at-home concerts. Unless you are living in a palatial mansion that can accommodate a concert grand this is a great size for a larger, more resonant piano that still fits well into most contemporary residences without overwhelming the room. Depending on the manufacturer the sound of Music room grand can have qualities of a concert grand, especially in the friendly acoustic environment.

Semi-concert grand

Semi-concert grand piano dimensions

6’11- 7’8 (212 to 233 centimeters). Frequently used for public performances semi-concert grand is essentially a professional piano suitable for concert halls, recording studios, ballrooms, and such. These full grand pianos feature roaring bases, bell-like and rounded top register, and produce enough vibrations for the sound to bounce around a larger space and mix midair, creating the magical sound of live piano performance at a concert hall. It would be unfair to compare the overall sound experience of full grand pianos with baby grands as the physical parameters make them practically different species.

Concert grand

Concert grand piano dimensions

8’11 to 9+ (272 to 275+ centimeters) These grand pianos are in a class of their own. More sonorous, resonant, and powerful than even semi concert grands the 9+ feet pianos have proper resonance to carry the sound to a multi-thousand seater hall without losing its clean sound quality. A mainstay at concert venues and symphony orchestras, concert piano has to be essentially a formula one of the pianos. While most of the time these aren’t meant for private homes you will be surprised how many professional pianists, as well as amateur piano enthusiasts, are proud owners of concert grands.

Sound differences

The appearance of the baby grand piano is not the only thing that differentiates it from its larger parent. The sound is affected as well. The reason is very simple – yes, you have guessed it! Longer strings and the space in which they vibrate are what affect the sound. The longer the string and the larger the soundboard underneath it – the more resonant, warmer, and deeper the sound. The very high-quality pianos have alpine spruce soundboards (the best money can buy) which have superlative acoustic qualities of amplifying and enriching the sound. When strings vibrate the sound is bounced off of the soundboard and then it picks up the resonance of all the other strings that are within the body of the piano. When those sound mix they produce overtones that make rich sound and imbue it with specific qualities (each quality piano maker has patents over unique construction designs that give their piano its voice: Steinway, Bluthner, Fazioli, Bösendorfer, to name a few, all hold such patents).

Soundboard and strings on a concert grand Fazioli piano

So it does not come as a surprise that longer strings make richer sound, and, conversely, the shorter strings result in less colorful tonal quality. Granted with best baby grand pianos the difference is not as audible as it is with less expensive, mass-produced baby grand pianos where you can very clearly hear the flatter tonal quality and smaller sound belonging to a shorter baby grand. That said, sound quality is also a function of maintaining your grand piano so having a skilled piano technician voice it regularly will make a huge difference on the sound. Grand pianos as well as upright pianos all have felt covering hammers. When the hammer strikes the string the groove occurs over time, and that is where voicing is necessary to restore full tonal quality to the overall sound of your piano. As grooves get harder from repeated strikes, the sound quality lessens and becomes brittle and harsh. The skill level of your piano technician will determine whether your grand piano sounds great over its lifetime.

Also worth mentioning that on the best baby grand pianos the fine regulation of the soft pedal works just as well as on a concert grand piano. It creates a specific sound effect of vailed, thinner sound by moving the entire action laterally, so the hammer strikes 1-2 string instead of all three. It is an essential attribute for a concert grand piano so that the sound projects in large concert halls while transforming its color and tonal quality with the aid of soft pedal. Smaller grand pianos of lesser quality have a very harsh result of application of the soft pedal, which really diminishes the sound quality and muffles the sound.

Action differences

Analogous with the string length is the case with piano action. The larger grand pianos have longer keys and hammers that strike the string. The kinetic energy of that longer mechanism translates into more control over the sound quality, dynamic range, and color in the hands of professional pianists. That is why concert grands are called concert grands and are standard for the concert stage of A-list venues. It is not only that larger grand pianos look more formal for the occasion, but that they sound better due to the physical attributes of the length of the keys, hammers, and strings, which enables professional musicians to truly showcase their mastery over the instrument.

grand piano action

However, high quality grand piano, whether professional grand, concert grand, or baby grand that is made by Steinway, Bluthner or Fazioli (to name a few) is so masterfully built that the baby grand piano can produce a gorgeous sound uninhibited by the lacking in the size department. Evidentially the same cannot be said of a budget. Mass-produced pianos, where the action is not entirely hand made are inferior in overall sound quality. The average baby grand does not provide the ability to control the action enough to play a certain type of music at its best: trills, soft clear scale passages, double notes, and repeated notes all suffer from a lack of responsiveness and finesse on a lesser brand baby grand. Some high quality uprights actually sound and feel better than cheaper baby grands.

Price differences

Here we are considering the price ratios of a new instrument. The secondary market is huge and is saturated with both wonderful and not-so-wonderful grand pianos and requires a trustworthy professional appraisal and a professional pianist to ‘test-drive’ it to make sure it sounds and feels alright. The production year is of particular importance in the secondary market pianos.

With new pianos, it seems reasonable to presume that baby grand will cost you less than a larger grand. It is shorter, therefore the materials used to build it are utilized in smaller qualities. However, we must not overlook the hundreds and thousands of hours of labor that go into building pianos, no matter what the size of the piano is. It takes almost the same amount of time to built a baby grand as it does a grand when we are talking Fazioli, Bluthner, or Steinway. So in the upper echelons of legacy piano makers, the price difference is really not substantial, though smaller pianos will always cost less. However, as we move down the ladder to mass-produced instruments that are partially machine assembled – the price difference is sizable in relation to premium grand pianos. The technology and certain features also affect the price: are there two or three pedals? All pianos have una corda or soft pedal (always the left pedal if you are sitting at the piano) and damper pedal or sustain pedal (always on the right). Some pianos feature the middle or sostenuto pedal, which has a very specific function and may be superfluous for your needs. However, having it makes the manufacturing of the piano more complicated, which, undoubtedly reflects in the price. You can learn all about the different functions of the sostenuto pedal here. Smaller pianos such a petit grand and baby grand often do not feature the sostenuto pedal, but that depends on the manufacturer and if the piano is in a premium class.

A small grand of a certain brand may be in the same price range as the upright piano of the premium brand so you must determine what is the perfect piano for your needs.

Closing:

In the final analysis, however predictable it may sound the bigger piano is usually the better sounding one. While we love a baby grand, given choice we would opt for a parlor grand. The length of the tail of the piano really affects the fundamental frequency of the sound as well as the feeling of the action. If you play the piano your experience will differ from a baby grand vs. grand. Of course, in real-life circumstances, you may be looking at different brands, with their unique qualities and idiosyncrasies. The cross-comparison may be skewed by the production quality of the piano, age (new or rebuilt), and all sorts of other factors. So it would be unfair to assume in theory that the bigger piano/better sound rule applies always and uniformly. We always encourage you to try out as many different pianos as you can, feel them, see what suits you the best. You may discover that one piano maker speaks to you on a different level than all others. Then…you have found the one for you! But it requires trying them out for size, literally and figuratively. Once you have an idea of what you like – be honest with yourself as to what you can afford and how much space are you willing to dedicate to the piano.

At the end of the day – buy the best, largest piano you can afford. You will not regret it as it will be a source of joy and beauty in your life the likes of which there are very few. Give yourself a gift that keeps on giving, as the music will fill your home and elevate your and your loved ones’ daily experiences again and again.

Written by Zachary Graves

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