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Thread: Keyboard layout - what do you think of it?

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    Senior Member quietfire's Avatar
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    Default Keyboard layout - what do you think of it?

    When I get frustrated with a piano piece, I sometimes wonder are we limited by the keyboard layout (i.e. groups of 2+3 black keys on top of the white keys)?

    Since the keyboard layout was invented, we have stuck with it and continued producing keyboards like this without thinking if maybe we could improve upon it.

    What do you think? Is it an arbitrary choice or do you think it's the best we can do?

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    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Definitely convention has a lot to do with it. Imagine all the schools that have to change to adopt this new keyboard device? Techniques will have to change. Basically teachers will become students, and they will never never want to relinquish that kind of control. It's basically learn to live with it, or drop it. Many others who are more willing and able to make it work.

    My suggestion, invent your own keyboard device, master it, and make a recording better than Horowitz or whoever, and it will get noticed.

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    Sr. Moderator Taggart's Avatar
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    Keyboard layouts have been around for a long time. The basic layout has the main notes on the white keys and the accidentals at the back.

    Different people will find different pieces difficult or the same piece difficult in different ways. I'm playing some Gershwin at the minute with lots of octave work. My teacher has small hands and finds octave passages difficult. My problem is that I over stretch and hit ninths (or even tenths on a bad day!).

    The fact that the layout has stayed fixed since the 1400s suggest that it meets most people's needs. The two manual harpsichord never caught on, unlike the organ which can have as many as six manuals plus pedals.

    The challenge of piano playing is not to devise a "better" keyboard simply to master the one you've got.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Senior Member quietfire's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Taggart View Post
    Keyboard layouts have been around for a long time. The basic layout has the main notes on the white keys and the accidentals at the back.

    Different people will find different pieces difficult or the same piece difficult in different ways. I'm playing some Gershwin at the minute with lots of octave work. My teacher has small hands and finds octave passages difficult. My problem is that I over stretch and hit ninths (or even tenths on a bad day!).

    The fact that the layout has stayed fixed since the 1400s suggest that it meets most people's needs. The two manual harpsichord never caught on, unlike the organ which can have as many as six manuals plus pedals.

    The challenge of piano playing is not to devise a "better" keyboard simply to master the one you've got.
    That's not how I see it.

    C flat is a white note. And so is F flat.

    The black keys and white keys are fairly arbitrary.

    I just view each key in an octave as 12 notes equally spaced. And we chose particular notes to be on the black ones and some on the white ones. How we name them is another thing (also quite arbitary because why is E flat an "accidental" of E when E flat and E are quite equal in terms what they are, but I might be mistaken - maybe they won't be equal if the keyboard was not equally-tempered).

    I don't know if how we made the keyboard has to do with how we name them.

    And I wonder how much of the keyboard invention has affected composition of Western music. I have a feeling it has a lot to do with it.

    If we had another keyboard, we might have ended up with very different music. I somehow find that very interesting.

    Also, was the keyboard layout made with ergonomical considerations or musical considerations and in which ratio?
    Last edited by quietfire; Mar-18-2017 at 19:41.

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    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by quietfire View Post
    That's not how I see it.

    C flat is a white note. And so is F flat.

    The black keys and white keys are fairly arbitrary.

    I just view each key in an octave as 12 notes equally spaced. And we chose particular notes to be on the black ones and some on the white ones. How we name them is another thing (also quite arbitary because why is E flat an "accidental" of E when E flat and E are quite equal in terms what they are, but I might be mistaken - maybe they won't be equal if the keyboard was not equally-tempered).

    I don't know if how we made the keyboard has to do with how we name them.

    And I wonder how much of the keyboard invention has affected composition of Western music. I have a feeling it has a lot to do with it.

    If we had another keyboard, we might have ended up with very different music. I somehow find that very interesting.

    Also, was the keyboard layout made with ergonomical considerations or musical considerations and in which ratio?
    The key of C major has all white notes, as with A minor. These letter names are arbitrary, but the relation between these keys and tones aren't, as you can transpose to other keys which have different sets of black and white keys. The scales and the interrelationships between them In Western music dictated how the keyboard was designed, not the other way around. I heard somewhere that aincent Oriental music only had the sounds of those black keys. So their Scales had less notes. The notes in the scales and interrelationships determine the basis for the music.

    On an alien planet, if they had different scales and tones, I'm sure the compositions will be different. I think the keyboard was designed with both ergonomically and musical considerations both together equally. For me it's the key that dictates how hard a piece is. Mozart's Sonata in C K. 545 was designed for "beginners" (although is too difficult than for actual beginners, as a book once said) because of less black keys. I used to curse composers for composing in those keys with more black notes than white. But in the end it all works out. Horowitz could play like a machine, so there is nothing wrong with the keyboard with tons of practice.

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    Junior Member StraussCalman's Avatar
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    They started playing with a lot of black keys after Bach's WTC was published. So Bach proved that it's possible to play in all the keys with the new method of tuning. Before that they tuned up old style pianos by perfect fifth and the distant keys (like F#) sounded out of tune.

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    Here's a link to a microtonal keyboard. Let's all be thankful that one never caught on.

    http://plurdledgabbleblotchits.tumbl...-on-a-viennese

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    Quote Originally Posted by Taggart View Post
    The two manual harpsichord never caught on
    Actually it was popular throughout the Renaissance, Baroque, and Early Classical eras, and the majority of instruments built these days seem to be 2-manual French or Flemish style instruments. There's even huge 3 manual German instruments being built (Bach supposedly had one of these)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Manxfeeder View Post
    Here's a link to a microtonal keyboard. Let's all be thankful that one never caught on.

    http://plurdledgabbleblotchits.tumbl...-on-a-viennese
    Nice little blog here - http://www.barlowharps.com/fluidpiano.html - on all sorts of microtonal keyboards.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    There have been a number of experimental keyboards, enharmonic keyboards and the like, but it was common for a while to have split sharps, especially D#/Eb and G#/Ab, because in meantone temperament these notes are more unlike each other than the others. Of course, this requires having an extra string or pipe to be sounded by the other portion of the key, requiring 14 to the octave instead of the usual 12. I've only once played a harpsichord with this arrangement and it definitely took some getting used to.

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    Perfectly possible on an English concertina which has separate keys for D#/Eb and G#/Ab. That makes it easier to play because the scale patterns alternate between the left hand - the lines on the stave C E G B D - and the left hand - the spaces D F A C E. Usually however they are tuned identically.
    Last edited by Taggart; Jun-21-2017 at 00:13.
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    Senior Member Victor Redseal's Avatar
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    They actually have made 19-note scale keyboards but they are cumbersome and expensive. Also many of the intervals are very dissonant due to the need to temper.
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    Quote Originally Posted by quietfire View Post
    When I get frustrated with a piano piece, I sometimes wonder are we limited by the keyboard layout (i.e. groups of 2+3 black keys on top of the white keys)?

    Since the keyboard layout was invented, we have stuck with it and continued producing keyboards like this without thinking if maybe we could improve upon it.

    What do you think? Is it an arbitrary choice or do you think it's the best we can do?
    Perhaps you'd like to try the Jankó keyboard?

    1024px-MIM_Janko_Piano_2.jpg

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by quietfire View Post
    That's not how I see it.

    C flat is a white note. And so is F flat.
    The layout of the keyboard predates the practical existence of these notes by centuries.

    Quote Originally Posted by quietfire View Post
    The black keys and white keys are fairly arbitrary.
    Not from an historical perspective

    Quote Originally Posted by quietfire View Post
    I don't know if how we made the keyboard has to do with how we name them.
    It has to do with how we name them, and how we name them is based on the whole history of the development of the modal and tonal systems.

    Quote Originally Posted by quietfire View Post
    And I wonder how much of the keyboard invention has affected composition of Western music. I have a feeling it has a lot to do with it.
    It is intimately tied to the history of composition but you might have the causation backwards. I would suggest it exists as it does because of the demands of composers — that composition has determined the layout of the keyboard.

    Quote Originally Posted by quietfire View Post
    Also, was the keyboard layout made with ergonomical considerations or musical considerations and in which ratio?
    Both in pretty much exactly the right proportions! This question is like asking why cheetahs or egrets exists as they do. They exist as they do because the designs work and have been honed to specific needs and environmental demands over long time spans.

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