The evidence is clear that a significant minority of men, the majority of women, and practically all children at some stage of their learning have hands that are too small for today’s conventional piano keyboard.
Common sense tells us that this situation cannot continue – not for another ten years and certainly not for another century. Eventually solutions will emerge, alternatively sized keyboards will gain universal acceptance and the world will have a vastly increased number of happier and pain-free pianists and a greater number of top performers. How many pianists of the calibre of Artur Schnabel or Martha Argerich have never emerged because their hands were too small?
The solution requires increased availability of keyboards with narrower keys for both acoustic and digital pianos. The first pie chart below shows the proprtions of adult pianists with ‘small’ versus ‘large’ hands when the conventional 6.5 inch octave keyboard is the only choice. Then the second pie chart illustrates how the ‘ small hand’ problem almost disappears with all three sizes being avaiable.
From a manufacturing point of view, there seems little reason why the big manufacturers of acoustic pianos (uprights and grands) as well as specialty keyboard makers cannot gear up to produce at least two more keyboard sizes for their pianos. Similarly, there seems little reason why digital manufacturers cannot do the same. The demand will emerge if the various barriers, which are largely cultural, can be broken down.
The Steinbuhler Company (www.steinbuhler.com) is a small firm in Pennsylvania specialising in piano keyboards with narrower keys, custom built for existing grand and upright pianos. Retrofitted action/keyboards for grand pianos can be interchanged with the conventional keyboard within minutes. They also make action/keyboards for new upright pianos manufactured by the Walter company in the US. (www.walterpiano.com). Other keyboard makers in America and Europe are now willing to make keyboards with narrower keys. However custom-built options are expensive, so mass production is needed to bring costs down.
The Steinbuhler company was converted to a non-profit organisation during 2018, known as the DS Standard Foundation Inc. (http://dsstandardfoundation.org/). The Foundation is working alongside PASK to encourage the transition away from the ‘one size fits keyboard’ that has prevailed for more than a century.
From the piano playing public point of view, the complications of a world where piano keyboards of different sizes exist can be overcome. Solutions will emerge where families, private teachers, concert venues and piano competitions can deal with the issue in a pragmatic and cost-effective way.