What is PASK?
PASK – Pianists for Alternatively Sized Keyboards – is an international movement committed to achieving change in relation to piano keyboard size.
Specifically, PASK aims to convince piano manufacturers to begin producing piano keyboards in three standard sizes. Purchasers of new pianos will then have a choice of keyboard size. In addition to the current ‘large’ size, we need two additional sizes with narrower keys.
The current piano keyboard has prevailed since the 1880’s and was not designed for the physical capabilities of the population at large. It has been assumed that the current size is suitable for all, whereas in fact it is isn’t. The keys are too wide for the majority of pianists, considering men, women and children of all nationalities and across all age groups.
The current keyboard size and key width suits people with large hands, generally adult males with average to above average spans. However, for those with smaller hands, today’s piano increases technical difficulties and learning time. It limits musical expression and prevents access to a large amount of the piano repertoire. Worst of all, it can cause debilitating pain and injury.
A simple analogy illustrates the point. Does it make sense that all men in an athletics race should have to wear the same size shoes? And that female athletes have to run in the same size shoes as the men? And that children have to run in the same size shoes as adults?
Goals and strategies
The long term goal of PASK is for acoustic and digital piano manufacturers to offer a choice of three standard keyboard sizes in accordance with the DS standards. These are: DS5.5® (7/8) and the DS6.0® (15/16) as well as the current ‘large’ DS6.5 keyboard. They need to be mass-produced and marketed worldwide in such a way that the new alternative sizes are readily available and naturally accepted options for all pianists and teachers.
For this to happen, we need to focus on both building the demand from the piano world as well as encouraging supply from manufacturers. Clearly, these are interdependent.
Pianists with smaller hands must create a united voice and demand access to keyboards with narrower keys. Piano teachers, universities and conservatoriums need to recognise their benefits. Competitions and concert venues should provide a choice of keyboard for performers.
Alternatively sized keyboards are currently only available from a limited number of sources, are expensive and often involve long wait times for customers. The major piano manufacturers need to take up this challenge. A key factor in creating change will be public support from prominent pianists, academics and teachers around the world.
There are three main strategies required to achieve this goal:
1. Raising awareness of the benefits of reduced size keyboards for those with smaller hands.
2. Creating opportunities for pianists to experience the difference in playing on narrower keys.
3. Breaking down barriers and resistance to change.
PASK structure and founders
Notes on terminology
The term ESPK (ergonomically scaled piano keyboard) is now mostly used in the academic community when referring to keyboards smaller than the current ‘standard’ size i.e., with 6.5 inch octave. The term ‘reduced-size keyboard’ has also been used in some literature. Also note that the DS5.5® is often referred to as the ‘7/8 keyboard’ as the key widths are close to (but not exactly) 7/8 of the ‘standard’ keyboard. Likewise, the DS6.0® is often referred to as the 15/16 keyboard. ESPK is a generic term that also includes keyboards of other sizes, i.e. that do not conform to the DS standards.
The ‘DS’ abbreviation stands for Donison-Steinbuhler. (Chris Donison and David Steinbuhler pioneered the introduction of piano keyboards with narrower keys for acoustic pianos, mainly in North America.) The PASK movement (Pianists for Alternatively Sized Keyboards) generally uses the term ‘alternative sizes’ to avoid confusion as ‘reduced size’ could imply fewer than 88 keys.