Is There a Difference Between the Piano & Clavier?

Knowing the difference between the piano and clavier will make it possible to distinguish the difference between several clavier instruments. The piano is a type of clavier, but the clavier may describe any instrument that uses a keyboard. The clavier stems from the French word that means keyboard, and claviers can be any instruments that use a keyboard, even an accordion. Understanding this makes it easier to learn the difference between a piano and other clavier keyboard instruments.


The piano is a type of clavier. However, the piano has some special characteristics that differentiate it from other claviers. The piano has the ability to play subtle dynamic changes through the touch-sensitive keys, consists of three pedals that change the timbre of the instrument and can change the texture of the sound simply by changing the amount that the lid opens. The piano represents one of the most popular musical instruments. (See References 4) The sound of the piano is created by hammers hitting the strings making them vibrate.


The harpsichord represents a type of clavier, but you should not confuse it with a piano, they represent different instruments. The piano uses hammers to strike the strings, controlled by a piano keyboard. The harpsichord also contains a keyboard, but the strings respond by a plucking mechanism that plucks the strings in a similar manner to a guitarist that plucks the guitar. Unlike the piano, dynamics on the harpsichord only become possible by playing additional notes to increase the sound.


The organ uses two claviers and a set of foot pedals, as opposed to the single clavier on the piano. Organ also belongs to the clavier family of instruments. Similar to the harpsichord, the organ generally only plays at one dynamic level, unlike the piano that is capable of several dynamics. Striking the keys with additional force does not create additional sound. The only way to increase the volume of the organ is to use the crescendo foot pedal to increase the airflow of the instrument. This instrument differs greatly from the piano since it uses a set of foot pedals, air, and two keyboards to create sound.

Electric Piano

Electronic pianos also fall into the clavier family of instruments since they use a keyboard to initiate sound. The electronic clavier uses a digital signal to relay events to indicate which pitches to play, as opposed to the piano that uses an acoustic chamber. The most common electronic clavier only has the ability to play at one dynamic level, unlike the piano that can play many dynamics. With these instruments, pressing down additional notes does not increase the volume, since the volume of the instrument is dependent on the power of the speakers. Unlike a piano, the electronic clavier may play several different sounds creating a wide variety of timbres.


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