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I noted with interest your recent editorial in the June 2014 issue about keyboard instruments and fully support your comments. Thank you for mentioning the PASK website (Pianists for Access to Smaller Keyboards, www.paskpiano. org) which I maintain on behalf of pianists around the world who are keen to see change in the "one size fits all" approach to the piano keyboard that has prevailed since the 1880s. As you noted, piano key widths were narrower until that time, and it seems that the current size was settled on by the then-major manufacturers based on the needs of certain European male virtuosos who were closely involved in piano design and production. As a result, we now have a keyboard best suited to males with average to large hands.
December 2014 248
Ergonomic Piano Keyboards
To the editor — I noted with interest your recent editorial (June
2014 issue) about keyboard instruments and fully support
your comments. Thank you for mentioning the PASK website
(Pianists for Access to Smaller Keyboards, www.paskpiano.
org) which I maintain on behalf of pianists around the world
who are keen to see change in the “one size fits all” approach
to the piano keyboard that has prevailed since the 1880s.
As you noted, piano key widths were narrower until that
time, and it seems that the current size was settled on by the
then-major manufacturers based on the needs of certain Euro-
pean male virtuosos who were closely involved in piano
design and production. As a result, we now have a keyboard
best suited to males with average to large hands.
I have also maintained my own website since 2011
(www.smallpianokeyboards.org) with the purpose of collating
and sharing information about this important issue and pro-
moting the need for ESPKs (ergonomically scaled piano key-
boards). Much of the literature I have reviewed is listed and
summarised on the smallpianokeyboards.org website rather
than on the PASK site. I originally reviewed the literature (in
more detail than the summary on my website) for my first con-
ference paper on this topic in 2009 at the Australasian Piano
Pedagogy Conference Association (APPCA) meeting: www.
appca.com.au/2009proceedings.php. I presented this paper
soon after I acquired my own DS-5.5 keyboard (approx 7/8 con-
ventional width) from Steinbuhler & Co. in the USA. Since
then, I have noted more recent studies in subsequent APPCA
conference presentations (2011 and 2013) and on my website.
Much of my own research has focused on the enormous
benefits of smaller keyboards beyond the very important issue
of playing-related musculoskeletal disorders (PRMDs) and
also on the relationship between the wide range of hand
spans among the piano playing population and the demands
of classical piano playing. Personally, I have never suffered
from pain or injury, despite having very small hands (even for
a woman). However, the benefits of a 7/8 keyboard for me are
huge and something I reflect on frequently when playing.
These include ease and speed of learning, sight reading,
greater security, increased speed, better control of tone and
dynamic range, greater power when needed, access to a greatly
increased repertoire, and overall comfort and enjoyment.
Having recently had the experience of playing a DS-5.1 key-
board (approx 3/4 conventional width) in the US, I can now
understand how much easier everything is for men with
“average” size hand spans—because that is the keyboard size
that provides the equivalent experience for me.
The MTNA e-journal published an article of mine in
April 2012 which describes a survey I conducted of pianists
who play ESPKs. As well as experiencing the multiple musical
benefits mentioned above, virtually all respondents found
that their pain or injury problems had disappeared since
making the change.
My 2013 APPCA paper (www.appca.com.au/2013pro
ceedings.php) explored the reported benefits of ESPKs for
smaller-handed pianists, looking for the underlying biome-
chanical and physiological factors that might explain these
perceptions. It refers in particular to the work of Otto Ort-
mann early last century.
I would very much appreciate any readers letting me know
about recent studies relating to hand size and the piano key-
board that I may have missed in my reviews. In addition, I
maintain an email list for occasional email updates on devel-
opments, events, etc., on behalf of PASK, Pianists for Access
to Smaller Keyboards.
RHONDA BOYLE
Melbourne, Australia
rhonda@cicadabay.com
Letter
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