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Pianists for Alternatively Sized Keyboards (paskpiano.org)
183 points by spekcular 8 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 272 comments





As a pianist with relatively small hands I understand the motivation behind this.

But:

1. At the vast majority of gigs I play (cocktail piano, big band, accompanying singers for auditions, etc), I play whatever piano is available. If I had spent my practice career on a smaller gauge instrument, I would be hobbled on any house piano.

2. I believe one can be just as expressive a pianist with smaller hands. There are several amazing smallhanded pianists to prove this. Keith Jarrett comes to mind. Sure, maybe some Rachmaninoff is out of reach, or Teddy Wilson's walking tenths, but there's effectively an infinite selection of other music to play.

3. If smaller pianos become popular, how long before modern repertoire starts including 13ths and other fiendish intervals?

Last year I was in a church basement in Greenwich Village and encountered a Steinway Model B (my alltime favorite instrument). It was humiliating: I could barely play without fumbling and hitting wrong notes all over the place. I soon realized that the piano was small-scale like those mentioned in this article. While it was fun to suddenly be able to reach any tenth with no effort, otherwise it was not really enjoyable to play at all.


Y'know, I think this gets to a central issue in technology in general. Perhaps even the issue.

Let's say we all agree that most pianos should have one, consistent size. Even so, the optimal size is probably at least a little smaller than what we have today—after all, I'm seeing lots of complaints that the keys are currently too big, and almost none that they're too small.

So, is it worth changing the standard size to something more optimal? You would end up with a lot of older pianos that have the legacy size, and it would take a very long time for those to age out of use. But it would happen eventually, and the status quo is clearly creating problems.

Personally, I'd come down on the side of maintaining the status quo. Whatever benefit we'd get from from smaller keys would not be worth the pain of the transition. Everyone would have to learn a new size, and potentially replace their pianos.

And this is also why I'm not so enthused by USB-C. Or replacing the headphone jack.

But, clearly some change is needed, sometimes, or else we'd all be using Mac OS 9, and laptops gigantic enough to accommodate bulky optical disc drives. I'm in favor of those transitions—they were painful, but the need was great enough to make them worthwhile. All the way at the other end of the spectrum are Slack's weekly UI redesigns, both because of their frequency and because they rarely seem like clear-cut improvements.


We’ll still be playing piano in 10,000 years. I would hope we would have the gumption to be the generation who painfully went through the transition to make the piano accessible to all.

Can we switch from base-ten to base-eight while we're at it? That'd be far more painful, but also hugely beneficial in the long run. For one thing you could use the metric system everywhere while maintaining the ease of halving and doubling that the imperial system offers. It would obviously make various aspects of programming simpler too. But it's hard to imagine it ever happening, since the transition would just never be worth it (within the lifetimes of the people making the decision).

Not to derail this conversation, but I'm really curious: what ease is there in halving/doubling in the imperial system?

Halfs are easy enough in either. Quarters are hard in metric as 4 is not a factor of 10. Which is why imperial systems are often base 12 (gives you 3 and 4 as a factor). circles are base 360 so that you get factors form 2 all the way to 12.

How much this matters is open to debate, but base 10 is clearly a terrible thing in this. It might be a good compromise, but I am not sure.


Yeah, I meant repeated halving or doubling. So for example if you start with 1, and keep dividing by 2, in base 10 you get 1, 0.5, 0.25, 0.125, 0.0625, 0.03125, etc. In base 8, 1, 0.4, 0.2, 0.1, 0.04, 0.02, 0.01, 0.004, etc. Much simpler.

Obviously multiplying and dividing by 5 and 10 are more natural in a base 10 system, but dividing things in halves, quarters, etc. (or multiplying by powers of two) are a much more common operation. (We only think of 10s as round numbers because of the base-10 decimal system.)

12 is useful in that it has so many different factors, but it misses all the benefits of being a power of 2, so I feel 8 is superior. Hexadecimal also has benefits, but my feeling is that 16 symbols would be too many for everyday use. Difficult to count on fingers and such. 8 really seems ideal to me. In fact, I've mused in the past that it's kind of a shame - you can imagine a world where people ignored their thumbs when finger counting and just lucked into a base-8 system thousands of years ago. (Although of course in that case we wouldn't call it base-8, it'd be base-10!)


> I've mused in the past that it's kind of a shame - you can imagine a world where people ignored their thumbs when finger counting and just lucked into a base-8 system thousands of years ago.

What a fascinating hypothetical!

But to the main topic - sorry to be dense about it, but I'm actually just not used to the imperial system. Which parts of it are easy to manipulate in this way? I know there are 12 inches in a foot but that's the only "easy" conversion I remember off the top of my head.


The metric system, since it's all based around base-10 counting, tends to operate in decimals. So you wouldn't normally talk about for example a quarter cm; rather you'd have 25mm. In the imperial system working in fractions is much more common, so you have quarter inches, eighth inches, etc. Halving is more intuitive using fractions since it amounts to multiplying the denominator, rather than dividing.

Anyway, I'm not really arguing for the imperial system, just saying that aside from legacy use, that's the one advantage I see for it vs metric. But a metric system based on base-eight... that would be beautiful.


Oh interesting, you're saying it's not about the specific conversion factors, but rather the idea that people tend to subdivide units into halves/quarters/etc in imperial, whereas they don't in metric.

I just meant in imperial, it's common to use fractional measurements. IE 1/16", or 1/4 cup or whatever. Doubling or halving those fractions, especially repeatedly, is simpler than with metric measurements. IE taking 1/4 of 25mm.

How about a very slow and gradual transition? Say so that in one or two hundred years we have reached the optimal size by reducing the standard every decade just by a little.

That's a cool idea, but even that rate would probably be too fast. The piano I bought for a few hundred bucks on craigslist is 113 years old this year and still going strong. Good pianos last a long time.

I was surprised when I recently learned that the big concert pianos that are used in the music halls usually lasts less than a decade. But of course, they are played constantly. I assume a home piano that in best case gets played an hour a day or so last longer. And most home pianos are rarely played at all.

I was with you until this bit:

> This is also why I'm not so enthused by USB-C...

Please elaborate?


I hate USB-C with a passion -- the spec is a shitshow, some cables will catch on fire if used for PD, the connectors can be snapped off the PCB, as have happened to me pretty frequently, and the plugs are regularly made too damn long and are nice cantilevers. Everything is wrong about its design and ruggedness for consumer use.

Consumer electronics needs to live upto higher standards than even military. One should be able to plug their phone into an external battery, shove the entire mess in their pocket, and go skiing. That's what consumer electronics should live upto. The cable housing should be supported snugly and firmly by the housing of the device, like one would do on a BNC connector, but on a smaller scale. The PCB shouldn't be taking all the torquing forces, as is currently the case.


USB-A has become practically a universal standard for DC charging, and USB-A drives and peripherals are ubiquitious. USB-C breaks all of that. It's definitely smaller, and that's great, but I'll take a slightly slicker laptop that doesn't make me carry around an adapter.

The other side being USB mini-B, though, has problems. The mini-B connectors are notoriously fragile. C is clearly a win here. Using the same connector for both ends is clearly a win here. And moreover: laptops can and do (and imo should) have both A and C ports. So USB-C isn't as disastrous as a piano, which can only have one key interface.

Mini-B seemed to have an exceedingly short lifespan, even by tech standards. I have some mini-B gear, but micro-B seemed to quickly supersede mini-B. (Micro also has some fragility issues of its own, of course.)

You could have said exactly the same thing with USB itself was first introduced, though. And lots of people did: there were endless, massive complaints about the first iMac.

Right—I totally see both sides here! Some transitions are absolutely necessary, and worth the trade-off.

Part of the problem in my view is that, if you're going to make these sorts of switches, you ought to be planning ahead 30+ years. If you told me USB-C was going to be the last iteration of the format (at least for several decades), I'd be okay with some weirdness in the interim. By contrast, if you told me the USB forum was going to introduce USB-D in 2030, I would absolutely not be willing to put up with this.


USB type A/B connectors lasted for >10 years, but were obviously inadequate for most recent devices (which is why there were mini and micro B types, a type A “superspeed” connector with an associated "extended" micro B type, alongside a large number of proprietary other connectors), without even mentioning the worst type A misfeature of appearing symmetrical at a glance but not being symmetrical. Keeping type A/B as the default for another 10+ years would be horrible.

There is no apparent reason why USB Type C connectors will not last significantly longer. They support a much wider range of use cases (collapsing what were previously at least 4 or 5 different connector types into 1, and using the same connector at both ends), and were explicitly designed to be future proof. The people involved in the design were thinking decades ahead.

It is unfortunate that many device makers (e.g. people making power strips) have taken a while to adopt Type C. But in another 5 or 10 years the transition will just be a memory. At most you’ll need an occasional dongle for your legacy hardware.

The biggest future competitor for USB type C plugs is various kinds of wireless transmission.


USB4 should help somewhat here by effectively being a streamlined subset of the initial USB-C + Thunderbolt 3 specs, as well as finally giving a clear definition for how hubs should work (in my eyes, the one fatal flaw of USB-C so far).

This.

Fellow pianist-with-smallish-hands here. The string players' paradigm of having differently-sized instruments as one grows up works well because they carry their instruments with them. Pianists are cursed with having to play whatever instrument we find on location (unless you bring your own electronic keyboard everywhere, which isn't a bad idea if it's practically possible). Differences in stiffness/tone quality/whatever are annoying enough to deal with already, and differently-sized keys is going to be a whole 'nother league of confusing. I'd personally rather be stuck with the same standard for key sizes everywhere at the expense of not being able to play all the repertoire I'd like.


Just going to say - for those that don't know Keith Jarrett.. go listen to the Koln Concert. When listening, remember that he improvised - meaning made up on the spot - every note that evening.

One of the most powerful moments on the piano, at least to me.

Amazon link to Koln concert: https://www.amazon.com/Koln-Concert-Keith-Jarrett/dp/B000026...


Totally agree.

But the best part of the story, which I wasn't aware of until recently, is this: when they organized the concert, they actually brought the wrong piano, and instead of a performance-ready piano, they brought a piano that was very bad ("The instrument was tinny and thin in the upper registers and weak in the bass register, and the pedals did not work properly" per Wikipedia).

When Jarrett arrived and tried the piano a few hours before the concert, he almost refused to play. There were other terrible circumstances (he had barely slept in a few days, because of mixups hadn't eaten properly, etc). In the end he was convinced to go on, and played differently than he was used to to try and get the most out of the piano.

What followed is widely hailed as a masterpiece, and remains his most popular work.


What's even more fascinating to me is that the Köln Concert is just one of many long-form improvisations he did and, arguably, far from the best one.

In roughly the following order, I recommend:

Paris, 1988

Vienna, 1991

Lausanne, 1973

Sun Bear Concerts, 1976 (5(!) concerts in 14 days)

Bremen, 1973

La Scala, 1995

Munich, 1982

...and so on.

If you _get_ Jarrett, it's a love affair for life.


I had a Keith Jarret casaste last century. It was just him at the piano, and parts were ok but other parts were mesmerizing. It was also when I discovered that when you listened through headphones you could hear him singing along.

I’ll check out this concert. Sadly he’s not well and can no longer play.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/21/arts/music/keith-jarrett-...


Seconded. The Koln Concert can't be oversold.

https://youtu.be/Pd_Kti6jvy8


Yeah, the only way I see this becoming practical is if you can decouple the keyboard from the "sound box".

That is, when you encounter a "Steinway Model X", you should be able to swap out only the keyboard, while retaining the acoustic qualities of the piano itself.

Some standard keyboard/piano interface is needed for this. It could be digital or mechanical.

Such a thing is perfectly possible to build, and should be acceptable even for "purists" who won't touch electronic pianos. The bigger problem would probably be to get piano manufacturers to agree to building these things.


I don’t think it’s realistic. It would be very hard to design without changing the responsiveness and tone of the keys. And even if possible “purists” won’t accept it for those reasons and also because it isn’t a traditional piano.

I’d say it’s not possible. The action of the keys and exactly how the hammers hit and are released from the strings are integral to the sound.

No, it can't be mechanical. The interconnection between the key hammers and the strings is THE defining sound of the piano. It is a direct mechanical linkage. If you change this, it is a different instrument, and cannot sound the same.

If it's digital, well, why bother with the soundbox at all, and simply have an electronic keyboard entirely?


There is no direct mechanical linkage between the keys and the strings. The piano action sets the hammer moving, and then it flies through the air uncontrolled until it bounces off the string. The only control the player has is how fast they start it moving, and there's no reason you couldn't do this with a solenoid (although it would have to be a fast one to match the latency of the mechanical action).

If you're willing to break with tradition, couldn't you go digital and bring your own keyboard? I haven't played an acoustic piano in years.

In theory, we could have acoustic player pianos available as MIDI output devices, so you could still get the sound of one while using your own keyboard.


> In theory, we could have acoustic player pianos available as MIDI output devices, so you could still get the sound of one while using your own keyboard.

Not a theory. Such things have existed for quite a while. See https://disklavier.com/


Long enough that it's the Disklavier line because the early models used a floppy disk for storage.

  If I had spent my practice career on a smaller
  gauge instrument, I would be hobbled on any house
  piano.
I somehow find it unlikely that you could go an entire career without ever having a few hours to practice on a larger keyboard. TFA cites some research saying that it takes about an hour to completely acclimate to even the smallest of the standardized sizes they propose. I could sort of believe that you'd have not spent as much time stretching and might not be quite as flexible, but at the same time, I could also see you having had fewer hand injuries and being more flexible.

edit: I read more of the linked site. I no longer particularly believe that practice could make you better at reaching larger spans. http://smallpianokeyboards.org/pain-injury-and-performance-q...


When you live in a world where you know that pianos come in different sizes, you teach people how to adapt for that. Right now we live in a world where those are gotcha novelties.

If the alternative keyboard sizes get more popular it may become standard to brush up on playing all the sizes.

Professional saxophone players usually specialize in one of the major sax types (like alto, tenor, or baritone) but they know how to play all of them. The key positions for those three are mostly the same but they play completely differently. It's not too hard to learn each one but it takes some practice. With prior experience it doesn't take that long to learn the ins and outs of a new model.

For the different keyboard sizes, that might be something that new students could train on. Professionals already out there might want to practice on them but that stinks to have to get stuck with a random piano size at a gig.


The baroque harpsichord literature is riddled with 12ths and fast 10ths for this reason. The keys are smaller than piano keys, so it isn't be a problem to hit them.

Good points. I'd add to this that small hands are actively advantageous for a lot of repertoire.

Bach fugues, say, or fast intricate passages can be a nightmare for long-fingered pianists to get their hands around. The OPs focus on big Liszt or Rachmaninov chords is understandable but there's so much more to piano playing.


1. That's definitely an issue. But in the space occupied by a single upright acoustic piano, a music venue could easily store three digital pianos. No doubt it would take decades before you could be able to rely on a venue having made this transition though.

2. Yes, but it sounds harder, and needlessly so.

3. Yeah but that actually sounds like a good thing.


The best digital pianos are enough cheaper than the best acoustics that you would save money. For top level competitions digital is enough worse that quality goes down.

Most piano players are not good enough that the best digital is a hindrance to their playing, and the ability to sound like several thousand not a piano instruments is useful in itself. But then most people compare a cheap digital to a much more expensive acoustic and of course the acoustic is better.


I think choice is always a good thing. no one forces someone to buy these other pianos. There are always pros and cons but almost 100% of the time choice is a better solution.

I find the most compelling argument for smaller keyboards to be the gender disparity in high level piano competitions: http://smallpianokeyboards.org/competition-results/.

The short version: more women play the piano at the collegiate level and beyond than men, but they are woefully underrepresented among the winners of international piano competitions. Why? Because their hands are too small to play demanding repertoire – certain pieces are literally "out of reach" due to the large chords involved. For violin competitions, where reach is a less significant factor, there is no such gender discrepancy.

For the long version, please read the link.


Large handed composers will start composing works with intervals you need large hands AND a small piano to reach. It's probably already happening on mini digital keyboards.

In that case, there is another benefit: more ambitious compositions. And while you may be right, there are still numerous older compositions to play.

Not if these composers use a large keyboard and players with small hands use a small keyboard, as suggested in the article.

The classical guitar has been available in multiple sizes for many years now. I don’t think the situation you’re describing has become a widespread problem there.


The point of GP was that, if smaller keyboards are introduced, nothing stops composers with large hands from using them, resulting in even bigger chords. Hence in competitions you could end up with just smaller keyboards for everybody, unless you "regulate" the size based on hand size.

If the small keyboard was better for everyone then presumably we would already have them. But my guess is that a keyboard that's too small is just as bad as a keyboard that's too large, so the current size is a compromise based on the average hand size of pianists in the 19th century.

That's why they want 3 sizes. Humans haven't changed -that- much since then, just a bit taller and no doubt on average a little bit more finger reach. This will help solve that issue. I think it's a good thing.

Actually, a large-handed composers' large hands will stop them from using small keyboards. Their wider fingers causing unintentional adjacent note triggering, frustrating them as composers, and losing them competitions as players.

I used to play the harpsichord, whose keys are about 3-5 mm narrower than piano keys. I have huge hands with big fingers, so it was a challenge at first, but after a week it felt normal. I doubt that smaller piano keys will be much different.

I don't think this matters much for competition though? The existing classical repertoire will still be playable by a much larger percentage of women, bringing them into greater parity. Just let everyone use whatever size piano they want and it'll be an equalizing force, just like how reducing the height of the basket would be an equalizing force for height in dunk competitions.

Maybe...

But at least competitively, this is probably self leveling. Large handed composers they play big chords on a small piano, but they'll probably struggle to play "regular" music on this undersized piano.

There's only a problem if everyone has to use the same piano. If everyone can choose their own size piano then hand size isn't a factor


Is that a problem? I thought piano competitions would be about piano-playing skill, not physical hand dimensions.

In the same way that basketball competitions are about basketball skill, not height.

Then you simply make an extra small version for small handed people to reach those intervals, if this becomes popular.

Doesn't matter, their repertoire will most certainly not be in those competitions.

> Why? Because their hands are too small to play demanding repertoire

The link does not and can not conclude this. It can not because it makes a confusing sleight of hand, with an inference between competitions, repertoire, and an implied necessary hand size which is incorrect.

It is incorrect because some of these competitions require repertoire from specific composers (e.g. Mozart or Bach competitions) whereas some do not. Entrants to the Rubenstein competitions may have the same repertoire as those to the Mozart and Bach competitions. Yet it compares winners of Rubenstein to Bach and Mozart.

>The short version: more women play the piano at the collegiate level and beyond than men

Such small numbers of people will reach a level of getting first prize in elite competitions, that these people are essentially irrelevant. In absolute terms, it sounds like males are massively excluded from piano up to elite levels. Perhaps piano sizes should be increased?


Are these competitions behind a screen? I'm only somewhat familiar with the Can Cliburn competition, and it seemed as though it was in the open on a stage.

If they aren't blind then I'd expect gender bias is a more obvious explanation (obvious because the effect that blind auditions have had in the gender make up of orchestras is obvious and dramatic)


The single study behind that blind audition story is far less conclusive than we've been told:

https://medium.com/@jsmp/orchestrating-false-beliefs-about-g...


I went looking for other data that might let us make conclusions about the situation. Here's what I found:

Cayea, Danelle, and Ralph A. Manchester. "Instrument-specific rates of upper-extremity injuries in music students." Organ 26.362 (1998): 11-14.

  The high-injury-rate instruments (12.0 to 18.0)
  included the piano, guitar, and harp. Women had
  a higher overall injury rate thanmen (8.9 vs 5.9).
Small sample sizes for some instruments (e.g. only ~20 female trumpet players) make me doubt the solidity of the results, but it looks like bigger instruments are vastly more dangerous for women to play. The piano and organ are both pretty bad, with about 10% of women reporting injuries compared to about 7.5% of men. The double bass has the largest difference in the study, with 17% women reporting injuries compared to 8% of men. I have no idea how harps compare because there were exactly zero male harpists in the sample, but female harp was tied with female double bass as highest-injury sampled instrument at 17%.

Note that, as the studied population was "the students at a single institution's music major", an RSI injury this early might indicate the beginning of a chronic, career-limiting problem.

I can't find any competitions for the double bass that I might be able to use to confirm the correlation between injury rate and under-representation in high-level competition.

TL;DR I find it quite plausible that some instruments are objectively difficult for women to play as indicated by a higher level of upper-body injury.

edit: I read some more of the site and found http://smallpianokeyboards.org/pain-injury-and-performance-q..., which agrees with the research I did above.


I've been playing piano for 30 years, have a degree in piano performance and have played in many competitions. There are many type of competitions. There's the Chopin International Competition where only Chopin must be played. Also the Liszt, and others. There are also Bach competitions, which don't require large hands. Then there's the Rubinstein and Van Cliburn where you have to adhere to a set of music. Like one sonata from the romantic period etc. Many different competitions and opportunities to play many different pieces with many different requirements.

I've also watched tons of competitions and know tons of pianists. I think a smaller keyboard would make it easier for people with smaller hands, but a lot of these "big chords" that composers write, are not playable by anyone, and were never meant to be played as one chord. Rachmaninoff has chords that regularly stretch 3 octaves. No one has hands like that.

I've also met a ton of concert pianists (name dropping here, but for a reason). I never met Alicia de Larrocha but she was 4 ft 9 and she played tons of very large pieces like Liszt. I've have met Helen Grimaud, Evgeny Kissin, Lang Lang, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Andre Watts, Daniel Barenboim and a bunch of others. I know Lang Lang has largish hands, but the rest have hands very similar to mine, and I'm perfectly average. Except Andre Watts, who had super thick hands and regular length fingers. I remember that Helen Grimaud was small, but had the strongest handshake. All of them can play all the great pieces. Also in conservatories you'll often see a these kids that can play crazy pieces.

Do large hands help. Yes. But like anything, we adapt, and you learn your own technique. I don't think it's the same as having long legs in running. The biggest difference would be for people who can't reach an octave comfortably. After that, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th. You're in the same camp as the rest of us. Some I've seen can reach a 10th comfortably. But I can play a 10th, if I stretch, but I don't because that stretching will injure my hand over time. I play it as a quick roll.

I've also analyzed the technique of many of the greats in slow motion. Go watch Evgeny Kissin at 1/4 speed on YouTube. He isn't using his hand size to make the difference, he's just very efficient in his movement. He's the same height as me, but maybe with his fro slightly taller.

Look up Dorothy Taubman, and Edna Golandsky. I studied the Taubman techinique for years. What she did is (in the 70's) rented slow motion cameras and recorded great pianists and not so great pianists, and she realized, it wasn't so much the hand size but they way they used their hands. Great pianists had a natural rotations between notes. They were very naturally efficient. They made large jumps by moving quickly to the notes and then playing vs flying blindly. They move their hands and fingers to play notes vs just playing notes with finger movt. Many large discoveries, She turned it into a whole technique which Edna Golandsky later took over and made the technique her own. I had a lesson with Edna, and it was life changing. It was the realization that it doesn't matter what your hand size is but how you use your fingers, hands, arms and body together. I've been playing wrong for years. Because no one teaches you how to move. There's the "Russian technique" which will give you tendonitis. The movement hasn't been studied as much as it should be. I learned 10 or so major concepts and swore off all other music for the summer and retrained everything. I studied that technique for a few years, and now I am able to play the Liszt's and Rachmaninoff's, given enough practice. It was that I was playing incorrectly. I didn't know how to move my body. It's an efficiency thing, that some discover naturally.

My biggest handicap is my learning speed. I personally think that the real thing that makes the greats great is their ability to naturally sight read. Think about it. If you can sight read very quickly you have solved all other problems with movement. Watch Daniel Barenboim and Vladimir Ashkenazy on YouTube sight reading together as 20 somethings. This is something they are very naturally talented at.

Anyways, key size is only one tiny piece that I think will have diminishing returns.


Guess this is the video of Barenboim and Ashkenazy:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ahUywqTYKow

But can’t find the sight reading?

Ahah it’s here:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=jeJt9rStl_M

That’s incredible if it’s sight reading. Very fast and complicated.


Brilliant response, thanks for posting this. I'm a small handed pianist (secondary instrument, really a saxophonist) and am interested in whether you have links to resources (books, videos, etc) on the training and methodologies you're discussing.

Taubman made a series of videos called "Choreography of the Hands". You can now find them on YouTube. They were originally VHS, and they are very eye opening. But there isn't anything like having a real lesson.

Thanks, much appreciated!

Where is a good place to learn about the Taubman/Golandsky technique?

You can check out https://www.golandskyinstitute.org/

My teacher was Bob Durso. I think he may be still teaching.


Thank you, your comment is extremely insightful.

Yes, vote this up. It's too easy for people to just default to claiming that it's all a conspiracy by white males. Deeper understanding by a knowledgeable person is more useful that default claims.

No one thinks it's a conspiracy. It's just lack of empathy for people who don't have the reach that others and have to come up with workarounds and more effort than they would have if the piano had multiple sizes. What's wrong with having a couple of more options?

>white males

What on earth does race have to do with it?


One solution is make sure more women can compose music for piano

Nothing quite like having to make up a 300 year cultural headstart to ensure equality.

Why is this compelling? Are competitions important in a pianists career? Shouldn’t be, IMO

> Because their hands are too small to play demanding repertoire – certain pieces are literally "out of reach" due to the large chords involved.

There is an unspoken assumption here from the word "literally": pieces of classical music are written in stone and are not allowed to be transcribed to fit the player's hand.

That assumption is about as coherent as anything you'd read in a Qanon Facebook group because:

1. Transcriptions from dead composers like Busoni are allowed in competitions. So if you're dead and gone, your transcription is a "work". If you're alive and playing in a competition it's not allowed, unless the student is making emendations to an already transcribed piece. So Liszt-Busoni-student transcription, perhaps ok. Beethoven-student transcription, definitely not ok.

2. The above exception is probably rationalized on the basis that these transcriptions generally add another dimension to the music. But composers like Schumann were constantly voicing chords in their own music to comfortably fit their own hands, often at the expense of more complex or compelling voicing. Yet these composers' pieces are to be played exactly as written in the competitions.

3. Hell, Beethoven was known as a goddamned master improviser. Just throwing that in there...

4. At least for tonal music, the tones of most chords can be found within a single octave. Additionally, there's a perceptual phenomenon where one can leave out a doubled note in a widely spaced chord and the listener will perceive it nonetheless.

5. It turns out that human creatures are little analytical machines that can interpret the function of chords, voicings, phrases, etc. Outside of some very famous voicings of some very famous pieces, these humans can often leverage their ingenuity to find perfectly valid, functionally equivalent voicings that both fit their own hands and the character of the music.

The piano competition world essentially says to its students to learn all these things as part of a well-rounded musical education. But then it forces them to ignore them and adhere to a set of arbitrary strictures shared by most competitions. That might make sense if the strictures were necessary to judge all the performances on a more or less objective or at least normalized basis. But competitions rely on the taste, deliberation, and fairness of judges who generally hear different pieces from each student. So you get a vicious cycle of students who are rarely forced to think critically about how to transcribe pieces for competitions, and some them later become judges who lack those same skills and thus default to perpetuating the same unquestioned strictures of competitions.

Anyway, if you changed that stale culture, there wouldn't be any need to change the size of the pianos because adapting the music to one's hand would be common practice. And if one thinks of how resistant the current culture would be to changing any of those strictures to help students exercise such an important skill, what makes one think they'd be any more open to changing something as fundamental as the size of the piano keys?


> Transcriptions from dead composers like Busoni are allowed in competitions. So if you're dead and gone, your transcription is a "work". If you're alive and playing in a competition it's not allowed, unless the student is making emendations to an already transcribed piece.

Huh, interesting... Do you happen to have a pointer to any more info/context on this or a link to a competition’s rules where they say this? I played piano for a long time (although never at anywhere near an international competition level) and I’ve never heard of this; it seems like a really bizarre rule to allow competitors to make arbitrary changes to an already-altered piece, but not allow any changes at all for a fully original one. I feel like I’m missing something.


It seems like I know less about this than you, but: aren't most players with smaller hands effectively playing larger chords one key at a time, just doing it very fast so it's nearly the same?

I assumed that was just the common practice with people playing pieces their hands were not large enough to play, and that this is completely fine in a competition setting.


[flagged]


No one has made the claim that it would be fine if only men with small hands were negatively affected. The focus is on women in this instance for one reason: the data gathered and referred to in the comment you so disingenuously took offense to shows that women are disproportionately affected by this issue. Are men with small hands also affected? Yes, but that is not an identity half of the people on this planet identify with. I'd hazard to guess there are not a great deal of people who feel defined by the size of their hands (or discriminated against systematically).

Fortunately breaking down this barrier benefits everyone, regardless of sex. Feminism benefits all.


I have sympathy for the feminist movement, and the GPs post was needlessly hostile, but in their defense I'd like to phrase the argument a different way:

If we imagine a world where men and women hand-sizes were statistically equal, ought we be interested that some people have smaller hands and are under-represented in Piano competitions? If so, shouldn't a study that looks purely at hand-span as the variable, without regarding gender or ethnicity, ought to be equally useful as as impetus for change in both contexts?


If you scroll down on this page, you can find some data showing the correlation between hand size and national/international acclaim: http://smallpianokeyboards.org/hand-span-data-recent-austral....

Thanks, I missed this. This image is particularly salient on both the hand span and gender arguments: http://smallpianokeyboards.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Ri...

Edit: Though interesting to note that there's been some effort at balance in terms of national acclaim, but if smaller handed competitors had access to scaled keyboards, it's possible that their would be better international recognition of female players.... or it could expose a gender bias.


I'm not going to downvote here, but please don't take a comment on gender differences to be inherently sexist, or assume that a comment has to be written in a way that is defensible to any argument that can be thrown at it (like men with smaller hands).

Saying that women, on average, have smaller hands than men is as sound as saying women, on average, have a higher likelihood of getting pregnant during sex than men.


It's one thing to point out how women have especially hard time competing due to hand sizes. Which is true and a fair argument to make in favor of among other things (such as sizes accessable for children, etc)

But saying that it's the most compelling argument is where it arguably becomes full on sexist.

Truth of the matter is most concert pianists and serious competitors have absolutely gigantic hands that most people do not posses. With very few and rare exceptions.

And that the current piano size is way too large for most people, esp. if they actually would like to excel at it. Or at a minimum a very large portion of the population, incl. geographic areas where people tend to be shorter on average.


> Truth of the matter is most concert pianists and serious competitors have absolutely gigantic hands

Is that true? I wouldn't have thought so, at all, and a few minutes googling "do most concert pianists have huge hands" digs up a lot of sentences like "Plenty of world-class pianists have small hands, including Alicia de Larroccha and Vladimir Ashkenazy, and yet they seem to be able to cope with the most physically demanding works in the repertoire." And sites talking about how it's a misconception that classical pianists have or need huge hands.

Jazz pianist with huge hands here :-) Huge hands often goes with height, and I have never noticed classical pianists are unusually tall. I can't think of any who are. Maybe people are thinking of Rachmaninov (6 foot 6). One would expect classical pianists to look like towering basketball players if, as you say, they mostly have absolutely gigantic hands. But I'd say there are many more under 6 feet tall than over it.


Yes. It is true.

If I got a penny for every time Larroccha gets mentioned in the discussions about small hands and alt sized keyboards I would be a millionaire.

First of all, nobody, ever in their right mind would bring up Larroccha when talking about greats. Frankly the only times Larroccha would get brought up... is when talking about pianists with small hands. Severely limited repertoire.

Secondly, isn't that curious that they don't mention what the actual reach of Ashkenazy was? Well, it turns out that he doesn't have small hands, merely on the smaller side when taking the absolutely gigantic hands of every other concert pianist as a reference point.

I've heard by some people that Horowitz had small hands too (compared to whom, a 7ft tall giant who can reach a 15th?)


I'm not an expert in the matter, just am talking about your specific claim

> most concert pianists and serious competitors have absolutely gigantic hands

which I still doubt, unless you have data supporting that. Depends on what you mean "absolutely gigantic" and how you define "serious competitors" etc.

Also, almost every sentence in your reply uses exaggeration, so it does seem you allow that to yourself but insist others speak accurately. Maybe this is just a case of that, not to be taken literally. It seems so. And nobody apart from you mentioned limiting that matter to "great" pianists - a straw man.


Look, the very link OP has posted even has an image which shows that the handspan of the "internationally acclaimed pianists", it is wholly concentrated in above average handsizes. Which only a fairly small portion of the population has.

http://smallpianokeyboards.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Ri...

Never "small". If we are talking about "greats" it's even more so. You can't be with a small hand span.

Not sure what kind of more evidence you need.


There's data on the correlation between hand size and national/international acclaim here: http://smallpianokeyboards.org/hand-span-data-recent-austral....

From this, it seems clear that internationally acclaimed pianists typically have quite large hands.


> As if it's fine that men with small hands can't compete (very common too btw), but oh-boy, since it's especially affects women, now it's a super big wrong that has to be corrected.

The site points out that adult men are affected. It also points out that it makes it more technically difficult for children learning: forcing them to learn unergonomic things that will not be necessary as their body grows.

But yes, it disproportionately affects women, which is an additional reason to be concerned.


The website is smallpianokeyboards.org, not letsonlyletwomenusesmallpianokeyboards.org, and there’s nothing sexist about mentioning that women are more frequently affected by this. Pointing out the intersectionality helps create a larger coalition of people who can help fix the problem, and doesn’t in any way prevent men from also benefiting from the solution. Piano players, women, men, and people with small hands can all be on the same side whether they are part of just one of those groups or all four.

Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that only women are disadvantaged, though I wrote much too hastily.

What the data shows is that between two groups with very different hand size distributions, the one with (on average) larger hands has a tremendously easier time playing. So, while some people will argue hand span is a secondary factor, in fact there is a critical need for smaller keyboards.


Women on average have smaller hands than men. And yes, there's also variance, so it affects men with small hands too. If it were corrected, men with small hands would be able to compete, and even more women would be able to compete. It would disproportionately help women, and it would also help men with smaller hands.

With words like sexist, it can be hard to distinguish between two different types of statements:

- the observation that a specific group is hurt by something

- the claim that individual bias against that group causes the hurt, or that the inverse group is to blame for the hurt

And to make things harder, sometimes people cause trouble by saying things that are deliberately ambiguous between those two, or sometimes saying one thing and sometimes saying the other. That's frustrating when it happens.

But in the opposite direction, it's also easy misinterpret someone as though they're saying the second thing, when they're really trying to say the first thing. And when someone gets misinterpreted like that, that's frustrating too. I think a pretty good compromise is to try to assume people are saying the first thing as much as possible.


[flagged]


Please don't break the site guidelines like this. Your comment would be fine without the first and last bits.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


There's really no reason to be so negative in the opening of your comment, it would read much differently without it and probably wouldn't be flagged.

That said, you're probably wrong in the same way that saying "anyone can be a great basketball player even if they're short, here's [insert example player who was short], if he can do it anyone can".

That's wrong in a few ways:

1. It's only talking about whether someone "can" be a great player, not how hard it is (much much harder for someone short).

2. It ignores the fact that there are probably other genetic advantages that a short player has, and that "make up" for the height, but are still rare in combination.

3. Even with that, I highly doubt someone can be the greatest basketball player of all time while being relatively short. It's just not possible today.

The situation with piano is the same, except it seems that, unlike in basketball, there's actually something to be done about this. What's the downside?


we could totally mandate official ball size tiers and lower baskets that are slamdunkable by anyone.

Well yes, I suppose that's true.

Wait actually, we do do that - for kids, there are lower baskets, and smaller balls! This makes it easier for kids to learn, because they have smaller hands, and we want them to actually learn!

In any case though, the main difference is that at some point, if you want a competition that is between people, you have to pick an actual size that people compete on, and whatever you choose, different genetic characteristics will give some people benefits over others. Piano playing, on the other hand, is a solo activity - so there is no reason why people shouldn't have individualized instruments, even for "competitions" (except for practical purposes).


[flagged]


"Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize. Assume good faith."

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


The difference is that the greatest programmer could type slowly, while the greatest pianist couldn’t.

The better comparison is probably between programmers and composers, and pianists and stenographers.


> I’m mad because the individual is being deceptively discouraging in a way that is less informative and more harmful.

I mean, I guess that's a valid interpretation of GP's comment, but that's not how I would've read it. It might make more sense to not assume bad intent, or even if you do assume it, to inform. In any case that kind of communication is heavily discouraged here, so if you want to get your message across, using it is less than optimal.

Having said that, I also kind of disagree with the rest of your comment. You write:

> Consider the greatest programmer of all time. Is it fair to say that greater hand size confers faster typing ability which allows the greatest ever programmer to program faster? Sure.

I'm a programmer. I've played piano on-and-off most of my life, strictly as a hobby. I also have relatively small hands for a man.

Your comparison is wrong and uninformative. Is there a chance that there's a tiny difference in programming when it comes to hand size? Maybe, possibly, there is, but I highly doubt it, and even if there is, it's tiny. Some extremely competent programmer don't even touch-type, which slows you down way more. Just ask a few programmers whether hand size matters for programming, I assume most will give you blank stares.

In piano playing, there is a big difference, and everybody knows it. Just look through the thread here. Not every piano player agrees with the proposal, mostly for practical reasons IMO - but not many really deny that there is a difference.

I'm not sure why you didn't take me up on the basketball analogy, because I think it's a much closer situation to hand size in playing piano.

> The fact remains that being the greatest pianist ever comes down to hard work and innovation, not hand size or wrist constitution.

I mean, it comes down to both hard work and genetics. (Hard work itself is partially genetic as well, actually.) This is true with literally everything - some people are just genetically more gifted in the ways that are relevant to becoming world-class at {specific-hobby}.

> Saying that hand size might limit someone only serves to misleadingly discourage newcomers from entering the hobby.

I highly disagree with your premise here. I mean, sure, I totally wouldn't want anyone discouraged from playing piano if their hand size is small, and I get why you'd be upset if you think that that is the message being sent here.

But I think the problem is this whole "best in the world" thing. Most people are, obviously, not going to be "best in the world" at anything, and if they are, it'll probably be only in one very specific field. If that is your standard for entering a hobby/profession, you'll probably never get started with anything.

The amount of hobbyist pianists is vastly larger than professional pianists, and almost all of them would never dream of "going pro", let alone being best in the world. Nor would they consider the idea that they won't be best in the world as demotivational. It's a hobby, they do it for fun.

Even if professions being best in the world is not usually the bar you have to reach, e.g. you really don't have to be best in the world to get a job programming. Competitive areas are obviously different here, which is why the analogy between piano competitions and basketball is relevant in my mind, though obviously there are lots of not-best-in-the-world-but-still-pro piano players around.


Where are the pianists for nonstandard keyboards?

The traditional layout is terrible for so many more reasons than size. In order to become a proficient pianist, you must learn (create muscle memory for) every scale and chord 11 unnecessary times. 1 pattern for C, 1 for C#/Db, one for D, and so on.

If we dropped the "white keys are for C Ionian and black keys are for 'accidentals'" layout for a chromatic one, a pianist would only need to learn every scale and chord once, and playing in a different key would involve nothing more than moving their hands.

The same goes for notation and theory verbiage. It's like we're stuck in a codebase that was started centuries ago, and everyone is too afraid to commit a bugfix, let alone a major refactor.


The fact that a D major is a different hand-shape than a C major lets me recognize where on the keys I should have my hand to play them -- like the ridges on the F/J keys on a qwerty give you the home row, the uneven placement of black keys makes the middle C obvious by sight and by feel.

And this next part is just conjecture but I think the uniqueness of each chord aides in muscle memory, that is, it's a feature not a bug that a b minor feels different in my hand than an a minor, makes it easier to recall that specific hand arrangement.

Makes it easier to look over one's shoulder and know exactly what chord they're playing too!


It's not without its benefits, but I think it's also important to recognize the faults.

Frankly, I think the problem of knowing "where" is less important than it seems. There are plenty of pieces that demand the player move their hand pretty far without much opportunity to feel for placement. Eric Satie's Gymnopedie No.1 comes to mind. I find that fixed seating tends to make this a non-issue.

Even so, we could add nubs. There isn't a law against it.

> it's a feature not a bug that a b minor feels different in my hand than an a minor

But should it? After all, they are both the same Aeolian mode. They sound the same, excepting only that they are in different keys. Shouldn't they feel that way, too?

> Makes it easier to look over one's shoulder and know exactly what chord they're playing too!

Does it?

It's pretty trivial to tell what chord a guitar player is playing, even if it's a bar. I don't see any reason it would be more difficult with a homogeneous piano/keyboard layout.


If a and b minor sound the same you need a better tuner who understands that tuning is a compromise and making everything the same is unmusical.

Down with equal temperament!


There are about 40 different barre chords you would commonly play, not including minors and thinking only of the two most common hand shapes. On the piano, there would be roughly 80, and you wouldn't be able to get some guidance based on shape like you could with those 44.

People who play fretless instruments and trombone players are able to figure out where they're playing with just one marker.

It's not unusual for a piano piece to require huge jump almost instantly, e.g., here in Beethoven's Sonata Op 111, the left hand jumps three and a half octaves down - https://youtu.be/WGg9cE-ceso?t=423

Having a row of identical keys would make such a jump virtually impossible to get right. As far as I know, string instruments (like violins) usually don't require such a wide jump - well in case of a violin, you literally don't have the distance!


That's a valid requirement, but having to play scales and chords differently in every key is a pretty big price for that.

> Having a row of identical keys would make such a jump virtually impossible to get right.

You could color each octave in a different color. Would make the jump much easier than now, while at the same time preserve the similarity of chords.


Most of the time, jumps like that are done by touch. You often need to look at something else like the music, the other hand, or the conductor.

Just make the keys have different shapes. There is no need to have the information encoded in the layout.

There are other layouts, like Janko. Manufacturing pianos is expensive, so these are mostly created as 3d printed overlays by hobbyists.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jank%C3%B3_keyboard

https://www.facebook.com/groups/janko.piano

Bill Wesley also has the Array system which is somewhat related, but haven't seen that for piano.

https://www.arraymbira.com/the-array-system/


I wasn't aware of the overlays. I'll have to print myself one.

> The same goes for notation and theory verbiage. It's like we're stuck in a codebase that was started centuries ago, and everyone is too afraid to commit a bugfix, let alone a major refactor.

There is no simple way of saying Gbmin7/B. It's just complex. It takes years of learning. The syntax is as efficient as it can be, it's not like millions of musicians aren't thinking about this stuff. It's complex, because simple music is for children. Music has its jargon, as does medicine, geology, or programming, and you should stop thinking about it like it's a secret language meant to keep you pesky programmers out of it.


> you should stop thinking about it like it's a secret language meant to keep you pesky programmers out of it.

I find it's rarely a constructive thing when someone tells others how they "should" think. You're not really offering any evidence to counter the other user, you're essentially just saying "you're wrong, just stop questioning things and get in line."

Your argument is like saying Mandarin must always be written in traditional characters because it's just complex, it's as efficient as it can be. Yet China went from traditional to simplified characters, and Vietnam abandoned characters altogether and uses an alphabet, despite having one more tone than Mandarin.

You're allowed to say you just personally aren't interested in new notation or theory verbiage. But you need some pretty strong evidence if you want to claim that the current methods are as efficient as they can be when human history shows that most times, lack of innovation is due to cultural and political factors rather than lack of opportunity for improvement.


>> you should stop thinking about it like it's a secret language meant to keep you pesky programmers out of it.

> I find it's rarely a constructive thing when someone tells others how they "should" think. You're not really offering any evidence to counter the other user, you're essentially just saying "you're wrong, just stop questioning things and get in line."

OP is making all kinds of claims about how current keyboards, music theory, and notation ("verbiage" -- jargon?) are overdue for a "refactoring" to the "codebase". My evidence is: the current state of the art of music theory and practice in Western civilization. OP's evidence is hand-waving conjecture not backed by anything. But you want me to defend my side?

> get in line

If that means "learn your scales like every other grown-up musician" then yes I will be kind of harsh about it. That's the barrier to entry, because no one wants to hear a musician who doesn't know what they're doing.

> Your argument is like saying Mandarin must always be written in traditional characters because it's just complex, it's as efficient as it can be. Yet China went from traditional to simplified characters, and Vietnam abandoned characters altogether and uses an alphabet, despite having one more tone than Mandarin.

Nothing of the sort. The complexity of language is baked in there. Whether it's one character that says 47 different things depending on the inflection, or 47 characters that describe one thing not depending on inflection, the complexity is going to be there. OP wants to make an improvement to the music system to ostensibly reduce complexity, which while appearing admirable, seems to be based more on his frustration that the "vain professional musicians" are making things too hard for him. Which is misguided energy in my opinion.

> You're allowed to say you just personally aren't interested in new notation or theory verbiage. But you need some pretty strong evidence if you want to claim that the current methods are as efficient as they can be when human history shows that most times, lack of innovation is due to cultural and political factors rather than lack of opportunity for improvement.

As efficient as theoretically possible, ever, for the rest of time? Probably not. As efficient as is practicable by today's professional musicians? Yes for sure. But improvements are always welcome.

> cultural factors

There is no way to separate cultural factors from music, which innately involves culture. It's not like music exists in an ethereal vacuum and if it wasn't for politics and culture, music would be better. Music is part of the fabric of culture.


> If that means "learn your scales like every other grown-up musician" then yes I will be kind of harsh about it. That's the barrier to entry, because no one wants to hear a musician who doesn't know what they're doing.

Jimi Hendrix. Elton John. David Bowie. The list goes on.

Just because you are happy with an arbitrary barrier to entry does not mean that everyone around you must be.

Music is a wonderful thing. Anyone can learn to make it. Telling someone they need to learn their scales first is just condescending.

> As efficient as theoretically possible, ever, for the rest of time? Probably not. As efficient as is practicable by today's professional musicians? Yes for sure.

> But improvements are always welcome.

Hah. You have already proved this statement wrong. You do not welcome changes. You approach the very idea of progress with condescending skepticism.

Need more examples? How about the article we are discussing? The fact is that it is prohibitively difficult to market a piano with slightly smaller keys. Getting something like the Janko keyboard to get traction in this industry is practically impossible, and not because Janko's design lacks merit.

Look: Nowhere did I say that musicians shouldn't learn scales. That's absurd. Neither did I complain that, "I don't want to learn scales, because it's too hard." On the contrary, I have learned scales. I have been playing music since childhood, and am quite proficient.

My point is that learning scales is arbitrarily difficult, by nature of the way we write them and talk about them. We have Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. We call Ionian "Major", and Aeolian "Minor". When we write anything that isn't Ionian, we use "accidentals". It's a mess. We can do better. We can make learning scales a simpler process. We can make better abstractions for them, which will make it easier to talk about more complicated theory.

Instead, people like you insist we all stick with 17th century western notation for eternity, because that's what we've got, and it's good enough. People like you insist that new players must be motivated to learn overtly unnecessary skills, for no reason other than "that's how piano keyboards are shaped". In doing so, you turn away intelligent people who are more interested in music than slogging through the centuries of cruft that traditional western music theory is made of.


> > If that means "learn your scales like every other grown-up musician" then yes I will be kind of harsh about it. That's the barrier to entry, because no one wants to hear a musician who doesn't know what they're doing.

> Jimi Hendrix. Elton John. David Bowie. The list goes on.

Are you somehow implying that these musical icons don't know their scales? Please tell me that's not what you're doing.


> Just because you are happy with an arbitrary barrier to entry does not mean that everyone around you must be.

Charlie Parker was on the stage as a young lad, just learning, and didn't know all his tunes that well. At a jazz jam session, Elvin Jones, the drummer, hearing Bird's lack of tune knowledge, was not amused and proceeded to throw a cymbal at him on stage and told him to get lost. Parker then went on to practice 12 hours a day until he mastered the literature, and he's become somewhat famous since then. Parker could have whined about how unfair the pro players were towards him, but he didn't, he went home and did his homework and came back and kicked everyone's ass. Not saying you need this level of determination, but a level of open mindedness would be a good start.


You are still obsessing over the complexity of the major scale modes. The major scale modes. That's just the beginning for a pro player. Once you learn the modes and scales and arpeggios and pentatonics, then you have to learn (gasp!) songs and stuff, then you have to know your genre very well. You can get by with a MIDI transposing Ionian keyboard, but frankly that will look to everyone else like a crutch or enabling device for the less-abled. Unless you can make great music on it, in which case you will be in demand as a player.

> Music is a wonderful thing. Anyone can learn to make it. Telling someone they need to learn their scales first is just condescending.

You want to be a poet? You need to learn your language first. Same with any art form. Is it condescending to tell someone they need to know their craft well to be a professional? I guess it is these days but it just delays the inevitable practice needed to become a professional.


> Getting something like the Janko keyboard to get traction in this industry is practically impossible, and not because Janko's design lacks merit.

Yeah it does lack merit. It's hideous. Why don't you do a tiny bit of research into the costs of such a thing, and also factor in that it's been around for 140 years and never caught on.


> Nowhere did I say that musicians shouldn't learn scales. That's absurd.

Yes you absolutely did. Your whole point is that 11/12ths of musicians' muscle memory is needlessly redundant. Let's see what you got that is better than this. You use a fully transposing MIDI keyboard and play everything on the white keys, am I right?


You are so desperate to argue with me, you aren't even bothering to comprehend what I have to say.

Get over yourself. Or not. I don't care.


So far all you've done is say "I already showed you" for everything, instead of showing me anything. Except that accordion nightmare keyboard. You keep making assertions then when called on it resort to personal attacks. I specifically retorted to your muscle-memory quote with your own quote about the 11/12ths of effort, and apparently you didn't appreciate what you had to say for yourself. Your rhetoric is much better than your grasp of facts.

> You do not welcome changes. You approach the very idea of progress with condescending skepticism.

You sure have me figured out. Progress is overrated; everyone should be playing harpsichord only. And no parallel 5ths, and also the tritone is the interval of the devil.


> Instead, people like you insist we all stick with 17th century western notation for eternity

Not that good of a reader, I avoid sheet music when I can


I'm coming from a place where I do know the jargon. That doesn't mean I have to like it.

There is obvious room for improvement. The syntax is not nearly as efficient as it could be.

Everything is made more arbitrarily complicated when it's represented by its departure from the Ionian mode. It would be much more efficient to use the chromatic scale as a base instead.

> It's complex, because simple music is for children.

Oh, I'm a child now? I'm talking about "simple" music? Get of your high horse. I wish I could say that your attitude was rare in music. Unfortunately, it represents the majority in professional circles.

The status quo is protected by this vain professionalism at a heavy cost.


> Everything is made more arbitrarily complicated when it's represented by its departure from the Ionian mode. It would be much more efficient to use the chromatic scale as a base instead.

Your approach is simply not feasible. Let me demonstrate.

Here are some options:

The newly chromatic keyboard is all white/black/white/black alternated keys, WBWBWBWBWBWB for one octave.

How do you look at that and figure out where C is?

Likewise, a new keyboard can be all white keys. WWWWWWWWWWWW

How do you know where anything is?

We need some patterns in order for our brains to be oriented to the instrument. The pattern of WBWBWWBWBWBW (standard 12-note sequence on keyboards), is a well-understood one that makes it practical for keyboardists to make music.

If there exists a 3rd option which makes orientability and fast muscle memory easier than it is, it needs to be innovated.

You seem to think that making the keyboard more symmetrical, or more uniform, or different somehow, makes it easier to learn. It doesn't work that way. However if you in fact have an improvement not obvious to those in the industry, many players would be thankful for your work. The field of music and music instrument technology is alive and well and waiting for your invention.

Now to address your mode concept..... Your presumption that everything is just Ionian mode transposed is absolutely incorrect. Each different mode (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian (those are all modes of just the major scale)) has its own identity. I'm surprised that you as a musician are unaware/blind to this, or consider it "needless complexity imposed by the vain professional musician community". Also, altered dominants and the various minor modes, in addition to the major scale modes I mentioned. Yes that adds up to probably 300 or 400 scales. Which takes a lot of work, regardless of whether you have a standard keyboard or a WWWWWWWWWWWW keyboard.


> How do you look at that and figure out where C is?

The same way you know which C is "middle C".

Alternatively, color the keys differently.

Alternatively, shape the keys differently, or add a distinguishing part to some, like the nubs most computer keyboards put on f and j keys.

> We need some patterns in order for our brains to be oriented to the instrument.

Yes, but they don't need to be messy ones. Consider a guitar: excluding the two thinnest strings, each string is tuned exactly 5 semitones up from the last. Each fret is one half-step up. Guitar players don't get lost!

> You seem to think that making the keyboard more symmetrical, or more uniform, or different somehow, makes it easier to learn.

Yes, and for good reason. It means the student can skip learning 11/12ths of the required muscle memory. That's a very significant, and very measurable gain.

> The field of music and music instrument technology is alive and well and waiting for your invention.

That remains to be seen. In fact, the very article we are discussing shows how difficult it is to make the world-changing introduction of a piano with slightly smaller keys.

> Also, altered dominants and the various minor modes, in addition to the major scale modes I mentioned. Yes that adds up to probably 300 or 400 scales. Which takes a lot of work, regardless of whether you have a standard keyboard or a WWWWWWWWWWWW keyboard.

And then you multiply that 400 by twelve, and you learn just how much muscle memory is required to play the piano.

Since you seem to think this is such an impossible task, note that it has already been accomplished: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cK4REjqGc9w

The only way Janko's keyboard is not fundamentally superior is that it isn't widely available.


> Guitar players don't get lost!

What an extraordinary claim.

> Yes, and for good reason. It means the student can skip learning 11/12ths of the required muscle memory. That's a very significant, and very measurable gain.

That seems to make sense. Unfortunately you can't provide any proof or evidence. I could claim that my one-key keyboard with 88 transposition buttons was superior, but I don't, because it's not.


> Unfortunately you can't provide any proof or evidence.

I just did. Mathematical proof.

How much evidence must I provide your condescending sensibilities? Do I have to hunt you down, sit you in front of a Janko keyboard, and force you to learn?


> I just did. Mathematical proof.

Is that right. I don't recall seeing any theorems, lemmas, axioms, or really anything resembling proving anything, mathematical or not, but I have seen a lot of blustery naïve rhetoric. Just saying an accordion-nightmare keyboard is better, does not make it so. Please pardon me if I remain skeptical.

> How much evidence must I provide

How about a study that addresses your claim: "It means the student can skip learning 11/12ths of the required muscle memory. That's a very significant, and very measurable gain."

You are making a big claim here. Not sure why you're surprised that someone is asking for clarification.


> The only way Janko's keyboard is not fundamentally superior is that it isn't widely available.

One could make that claim about literally anything. Maybe it just didn't resonate with the people who would have wanted to make it work. It's kind of Darwinistic, some ideas catch on and others are dismissed out of hand because they look like an accordionist's nightmare.


> messy

God forbid that complex things are messy. They are, until you learn the system and can have mastery over it. You only have 1/12th the work to do as us normal musicians, so it should be much easier for you.


> the student can skip learning 11/12ths of the required muscle memory. That's a very significant, and very measurable gain.

Citation needed


> The same way you know which C is "middle C".

No, because you just dismissed the traditional map for keyboardists.


> I'm coming from a place where I do know the jargon. That doesn't mean I have to like it.

What about a hepatologist who doesn't like using "-ase" for enzyme names? What does that even mean?

It's important to learn things as they are before confidently offering improvements. Else you will be called out by someone who knows what you don't.

I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

".... In mathematics you don't understand things. You just get used to them." --Jon von Neumann


I'm not talking about heptology. I'm talking about music.

I don't like using the word "piano" for quiet, "forte" for loud, "retardando" for slow down, etc. I don't like using 7 letters and sharps/flats/naturals to describe 12 notes. I don't like using keys and clefs to obfuscate notation. I don't like demanding everything be Ionian-mode centric.

I offer the following improvements: Replace historic words like "allegro" with sensible replacements like "faster". Replace the 12 different Ionian-mode centric keys and "accidentals" with a single chromatic notation. Make a notation that expresses a wider range without relying on ledger lines, and ditch clefs all together.

And above all, stop rejecting every change that diverges from the status quo out of hand. Actually consider real changes, instead of worshiping the 17th century system we use today as if it's the epitome of perfection.


> I'm not talking about heptology. I'm talking about music.

It's called an analogy. It was about terminology and jargon. I'll try to be more non-abstract going forward.

> stop rejecting every change that diverges from the status quo out of hand. Actually consider real changes, instead of worshiping the 17th century system we use today as if it's the epitome of perfection.

Such outrage! Much lazy!


You like children's notation and theory. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

> I wish I could say that your attitude was rare in music. Unfortunately, it represents the majority in professional circles.

The attitude of needing to know your scales? I too have found that to be the prevailing attitude in professional circles. It's a quite useful attitude to have actually, when one finds themselves in musical territory.


> The status quo is protected by this vain professionalism at a heavy cost.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I see nothing here but a naïve attitude about the nature of music and musicians. I invite one citation as to the veracity of this claim.


> There is obvious room for improvement. The syntax is not nearly as efficient as it could be.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Your baseless assertion sounds confident but is backed by nothing.


> I'm coming from a place where I do know the jargon. That doesn't mean I have to like it.

Why does the jargon matter? It all describes the same stuff.


> > It's complex, because simple music is for children.

> Oh, I'm a child now?

Are you making simple music? You tell me.


> There is obvious room for improvement.

No one believes that. Please provide evidence.


> "white keys are for C Ionian and black keys are for 'accidentals'"

As a guitar player, I find this choice somewhat arbitrary and bizarre. It really only makes sense for playing songs in C major and its relative minor. Fun fact: C is the second most popular key for songs, probably because it's the easiest on piano and easy on guitar. I guess it's also easy on violin and a few more string instruments.

https://io9.gizmodo.com/a-chart-of-the-most-commonly-used-ke...


> It's like we're stuck in a codebase that was started centuries ago, and everyone is too afraid to commit a bugfix, let alone a major refactor.

This describes everything about the classical music world. They're still playing the same old pieces by the same old composers, on the same old instruments. There's nothing wrong with doing old things, but it's somewhat baffling.

As a home guitar player and producer, I can trivially get pedals and amps that practically let me make any sound I want with my guitar, as well as equipment for alternative techniques like the E-bow. If you jump over to the MIDI/DAW world, there's pretty much no limit to what you can do. Some stuff is already coming out that lets you translate humming into MIDI in real-time. Yet people trip over themselves to tell you why there shouldn't be pianos of different sizes, let alone (god forbid) pianos with different keyboard layouts. I can only imagine the reaction of the average classical performer if you were to suggest making a major overhaul to the design or performance of an instrument itself, if not adding in new instruments altogether.

As an engineer, I've been doubly baffled by the adherence to doing things traditionally just because that's how it's always been done. The attitude I've perceived from people in the classical world that I know is that they pretty much don't believe there could be a better notation, technique, etc. Meanwhile in the software world, it feels like we have a new coding language every year and 10 different frameworks for each of them. Even if language A and language B can do the same thing, they could each offer engineer X and Y more comfortable or preferred solutions for doing that same thing. Music isn't that different; in the end you're just creating an evolving soundscape with different pitches and timbres, so why not try a new design that offers the same sound, or a new sound that can play the same role in the soundscape?

It's unfortunate because I have immense respect for the skill that classical performers have. I just wish we could see what they could do if they applied their talents towards performing new music and instruments. The people who do innovate in this respect produce some incredible stuff: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvUU8joBb1Q.


The tactile difference between black and white keys is quite helpful for being able to feel where within the octave your hand is. There are surely other ways, some which may be better, but it is far from trivial to figure out what form of tactile feedback would be best.

But mostly I'm skeptical such a keyboard would succeed in the market because it would be useless for for experienced pianists and would run the risk of becoming associated with novices and signal incompetence.


As usual, a revolutionary trend like this would first be carried by people who do not give a fuck, not the experienced pianists. Everyone else would eventually follow.

This happens all the time. It's a continual process. Within the past century, there have been at least three or four major revolutions in the instrumentation and techniques for producing popular music.

Everybody else doesn't follow, not because we're old fashioned, but because we're following our own enjoyment amidst the huge diversity within the world of music. I perform regularly on an instrument that is a couple of revolutions removed from its contemporary analogue.


The hardest part is getting those people access to the necessary hardware.

Traditional pianos are prolific, as are keyboards. Teachers are everywhere. Alternative keyboards are rare and prohibitively expensive.

Once you have learned to play a piano, alternatives have already lost the bulk of their relative value.


Survivorship bias

Everything is either a survivor or victim in the end.

I'd say in the end everyone is dead.

>Where are the pianists for nonstandard keyboards? > If we dropped the "white keys are for C Ionian and black keys are for 'accidentals'" layout for a chromatic one, a pianist would only need to learn every scale and chord once, and playing in a different key would involve nothing more than moving their hands.

You're asking for a different instrument, which would reduce hand spans to half their size when compared to an orthodox keyboard. This would change completely the tonality of the instrument such that it would be barely recognisable.

If you really want this, you're free to do it on any digital by reassigning their key value, and only using white keys. Or you could play a guitar. But I imagine you'll then be frustrated that each open string increases key by an arbitrary amount, which is done to address the tonality issue I mention.

> The same goes for notation and theory verbiage. It's like we're stuck in a codebase that was started centuries ago, and everyone is too afraid to commit a bugfix, let alone a major refactor.

You need NO theory or notation to become highly proficient. This is no excuse.


> You're asking for a different instrument, which would reduce hand spans to half their size when compared to an orthodox keyboard. This would change completely the tonality of the instrument such that it would be barely recognisable.

Nonsense.

This is a "different instrument" "barely recognizable" from the traditional piano? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cK4REjqGc9w

Having a different interface does not make something a totally different instrument. It's still an assortment of keys that are pressed to swing hammers at an assortment of strings. We change the shape of the string assortment all the time, yet no one complains that an upright isn't a piano because it's "barely recognizable" when compared to a grand.

This also stretches well outside the realm of the piano. Everything from synthesizers to xylophones take on the traditional piano keyboard shape.

> You need NO theory or notation to become highly proficient. This is no excuse.

I wasn't presenting an "excuse". I both know musical theory and am proficient. This isn't about me. I was presenting the similar inefficiencies that exist in piano keyboards and western notation.

This is about every person who wants to learn a piano. They are all confronted with an antiquated and inefficient interface for no reason outside tradition.


It would be much better, if it was playable at all.

I think there's a difference between musical instruments and notation, and for instance programming languages and code bases. Reading and playing are expected to happen in real time, and the physical / mental skill to do those things is typically developed when people are fairly young. It's not impossible, but learning a new kind of instrument or a new notation system gets exponentially more difficult with age.

With either instruments or notation, introducing something "better" requires people to make a serious commitment to starting practically from scratch and sucking for a long, long time, before being able to do anything productive. It's not fear, it's reality of knowing the limits of our brains and our bodies.

If you're a composer or arranger, you have to write in a standard notation in order for anybody to play your stuff. Developing a new notation system to the point of finding out if it's actually workable for reading sophisticated music in a performance setting would be a staggering undertaking. Likewise for an experimental keyboard layout. One reason why pianists like the crooked layout is that it provides visual and tactile guidance as to where things are. You can find your way around the keyboard, drunk and blindfolded. The fact that each key has its own personality becomes a feature, not a bug, in the hands of a good player.

But despite these challenges, there is extensive exploration of novel instrument layouts and designs, often conducted in an academic setting. Music is not as static as one might think. A pianist at the University of Wisconsin has developed a piano with a smaller keyboard.

https://madison.com/wsj/entertainment/music/a-smaller-piano-...


> With either instruments or notation, introducing something "better" requires people to make a serious commitment to starting practically from scratch and sucking for a long, long time, before being able to do anything productive.

That's really not true in practice.

A person who is proficient at playing one instrument is much better equipped to learn another than one who has no experience at all. Sure, it's easier to develop the skill as a child, but there are millions of adults who learn their first instrument and become proficient within a reasonable time-frame.

> Developing a new notation system to the point of finding out if it's actually workable for reading sophisticated music in a performance setting would be a staggering undertaking. Likewise for an experimental keyboard layout.

The latter has been done by experts and hobbyists alike. It's not just a naturally difficult thing to promote nonstandard notation: the professional music community is extremely averse to the idea. It's nothing short of blasphemy.

Musical notation is not that hard. You have 12 notes, fractional rhythms, and various accents to embellish them. There are several glaring obfuscations that make the traditional notation system unnecessarily complicated: Keys multiply the amount of notes by 12, and each Clef multiplies the entire set of keys once more. From those two factors alone, a proficient reader must learn to recognize each of the 12 modes written 24 different ways. All of the sudden, 12 scales have become 288!

It's also interesting to me that this hasn't been solved already by software. Notation is nothing more than formatting. We have dozens of competing data interchange formats, and it's pretty trivial to convert between them.

> One reason why pianists like the crooked layout is that it provides visual and tactile guidance as to where things are. The fact that each key has its own personality becomes a feature, not a bug, in the hands of a good player.

That's true to a point, but not as necessary as it sounds. Consider for example, Gymnopedie No.1 by Eric Satie: The left hand moves more than an octave every measure. Does a proficient pianist feel around for the unique-feeling D key? Not usually. In a general sense, a fixed seated position is more than enough positional information for a practiced pianist. Most can fall back on sight for the rest. Even if this feature were desired, it could be implemented. Keys can be given a different feel from one another without changing their relative shape and size.

> But despite these challenges, there is extensive exploration of novel instrument layouts and designs, often conducted in an academic setting. Music is not as static as one might think. A pianist at the University of Wisconsin has developed a piano with a smaller keyboard.

The fact that you shared an article about a professor creating a piano with such a subtle change like it was news speaks volumes to this problem. Imagine reading an article about a guitarist making a shorter neck guitar, then promoting a literal organization that petitions for variable-length necks!

As for actual exploration on the topic, you can read about the Jammer Keyboard: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jammer_keyboard


In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they're not.

Why do you think that theory and practice are the same? For me and many other guitar players who learned from tabs, there's zero theory involved. Just mechanically learning a song through positioning and timing. You can learn considerable musicality and expression through this approach without ever knowing a word of theory.

My bad, I am mixing metaphors here. I meant 'theory' as in 'the opposite of practice or experiment', not music theory. I totally agree that there are many famous and accomplished musicians who don't know any formal theory or reading notation.

>>> Musical notation is not that hard. You have 12 notes, fractional rhythms, and various accents to embellish them.

Don't forget reading. The notation has to be readable on the fly by people who are capable of doing it. Proving this to be possible for a given notation system is a massive undertaking.

I still contend that it's not about traditionalism, but about practicality. Musicians don't want to suck. Changing instruments or notation means sucking for a long, long time before being able to use it at the level they already attained on the previous system.

I'm in this boat myself right now. I'm a working double bassist. As a lockdown project, I decided to get back into playing cello, after a 35+ year hiatus. I'm also trying to get up to speed on sight reading treble clef. I can tell that it will take me a crazy amount of effort on the cello to reach the level of the bands that I play bass in.

>>> It's also interesting to me that this hasn't been solved already by software. Notation is nothing more than formatting. We have dozens of competing data interchange formats, and it's pretty trivial to convert between them.

Then do it!

The good stuff isn't in the computer. ;-) Only about the past couple decades of literature has been digitized. Of that, vanishingly little is publicly available due to heavy handed copyright restrictions for sheet music. Some of the really good stuff was never even published, but hastily photocopied and shared.

My band's entire library, spanning a century of big-band jazz, exists only on paper, with the exception of a small handful of modern compositions.

>>> The fact that you shared an article about a professor creating a piano with such a subtle change like it was news speaks volumes to this problem. Imagine reading an article about a guitarist making a shorter neck guitar, then promoting a literal organization that petitions for variable-length necks!

>>> As for actual exploration on the topic, you can read about the Jammer Keyboard: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jammer_keyboard

>>> That thing can't control a grand piano.

There's no doubt that new instruments are developed all the time as I mentioned elsewhere in the thread. Consider the scratch turntable. It didn't even exist when I was a kid, and I suspect it would frustrate any attempt at notation using the current system.

New notation systems have been developed. For instance jazz bass parts that consist of a combination of notation and chord symbols didn't exist in the 19th century, and would have been unplayable by anybody from that era. The Nashville number system developed in the recording industry, sometime in the past century.

Instruments gain popularity in musical styles that don't depend as much on written music, such as folk, rock, and so forth. That's one way to deal with notation. Lots of adults learn to play without learning to read at all.

Amplification and electronic synthesis reduce the physical and acoustical demands on instruments, allowing the "user interface" layout to be detached from the physical production of sound.

When musicians do try something new, it's often not just to play the old music using a new technology, though that does happen. Instead, it's everything all at once. When the electric guitar burst on the scene, it ushered in new styles of music, and new ways of composing and communicating ideas that largely avoided notation altogether. Nobody formed a band of 19 guitars to play Glenn Miller charts. Well, maybe they did. It's amazing the huge variety of things that musicians are willing to try for the sake of novelty.


> Don't forget reading. The notation has to be readable on the fly by people who are capable of doing it. Proving this to be possible for a given notation system is a massive undertaking.

Well, that's the goal: to make learning to read more approachable.

The main difficulty is getting the user to practice reading your new system.

> I'm in this boat myself right now. I'm a working double bassist. As a lockdown project, I decided to get back into playing cello, after a 35+ year hiatus. I'm also trying to get up to speed on sight reading treble clef. I can tell that it will take me a crazy amount of effort on the cello to reach the level of the bands that I play bass in.

You have just presented one of the main ways that a clef-less notation system would be easier in the long run. Clefs are a workaround for putting the average note of an instrument closer to center of the staff, so there aren't as many occurrences of ledger lines, which themselves are a workaround.

How many times have you heard a conductor fail to correctly convert notes written in C on his score to what is written in C=Bb on a trumpet's part? Any number higher than zero represents a huge room for improvement.

> The good stuff isn't in the computer. ;-) Only about the past couple decades of literature has been digitized. Of that, vanishingly little is publicly available due to heavy handed copyright restrictions for sheet music. Some of the really good stuff was never even published, but hastily photocopied and shared.

That's the sad truth of it. Copyright is one of the main things holding us back.


Chromatic button accordion layout addresses these concerns

Right now there are two rows (black and white), so more keys fit within the hand's span than if there were one row.

Would a chromatic keyboard have two rows?

If it does have two rows, then you must learn every scale twice, not once as you said.

If it has only one row, then either you won't be able to reach as far or you will have to make the keys much narrower and it will be easier to hit wrong notes.


I mean what if you used something more similar to a keyboard layout to get the 88 keys way smaller.

As most keyboards are digital, you could even have some sort of modifier keys.


That's an interesting idea. Does a chromatic keyboard layout exist?

IMHO, there's a much better one:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harmonic_table_note_layout

I have never been able to manage a piano. The hexagonal layout looks daunting at first glance:

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/_rScBRKlTdoE/Shc8M8VM4SI/AAAAAAAAS...

But I have found it much more straightforward. Over and above not needing to memorize every pattern twelve times, the layout is so intuitive, I'll frequently find myself reaching out blindly for notes in my head and landing them correctly.

Unfortunately, the manufacturer of the above keyboard is no more, but there a recent successful kickstarter for one:

https://www.lumatone.io/


Yes, but it's very uncommon on pianos these days. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jankó_keyboard

Most button accordions and modern electronic instruments (Linnstrument, Soundplane, Eigenharp) are have chromatic layouts... I wonder if you could hook up one of these devices up to a player piano without too much latency.


You'd lose the physical dimension of playing the keys.

For the accordion you adjust the force of the air, so you don't have to use different forces on the buttons. It's OK that you find them with only your fingertips.

That's less OK when the force hitting the key is directly transferred to the string making the sound. You need a dynamic range. It seems to me most of the people here are forgetting that.

Such a layout could probably be used on an organ. But I think keyboard size is less of a problem for organs?


The Linnstrument captures the dynamic range of strike and release velocity, as well as pressure and aftertouch direction; translated to MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression).

As someone with relatively small hands for piano, I have been enjoying the wider range of intervals with one hand provided by the Linnstrument's layout.


Organs are a smaller key size by tradition dating to before the piano. They are also less keys.

If you're not a lazy musician, you'll just learn all your scales. No professional player would take you seriously. Sorry.

> If you're not a lazy musician, you'll just learn all your scales. No professional player would take you seriously. Sorry.

This is the heart of the problem. Wanting to factor out unnecessary work isn't lazy. Refusing to change a system, even when that change is a clear improvement is lazy.

It's pretty clear that neither you nor the average "professional player" is actually sorry about it. By definition, "professional players" have gone through the effort of learning muscle memory to play 144 scales. By definition, they are not motivated to promote a system where only learning 12 is required.

Defining someone who would like to see or implement an improved system as "lazy" is an effective way to stifle diversity.

Do you take Jimi Hendrix seriously? Is Jazz serious?

This attitude that worships tradition is stifling innovation. I would much rather we stopped taking it seriously.


> Wanting to factor out unnecessary work isn't lazy.

Agreed. As someone with a professional music background, I would simply disagree about the nature of the work involved. If reducing the workload from 144 scales to 12 helps makes someone sound like Jimi Hendrix, I'm all for it.


Regardless of instrument, at a minimum you need to know your major and minor scales in every key, and arguably piano is easier in the sense you can transpose up and down octaves with the same shapes. Guitar has 6 positions, different spreads to voice correctly, different shapes for the same chords, and with little in regards to visual cues. C and Eb major look pretty different across a fret board, and if you want to shred, there is going to be a lot of scales in your practicing.

Nothing is stopping you from becoming a virtuoso on something like an Ableton Push, but there just isn't any short cut around the practice and that's honestly the main slog. 2 hand independence, internal sense of rhythm, syncopation, groove and understanding the relationships and functions of chords/harmony take tons of dedicated practice. Ear training to recognize intervals and chord voicings/relationships is a pain as well. To get where this is second nature just requires a lot of time. Issues with the keyboard's ergonomics are small in comparison.

You will need to practice and learn some goofy names, but pretty much it's just a way to describe relative notes, groupings and relationships. Knowing your major and relative minors scales you can learn the other modes relatively easily; Mixolydian is a major scale with dominant 7th, Dorian is a minor scale with a major 6th. Same thinking with chords. Most of this knowledge starts building on top of each other, and gradually you stop consciously thinking about these things while playing.

Jazz musicians are absolute nerds when it comes to this. Theory is descriptive not prescriptive; it's how musicians can discuss what's happening in a piece.


> Regardless of instrument, at a minimum you need to know your major and minor scales in every key, and arguably piano is easier in the sense you can transpose up and down octaves with the same shapes.

First of all, "Major" is "Ionian", and "Minor" is "Aeolian". Both are the same exact pattern of notes starting at a different point. This means that playing C Major (Ionian) involves the exact same set of notes as A Minor (Aeolian).

> C and Eb major look pretty different across a fret board, and if you want to shred, there is going to be a lot of scales in your practicing.

They look exactly the same. One is simply shifted 3 frets away from the next. That's my point. Playing Eb major in the same position as C major would involve changing shapes, and playing Eb major in the same shape as C major would involve changing position.

To contrast, playing Eb major in any position on a piano requires playing a totally different shape than C major. That means learning totally different muscle memory for Eb major, which is not necessary on guitar.

> Nothing is stopping you from becoming a virtuoso on something like an Ableton Push, but there just isn't any short cut around the practice and that's honestly the main slog.

There is nothing stopping me from becoming an expert on something like a Janko piano, except that I don't have one. I do have a piano. My point is that if I had both, I would find it much easier to learn the Janko piano, because it requires significantly less learning.

> 2 hand independence, internal sense of rhythm, syncopation, groove and understanding the relationships and functions of chords/harmony take tons of dedicated practice.

That's true. Factoring in different muscle memory for each individual key also requires tons of extra dedicated practice. That skill is totally unnecessary, and could be completely factored out by using a chromatic layout, allowing the learner to focus a significant amount more time and effort on those other skills you mentioned.

> To get where this is second nature just requires a lot of time. Issues with the keyboard's ergonomics are small in comparison.

Small? Arguable. Trivial? Definitely not.

> Theory is descriptive not prescriptive; it's how musicians can discuss what's happening in a piece.

Yes, and our current descriptors are convoluted. If we had better descriptors, we would be better equipped to discuss.

Frankly, they are prescriptive. They prescribe we call "loud" "forte", and "fast" "allegro". They prescribe that we call the 14th half-step up a "9th". The whole thing could use a complete overhaul, but professionalism demands we preserve antiquity.

> You will need to practice and learn some goofy names, but pretty much it's just a way to describe relative notes, groupings and relationships. Knowing your major and relative minors scales you can learn the other modes relatively easily; Mixolydian is a major scale with dominant 7th, Dorian is a minor scale with a major 6th.

You have illustrated my point well.


> First of all, "Major" is "Ionian", and "Minor" is "Aeolian". Both are the same exact pattern of notes starting at a different point. This means that playing C Major (Ionian) involves the exact same set of notes as A Minor (Aeolian).

There were two minor scales left out: Melodic and Harmonic minor, and each of those has its associated modes. Also they change depending on whether you're ascending or descending the scale. Yes that's an additional few hundred modes. We want to be complete in our descriptions.


> Factoring in different muscle memory for each individual key also requires tons of extra dedicated practice. That skill is totally unnecessary, and could be completely factored out by using a chromatic layout, allowing the learner to focus a significant amount more time and effort on those other skills you mentioned.

Many musicians would pay good money to have a playing advantage like you claim.

> > To get where this is second nature just requires a lot of time. Issues with the keyboard's ergonomics are small in comparison.

Agreed


> Is Jazz serious?

Baseless assertions aside, if there exists a world where jazz musicians don't have to know all their scales, plus altered dominants, plus chromatic substitutions, it would be of great interest.


> This attitude that worships tradition is stifling innovation. I would much rather we stopped taking it seriously.

OMFG with the butt-hurt laziness. Jesus. You're taking it as the professional musician conspiracy being your mighty oppressor, but what I meant is, being a musician takes work. There is no way around it, we are wired to hear it. The keyboard as it is is laid out for efficiency. If you have for instance a keyboard with only 12 keys on it, plus 2 for up/down keys or something, well now you are at 14 keys in addition to thinking about when to modulate, so we are back to square one in terms of complexity. Music is complex, get over it.


> There is no way around it

I have just presented a way. Were you willing to listen?

No, it's not a "conspiracy". How condescending. It is, on the other hand, a real problem. Maybe reconsider your persecution complex.

> The keyboard as it is is laid out for efficiency.

How many times to I need to explain that is not the case? The keyboard is extremely inefficient. It was not designed for efficiency. It was designed to look like the Ionian mode, with accidentals on a separate row.


> The keyboard is extremely inefficient. It was not designed for efficiency. It was designed to look like the Ionian mode, with accidentals on a separate row.

If you are offering the Janko keyboard as any kind of alternative, I would have to politely disagree. The video with the guy playing stride piano from 1912 was not really that compelling given music especially since 1920. But, like Coltrane brought back the soprano sax from relative obscurity (Sidney Bechet was an early exponent of the instrument from 3 decades previous), there may very well be a new player of the Janko keyboard who brings it from the past into the present.

How efficient does one need a keyboard to be? What is the millisecond improvement of a Janko kbd over standard? Why is 10 fingers at a time on a Janko keyboard better than 10 fingers at a time on a standard keyboard? What kind of musical situation demands 10 simultaneous notes from the keyboard player? Why do you say the current standard keyboard is "extremely inefficient"?


> > There is no way around it

> I have just presented a way. Were you willing to listen?

I didn't see any practical way if you presented it, just a lot of wishful thinking. Are you saying you have an improved method for a keyboard layout?


Being a professional musician takes tens of thousands of hours of work. If you don't put in the work, it is obvious to the listener. You have to learn all the theory and technique regardless of instrument or key layout. You can reduce the load when you're a beginner by using a ABCDEF keyboard instead of a QWERTY keyboard, but there is no way around learning the basics.

And at no point was I arguing that.

What you don't have to learn is different muscle memory for 11 different keys. That's a lot of work, and the only reason anyone does it is because keyboards are made that way.

Becoming an expert takes thousands of hours of work, yes, but why does that mean it should take thousands of hours to become a novice?

Just because I have spent thousands of hours learning music does not mean I should demand it be difficult for beginners.


> it should take thousands of hours to become a novice?

It doesn't, most students are able to navigate their 12 keys by year one.

Please show me one scintilla of evidence of your supposed improvements to the codebase. One. Scintilla.


> By definition, they are not motivated to promote a system where only learning 12 is required.

One might assume from this that professional musicians are not interested in the most efficient expression of their musical voice.


I type well on a QWERTY keyboard. It could be simultaneously true that a Dvorak layout would be better for new typists to learn and use for a lifetime but for me to remain better off unchanged. If I made that choice, it would be because I was interested in the efficient expression of my ideas. (The irony of me typing this on a iPhone on-screen keyboard is painful to me.)

I learned the Workman layout. I found it advantageous to do so, but I still don't find this to be a good comparison.

The thing is, no matter which keyboard layout you use, there is the same amount of muscle memory required to be learned.

To contrast, a piano requires 12 times as much muscle memory as a Janko keyboard.

Learning to play a piano is hard, and it is made significantly easier by simply changing the physical keyboard layout.


> Learning to play a piano is hard, and it is made significantly easier by simply changing the physical keyboard layout.

Still waiting for one tiny scintilla of evidence.


> Janko keyboard

That looks like an accordionist's nightmare.


Growing up, we had a Wurlitzer spinet piano with narrower-than-standard keys. I don't recommend getting one.

Our narrower-key piano was what I would do all my practicing on. I didn't really know the difference at the time though. It was just a piano to me. While practicing, I'm sure I benefitted from being able to reach farther than I would on a standard size keyboard.

But only while practicing. When it came time for performance, whether at church or at recitals in the music hall in the city library, the number of mistakes would shoot up. At the time I attributed it all just to nerves, but years later I realized I wasn't performing on an instrument of the same dimensions as the one I had practiced on. Having to switch your muscle memory like that is a tall order.

So we've got these options:

1. Everywhere that there's one piano today, have three instead (as the article suggests), so people can pick the size they want to play.

2. Get a smaller one for yourself, and assume the risk of increased mistakes when performing on someone else's full size.

3. Choose consistency over greater reach, and practice on a full size.

Some places could support option 1 (universities and symphony orchestras, perhaps), but it seems unrealistic for most homes, churches, and piano teachers. And I doubt that many concert halls with Faziolis ($100k and up) would be very excited about needing to buy 3 of them.

With electronic instruments it becomes a lot more feasible. MIDI controllers already come in a variety of key widths. This market is competitive enough that if I were part of PASK, I'd start here and try to convince a manufacturer to claim this niche.


Maybe there's an argument to be made that instruction of children should happen on smaller keys, so that they have greater reach and can grow into performing on larger keys.

Just like evidence shows that kids develop better shooting form and develop better playing on an 8' basketball hoop than larger hoops... I'd suspect that smaller keyboards would be better for children.

> 2. Get a smaller one for yourself, and assume the risk of increased mistakes when performing on someone else's full size.

Given that the current size is too big for most people, maybe we'd converge to the medium size suggested eventually in a perfect world.


Swappable keyboards maybe, even for acoustic pianos ?

My college degree was in piano. My hand size is average, I can comfortably reach all ninths and most tenths. (F# - A# pisses me off.) It always bugged when my teachers would take umbrage about hand size complaints, they always had some piano pro to point out that had smaller hands than me. Yeah, I get it, I can arpeggiate, but you still can't make me learn Rachmaninoff.

There's this Brahms 2nd rhapsody that I just love, but the climax of the entire piece is this chord that I can only hit if the stars align, and it just hurts my heart to arpeggiate it.


> It always bugged when my teachers would take umbrage about hand size complaints, they always had some piano pro to point out that had smaller hands than me.

Perhaps your complaints were logically valid, but your teachers were responding in the way they thought would help your education? After all, they can't do anything about the size of your hands, or—realistically—the standard piano key size. They wanted you to focus on playing your best, and on overcoming your limitations.


Yes, you're right. I think I recognized that at the time, though, but the barrier still bugged me. :)

Yeah, every time I hear stories of those "great pianists with small hands".

Somehow those "small hands" always translate to "can comfortably reach 10ths or 11ths or more" and not octave at most.

Which just drives home the point of how gigantic hands are taken as a reference point.

And those supposed "greats" that do have smallish hands aren't all that great and have a severely limited pokey repertoire.


If you can comfortably reach 10ths you do not have small hands.

I have the opposite problem. I have thick sausage fingers and they don't fit easily between the black notes. This isn't a show stopper, but it's certainly a handicap compared to someone who has much thinner fingers.


Do you remember the opus number of the Brahms piece? I just looked at the Op. 79 rhapsodies and couldn't find the part you mentioned, though maybe I missed it.

Shows how long ago I played it, I got it a bit wrong. Sorry, it's actually the first rhapsody, op 79. Seven bars before the bridge, beat 2, left hand - two beats after the climax. It's actually notated arpeggio but it always felt like a wet noodle in my hand and I always felt like I could rip it off with authority if my hand was just a bit bigger.

That middle section more than makes up for it though...


I'm a pianist of 20 years. I'm fine with manufacturers making these products. I'm fine with new repertoire being written for them too. There's just no getting around the fact: large hands are an advantage in piano music. If you can reach a 10th easily, that's great. If you can reach an octave very easily, thats very great. If you can't reach an octave easily, you will never master a large fraction of passages in Romantic and later music.

For instance, try playing the octaves in Nocturne Op 48 No 1 by Chopin with small hands...far harder!


The 3 suggested sizes are large (current standard) and two smaller keyboards.

I would like to humbly submit a 4th change. The large keyboard, but with narrower black keys. I have the hand size and range to play well on a large keyboard, but my biggest struggle has been my wide fingers being unable to fit between the black keys (only by a few millimeters).

I have large hands and I used to be able to play very well, but in college it began to get harder and harder to get my fingers between the keys.


I have a Chromatone, which has a different key layout I think would solve that problem: https://www.chromatone.jp/

Unfortunately, they are no longer for sale. I got mine really cheap, while they were getting rid of old stock.

I have commented in detail about it in the past: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21842632


I played Russian accordion with this type of a layout (EDIT: not the same as chromatone, which uses https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jank%C3%B3_keyboard ), and I think it is superior to the piano keyboard. But the piano layout seems to be the default for almost any modern digital instrument/device, so you need to play piano anyway to use any of them. And this uniformity was not a thing in the past, when people designed all sorts of "analog" instruments (violins, guitars, trumpets, etc.)

I think the movement is about standard not just one or two, a bit like 4/4 1/4 etc size of violin but not just for kids.

I was looking for this comment. I played the piano as a child and, as an adult, bought a well-used Clavinova as soon as I could afford it.

It wasn’t long before I had to admit I had a problem with getting my fingers between the black keys.

I have found some people suggesting altering playing style so that the fingers don’t play between pairs of black keys. I can’t find a way to do this that feels right at all.

Another suggestion was that some pianos have slightly more space between the black keys so larger fingers can fit in the gaps. I’m hoping there is an electric piano with this larger gap.


I’ve never thought about this before, but it makes sense, especially with the advent of electronic keyboards. I grew up playing cello and didn’t get a full-sized (4/4) instrument until I was in high school. It seems like a good idea to let folks with smaller hands have pianos that are appropriately sized.

As a lifelong musician, I’ve always found this odd.

I grew up playing the accordion, which comes in many different sizes. Larger ones with larger/more keys are the sort of ‘standard’ for most adult players, but there’s no requirement to play any particular size, even in high level competitions.

Even as an adult, I feel like piano keys are just _slightly_ too wide for me. I welcome this movement!


It's interesting because guitarists already have this depending on the scale length you play, which can go from 24.5" up to 28" or even 30" scale lengths depending on if you're playing extended range guitars or not (I'm sure there are shorter scales but I'm just going of 'standard' scale lengths).

On top of this, neck materials, profiles and radius can very so you can find just the right fit for your hand. You can even get fanned frets or innovations like the Strandberg Endurneck to make playing more comfortable.

I suppose this is because the guitar has more room for design flexibility compared to the traditional piano, which hasn't really changed much since it's inception.


And you can carry your guitar with you. Unlike a pianist, a guitarist almost never shows up to a gig and plays someone else's instrument. So standardization is a lot less important.

The other thing guitarists have going for them is that no matter what scale length you play, the shape of the chords and scales changes as you go up the neck. Guitarists are constantly training with differently-spaced frets just by moving up and down the fretboard. This makes it trivial to switch scale lengths compared to keyboardists switching key widths.


As another user in this thread pointed out, why not develop swappable keyboards? The full physical function of a piano can be described quite simply as a set of keys that cause mallets to hit strings (ignoring the pedals because you can play a piano without pedals, but not a piano without keys). The full physical function of something like a car or computer can't be described so simply, yet in those fields swappable parts and customization are taken for granted. Swappable keyboards, swappable pedals, maybe even swappable mallets. These would preserve the timbre and function of a traditional piano, while also accommodating personal preference and variation. Is it so inconceivable to imagine that maybe there is some room for innovation with classical instruments?

Guitars are cheap enough that most players have more than one. It is common at jams to trade guitars for a song (or night).

This will give people with smaller hands an advantage until the people with larger hands start playing the smaller piano.

Your finger width will put a damper on this. Large hands generally go with wider fingers.

The problem is that keyboard width is a function of soundboard width. Shrinking the keyboard likely also means shrinking the soundboard which has engineering tradeoffs.

For electric stuff, though, I don't see an issue.


The people advocating this have figured out how to place smaller keyboards in standard pianos so there's no loss of sound. (However, due to the increased angle of the keys to the levers that play the strings, some of the mechanism needs additional reinforcement to prevent breakage.)

I don't think this is specifically to give anyone an advantage, more like how there are differently sized guitars/violins/cellos for differently sized people.

The hilarious over-correction will be a hand size limit on the smaller instruments.

Seems like a good place to start with this world be semi-weighed MIDI controllers. Far cheaper to make and the market could be tested to get the correct sizing and guage demand for each size

Huh, this is cool. I can barely reach an octave, and then not at all comfortably. Wouldn't mind narrower keys, though I assume they take some getting used to. (Then again, I'm a terrible player who never practices and wouldn't even consider calling himself a "pianist" at any level.)

Seems reasonable enough considering many other instruments are available in a range of common sizes. The bigger problem I see is the ergonomics of most instruments are terrible and that will continue to be a burden at any size until they are radically redesigned and modernized.

Finally, I can play Rachmaninoff properly! Definitely not because I don't practice enough.

Sure but you'll almost certainly only ever going to be able to play in your own home. Though - if Alicia de Larrocher (one of the 'greats') 'at less than five feet tall and with small hands for a pianist spanning an interval of barely a tenth on the keyboard' could manage both Rachmaninov concertos I'm sure you can. She was highly inventive with her fingering!

I would guess keyboard size correlates with piano size and piano size correlates with audio volume.

If so, historically, that must have been a driving force for larger pianos, so that they don’t get overwhelmed by other instruments in an orchestra.

Or is volume mostly correlated with string length, and could it be kept identical in a piano that is less wide by increasing its height (for upright pianos) /depth (for grand pianos)?

Also, is crosstalk between piano strings significant in pianos and is distance between piano strings a significant factor in it? If so, moving strings closing together would affect it (for better or for worse, but changing the sound).


Not exactly the same, but melodicas (and accordions I think) have smaller keyboards than standard pianos... I feel like if smaller keyboards were going to take off for people with small hands, they probably already would have by now(...?)

On a related note, does anybody know of any good DIY piano projects? I google around from time to time and I haven't been able to find anything yet. Sounds like a hard project to get right. I found this on github [1], seems like he did not go far. Quote:

"Given that 3D printing has taken care of the lots-of-precise-parts requirement, there is now the possibility to explore different designs both for easy printing and assembly while also experimenting with the key feel."

I kinda agree... I remember there was a time when making a computer keyboard seem prohibitively expensive and difficult, but these days is a normal thing. It doesn't have to be 88 keys for a start :-)

EDIT:

Just found a nice project! [2] Definitely sounds like a good idea to get some existing keyboard with about the target form factor and just mess around with the keys! I was looking for something similar to the layout of the dodeka keyboard [3].

1: https://github.com/teletypist/modular-4bar-keyboard

2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6FADl1LfLc

3: https://www.dodekamusic.com/products/dodeka-keyboard/


I thought this was going to be about trying to find pianists who could play wrong-sized keyboards--pianists for alternatively sized keyboards. English is odd sometimes.

A thought experiment people might find helpful, when wondering whether it makes a difference: In other instruments that are available with different ergonomics, pro players spend a long time finding the make and model that "fits that their hands" among other criteria. When I switched from a vintage Buffet Dyna-80 tenor (big finger spacing) to a Yanigasawa 902 tenor (small finger spacing), the difference was immediately noticeable and helpful. Zero doubt about it. Guitarists and bassists have known this forever too and hunt for necks that fit their hands. While there is no doubt that there is a lot more to piano than hand size, there is equally no doubt that certain repertoire is much easier for people who's morphology fits the standard piano. (Which was, of course sized for men).

I’m an adult male[-bodied human] with a relatively largish body/frame/hand size. I’m a musician. I find the piano keyboard more intuitive than my more familiar instrument (guitar). But I’ve always struggled playing the piano/keys due to key size. I’m definitely interested in this effort.

Without knowing anything about keyboards this seems like a 'no brainer' to me. In fact, it seems so obvious that I am surprised market forces haven't solved for this already. I am curious why no one has come along, and built just this as there seems to be enough demand in the market.

The people buying pianos are not typically the players themselves, but performance venues, teaching studios, etc. Even for kids, when a kid outgrown a 1/4 size fiddle, upgrading to the next size doesn't require a truck. Making multiple sizes is only one facet of what amounts to an infrastructure problem.

How widely does this exist in other instruments? It seems problematic to me to learn on one size and then have to upsize as you get older. The analogy of the running shoes is interesting, but what if people learned to shoot hoops on various basketball-rim heights? Isn't that going to be counterproductive in the long run? Also, I'm sure the people behind this initiative have thought of this, but doing this on a piano -- which is massive and expensive -- is a much different challenge than doing it on a violin or a guitar.

As a snarky aside, it's always funny when a site calling for more accessibility and custom control over the interface hijacks my scrolling.


> what if people learned to shoot hoops on various basketball-rim heights? Isn't that going to be counterproductive in the long run?

Actually, consensus is forming around the opposite, here! Small children are almost never strong enough to shoot with proper form on a 10' hoop. If you give them an 8' hoop, they can begin practicing with proper form earlier, which is a more important factor in consistent shooting than having to adjust to a higher hoop later.

e.g. https://ak-static.cms.nba.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/79/20...


Funny you cite basketball, since at various levels the 3 pt and free throw lines are at different distances

It doesn't tend to exist with most other instruments, for the simple reason that instruments need to be a particular size for pitch/acoustical reasons, finger holes for wind instruments need to be in specific places, etc. But it's certainly more possible with a keyboard instrument. For instance, organ and harpsichord keyboards are routinely smaller than the modern piano keyboard.

You can learn to switch sizes if you try. I have two keyboards, one with narrow keys (korg micro key, bought for my kids as they can't reach even a simple 5-7 chord), and I play it just fine. I even have them one on top of the other and play both at once sometimes, one each hand. it isn't hard once you practice a little. (but not my ability is barely simple kids songs so I'm not a good example)

Indeed, I play double bass, two lengths of electric bass, and cello (tuned in fifths). It's remarkable how our brains and bodies can adapt.

Science has found that varying the hoop size helps in the long run. If you practice everything you learn better to adjust to everything, if you only practice one shot and your form is off you miss. If you practice all shots you adjust for the change in your form.

Most instruments that use keys for action use traditional piano key arrangements.

The reason that pianos are built to such a strict standard is that they are huge and heavy, so individual musicians generally can't just bring their own pianos from concert to concert.


At this rate I would wager that hoop height will be under fire at some point if it isn't already.

Very common for violin.

Common for violins used by children, yes, but basically not at all common for violins in professional adult use.

Quite common in basses, which are going to run up against physical limits much quicker than violins.

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