25

I have no idea what it's called but I'm curious why most pianos have a flat section to the left of the keys, and what it's called.

It almost looks perfect for resting a cup of tea on which sounds like a horrible idea unless you want sticky keys.

yamaha upright piano with an arrow pointing to a flat section to the left of the keys

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  • 12
    Perhaps it contains the forbidden keys... May 2, 2022 at 3:55
  • 3
    There is also one to the right.
    – user207421
    May 2, 2022 at 4:04
  • Yeah but it’s a more reasonable size and doesn’t jump out at you
    – joeyfb
    May 2, 2022 at 4:09
  • 4
    That's for your coffee.
    – Max
    May 2, 2022 at 9:26
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    @AlexanderNied There actually are some pianos which do have some extra keys (generally at the bass end, not the treble, up to 92 or 97 total), and they are sometimes covered with a lid like that (though not usually locked), and/or reverse-colored to distinguish them from the usual 88 keys. May 2, 2022 at 14:42

4 Answers 4

34

As @BobBroadley says, the Key Block holds the keyboard in place. However, why is the key block needed in the first place? Presumably the left side of the case could do the same job.

The first key blocks

Key blocks have been a part of pianos since their invention. The article Who invented the piano – and why does nobody remember him? includes a (copyright controlled) image of a Cristofori piano, clearly showing key blocks at either end.

The why is that room for the piano's frame is needed between the action and the case. Pianos are not mounted directly on the case, rather the frame rests inside.

Modern pianos

Upright / Vertical

In addition to leaving room for the frame, extra room is needed on modern pianos to account for the diagonal placement of the strings. The strings in the piano are set at an angle, which allows for greater string length without lengthening the entire instrument. Because of this, there's extra space at the end of the piano.

Here's an interior view of a typical upright piano (an Essex). Notice how the bass strings extend past the left edge of the keyboard.

Photo showing keyboard, pin block, and strings

In fact, one can see that the action itself is angled to the left., and there is also room for the frame and some of the pedal mechanism. Thus, the key block is a necessity.

Photo showing keyboard and action

Grand pianos

The situation on a grand piano is the same. First, there needs to be room for the plate (frame) between the case and the action. In addition, due to the angled strings and the hammer strike point (shown in the picture below), there needs to be some extra room for the strings to meet the pin block.

Frame plus angled bass string require room beyond the keyboard

(and, yes, putting a teacup there is a terrible idea. )

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  • Also note that parts of the mechanics extend further to the sides than then keys do. For one thing, both the mechanics and the strings need a frame that occupies some space. And for another, the connections to the pedals must bypass the keys as well. In the last image, it's obvious that the back-rest for the hammers, which can be moved by stepping on a pedal, is significantly wider than the keyboard and the hammer array itself. May 2, 2022 at 7:43
  • 3
    "And, yes, putting a teacup there is a terrible idea." -- Use a slider. And don't put sugar in your tea, you barbarian. ;-)
    – DevSolar
    May 2, 2022 at 11:52
  • +1 Another example of how things on the outside can be easily understood by looking on the inside.
    – J...
    May 2, 2022 at 16:25
19

In addition to holding the keyboard in place, and allowing for diagonal stringing... these provide room for playing un-inhibitedly (when appropriate) at the outer ends of the keyboard, without running one's hand up against the little "walls" at the end. A little extra room is nice.

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  • 2
    That makes a lot of sense. Even grand pianos which don't need diagonal keys have a reasonable sized (though evenly sized) keyblocks
    – joeyfb
    May 2, 2022 at 0:53
  • 3
    @joeyfb Most grands are also strung at an angle.
    – Aaron
    May 2, 2022 at 0:56
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    Looking at it from an angle it looked even but I see no the key blocks are actually uneven on a grand as well. Glad to know the more expensive models still have great tea rests.
    – joeyfb
    May 2, 2022 at 2:50
12

I'm a professional piano tuner, and can confirm that this block is provided by the manufacturer primarily for your drink and cigarettes.

The overstringing bit was an afterthought, they wondered what to do with the extra space the so-called "beer and fags shelf" created so they angled the bass strings to fill the gap.

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  • 1
    My Hammond has two; gotta put the ashtray somewhere.
    – Mazura
    May 2, 2022 at 14:26
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    The B-3 even came with a cigarette lighter, I'm told. pinterest.com/pin/506514289331842292 May 2, 2022 at 15:33
  • Love the Hammond with ciggie lighter 😂😂😂 absolutely love it. 👍👍 Just wants an optic for the Scotch and we're good to go.
    – Graeme
    May 2, 2022 at 16:58
  • You'd think in the current century the block would contain an iPad-Mini May 3, 2022 at 17:02
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They are called key blocks. They hold the piano keyboard in place.

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  • I imagine they exist because the piano frame/strings/etc is typically wider than they keys so there naturally needs to be something there to make up for the width difference?
    – joeyfb
    May 1, 2022 at 17:38
  • So why would the l.h. one be at least twice the width of the r.h. one?
    – Tim
    May 1, 2022 at 17:43
  • @Tim because the lower strings need to be longer than the higher strings, so those are the strings which will be more tilted. Hence the left hand side having a larger key block.
    – joeyfb
    May 2, 2022 at 6:29
  • @joeyfb: Depending upon the piano design, they may also serve a practical purpose of, as the answer notes, holding the keyboard assembly in place. I haven't disassembled a piano, but on my reed organ, disassembly would start by removing the keyslip (the board in front of the keys), which would then allow the key blocks to be slid forward and removed. Once that is done, and the tremulant control rod is removed, the keyboard may be lifted up (lifting up the keyboard without removing the control rod first will snap the control rod for the umpteenth time).
    – supercat
    May 3, 2022 at 21:20

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