This man helps pianists with small hands

David Steinbuhler builds smaller keyboards for pianists with a shorter finger span.

david-steinbuhler-workshop

‘The magic for creating these smaller keyboards takes place in David Steinbuhler’s Titusville, Pennsylvania ribbon factory, a family-run business that has been around since 1897,’ writes Hugh Sung, who has interviewed David on his fascinating weekly podcast here. 

keyboard-small

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  • Andy says:

    Looks intriguing. I’ve often wondered about this. Would it make it difficult for a pianist to then sit and play at a ‘normal’ piano having done substantial practice on one with smaller keys?

    • Robert Holmén says:

      It’s one of those “it depends” kind of things.

      In music like Bach Preludes and Fugues where the hands rarely need to make a distant leap it’s a minor adjustment.

      Many electronic instruments have had reduced size keyboards that players managed to mix with their regular ones.

      Electronic keyboards have often had reduced size keyboards… my

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Now I finally know why I make often make a fool of myself when I try to play electronic keyboards. (My hands are average size.)

    • Bruce says:

      A close friend of mine actually has one of these, and says it’s not too difficult to switch back & forth. I compare it to people who play both violin & viola.

    • Linda Gould says:

      Good question Andy and the answer is surprising. Practising on the narrower keys actually makes it EASIER to play a large key piano (but you won’t want to anymore, unless you have to). Playing a piano that ‘fits your hand’ allows the pianist to release a tremendous amount of subconscious tension. It simply changes the way you approach a piano. This new knowledge is transferred to the large keys and you play with much less tension and more accuracy. The notes you can’t reach… you let them go.

  • John says:

    Official supplier to the White House in the offing?? 😉

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Didn’t Josef Hoffmann have a piano like this? Weren’t the keys a little narrower than usual? I’m asking because I can’t be bothered to look it up.

  • Robert King says:

    Harpsichords and chamber organs often have slightly different key widths and, yes, it takes a few moments for the mind to work out how much to compress the hand width, but you soon get used to a narrower span. More fun is when there is a “split octave” and the bottom keys don’t actually play the notes you would normally expect them to play.

    But much more challenging was one concert some years ago when the tuner in a north Italian city had had a very good lunch (and I later learned had carried on afterwards). Between rehearsal and concert he re-tuned the harpsichord for me. In the evening I came onto stage (the cellist having first tuned offstage so that we could launch straight into the first song without the irritating business of tuning open strings), and played the first chord for a song recital. Instead of E minor, out came a cacophony of wrong notes. I spent the next few minutes (whilst accompanying the song) gingerly working out which notes were actually tuned to which other notes (it was mostly octaves that were a semitone out, as he had presumably accidentally tweaked the neighbouring string), and which notes would work together in some vague vestige of consonance with other notes. Working out a viable “route map” and remembering which notes were now other notes gave me a really interesting first half. I tried to be discreet, and my continuo cellist played loudly once she’d realised what had happened, but what the audience thought of my playing, I hate to think.

    Oddly enough, it was me who went on during the interval, and I quickly retuned everything myself. I think the tuner was anyway fast asleep in a flower bed by this stage…

  • Rhonda Boyle says:

    I have a DS5.5® keyboard in my grand piano and it does in fact only take a very short time to get used to the new size – perhaps 20 minutes. After the initial adjustment process, one can easily swap between different sizes. There is no problem with larger leaps either…your brain simply changes gear. Someone once said it’s like the way we all learn to climb stairs of differing heights. You simply look at the first step then it’s automatic.

    Of course when you have a keyboard that better suits your hands, you may want to change fingering and add back notes previously omitted, so that takes a few days to practise in, as it normally would. I find that for challenging repertoire where I make such changes, I no longer want to play them on the ‘normal’ keyboard as one understands how profound the difference is – comfort, musicality, technical challenges often disappearing, etc. You realise that when the ergonomics are not right, it can mean 10 times the amount of practice for a worse result.

    Of course when you have a keyboard that better suits your hands, you may want to change fingering and add in notes previously omitted, so that takes a few days to practise in, as it normally would. I find that for challenging repertoire where I make such changes, I no longer want to play them on the ‘normal’ keyboard anyway, as one understands how profound the difference is – comfort, musicality, technical challenges often disappearing, etc. You realise that when the ergonomics are not right, it can mean 10 times the amount of practice for a worse result.

    For other instruments, there are of course violinists who also play violas, and also flute and piccolo players who interchange, and clarinettists who may have to play different clarinets in the same performance.

    There are conflicting reports about the size of Hoffmann’s piano – some say it was 7/8, others say it was somewhat larger. Steinway have definitely made 7/8 keyboards in the past as I know of a man in The Netherlands who used to have one. Judging from photos available on the internet, Baremboim’s new Maene piano also has a keyboard with narrower keys than normal.

    During the podcast, David Steinbuhler mentions the pianist who won third prize in the Dallas International Piano Competition in 2015, after just one day of practising on the alternate size (DS6.0®). Hugh has since added a link to the video I took of her first round performance of Prokofiev Piano Concerto No 1…here is the link again.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tj1RNLn8K6g

  • Christopher Donison says:

    This is much more of an issue of discrimination and potential emancipation, than many of the writers here know. It is not one of mere ‘enhancement’ or easing of problems. It is the difference between being able to play at one’s potential or not. I forgive them for they know not what they don’t know.

    It is true that the piano keyboard is too big for most of the adult human population — in order to play the major repertoire at as high a level possible, or to maximize the pianistic abilities for any particular individual, with their given their musical and physical skills and aptitudes.

    When the piano-world talks about this issue, we are hearing from people that have not experienced the problem so severely as to keep them from pursuing the piano in the first place, or often, have not experienced the problem at all — and therefore cannot possibly know.

    Not until the world has a second standard size at 7/8 the current standard, which is universally available for study, competition and performance, will the smaller half of the world be able to achieve what they are capable of. This is a wonderful opportunity for the world to finally correct an historic injustice. I urge all to read more in the published article in Piano & Keyboard Magazine from July and August 1998. You can see it here:

    http://chrisdonison.com/keyboard.html

    Christopher Donison

  • Stringalong says:

    I have small hands, and very short fifth (little) fingers. I had a field organ, aka harmonium, that was pedaled with the feet, and it had a small keyboard. Oh, how I loved it! If I still played piano (I switched to the mandolin and guitar after 50 years as a pianist) I would seriously consider getting a piano with a smaller keyboard if I could afford it.

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