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Hey,

I recently noticed that there are pronounced differences in the width of black keys - there are modern pianos with about 10-11mm width such as the recent Hoffmanns and Bechsteins as well as old pianos such as the Steinway Vertigrand (1908) with about the same width.

Then there are those with really narrow black keys like the Steinway V from 1969 with about 9mm.

Most keys seem to be around 10mm though.

Obviously the more space the black keys take up the harder is playing into the black keys on the white keys but it's easier to hit the black keys and the other way around.

Is this just a fashion and just takes getting used to or are there actual benefits to either end of this scale?

What's your experience?

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It's relevant if you get your fingers stuck. It doesn't matter to me. When I was younger (and much thinner) I used to get my fingers stuck between fatter black keys. I don't know why that never happens anymore.

I find narrow black keys can cause problems if I'm not used to the piano, as I feel I'm going to fall off the key if I don't land dead centre, although it only takes a short while to get used to it.

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Wider sharps feel better to play. Narrower sharps are easier to play between. It matters more on some older pianos which have wider sharps and shorter naturals. The shorter naturals force more playing between the sharps and if the sharps are also wider this can be slightly problematic. Old Mason & Hamlins can be this way. It also depends on the music you are playing. Some music requires you to play in between the sharps more. Some players technique uses this area more than others as well.


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Originally Posted by Keith D Kerman
Wider sharps feel better to play. Narrower sharps are easier to play between. It matters more on some older pianos which have wider sharps and shorter naturals. The shorter naturals force more playing between the sharps and if the sharps are also wider this can be slightly problematic. Old Mason & Hamlins can be this way. It also depends on the music you are playing. Some music requires you to play in between the sharps more. Some players technique uses this area more than others as well.

First let me say that Keith is 10x the pianist that I am, but I think this is a subjective thing with pianists.

A prof. at Temple U. and one of only a few students that Horowitz ever took on, Alexander Fiorillo, had different thoughts. Mr. Fiorillo was a brilliant player but he was not my teacher. I got to know him in the 1990's when we sponsored the "Cunningham Piano Showcase", a live one hour show on classical radio that I got him to host.

He knew everybody - and sometimes we would get some great artists to be interviewed. Unfortunately he has recently passed, which made me think of this.

There was a discussion over dinner at some point with Mr. Fiorillo about older pianos. He was stocky and Italian and he held his hand up and said, "Look at that! Sausages!" (He was talking about his fingers). "I can't use those short keys and wide sharps. I have to do all kinds of funny things to make them work."

The quote might not be exact, but his meaning was. He enjoyed the more modern longer keys and slimmer sharps.

My 2 cents,


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I'm one of those players who simply adore the vintage Mason keyboards, although I fully understand the points made by both Keith and Rich. In another way, the tone of August Forster pianos is pleasing to me but I heartily dislike their narrow accidentals. In addition, Fazioli accidentals feel quite narrow to me.

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Black Keys Matter! smile

I've come across a few pianos where they were too narrow, making it easy to slip off in fast playing. The angle of the sides can also vary somewhat.


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mmmh... from a geometry point of view, more narrow sharps make sense if you have wider fingers.

I will spare you my drawings but it's pretty obvious I think. What you want is equal "accessible key surface" between black and white keys (I guess...), which is what you get from considering your finger width and key width. Basically how far the center of your finger can be from the center of the key and still hit the note.


- if you have infinitesimally slim fingers, you want to have the sharps have the same width as the white key width between them - accessible key surface is dominated by key width.
- if you have the widest fingers that can play the piano (= fingers the width of the widest part of the white keys) then you want infinitesimally narrow black keys (ignoring risk of injury here obviously smile ). Accessible surface is dominated by finger width.

Since we can assume continuousness here for every finger width, there is an optimal ratio between sharp and white key width.

This is not considering the effects of angled black keys and it's also somewhat silly. But Mr. Fiorillo provided anecdotal evidence that this make some sense laugh

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Originally Posted by guyl
Black Keys Matter! smile

I've come across a few pianos where they were too narrow, making it easy to slip off in fast playing. The angle of the sides can also vary somewhat.

Not sure I'm qualified to chime in to this discussion, but that hasn't stopped me in the past. smile

I too prefer my fingers to land firmly on the key, whether sharps or naturals. I despise a slippery key, whether sharps or naturals.

Also, besides the width of the black keys/sharps, I like for them to be sufficiently high enough on the keyboard. I've played some older pianos that had apparently had the natural keytops replaced, without making any adjustment for a thicker keytop, which left the black keys sitting lower on the keyboard.

Not sure what it is, but I'm sure there is a standard height for proper setup of the black keys, in relation to the naturals.

A side note... a distant relative was visiting several years ago, and played my Yamaha C7 grand. She could play very well, and I was amazed at how good the piano sounded from a distance, which I rarely get to hear.

After she played (don't remember the piece, but it was great) we talked about playing in different keys. I was surprised when she said "I don't do black keys". Anyway, she sure could play the naturals very well. smile

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I prefer wider black keys.

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I prefer black keys with big smooth rounded bevel, bosendorfer keys are like this and they are such joy to play. There are pianos out there with chunky black keys with small bevel, my fingers get sore after long practice because they keep bumping on the hard edge.

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How about tapered accidentals, narrower towards the front, and wider towards the rear?

Just a thought... smile


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Originally Posted by Retsacnal
How about tapered accidentals, narrower towards the front, and wider towards the rear?

Just a thought... smile

For most of us who (most of the time) play on the front edge of the accidentals (sharps), would that not make them even more precarious with even less area of contact?

Just a Thought ... smile


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I think perhaps some may need "moving blacks keys" which move automatically towards the fingertips.I have never really thought much about narrow or thicker black keys until I joined PW.I think I have read somewhere else here about about this problem.Perhaps if I start measuring, I shall
have a problem. I doubt it though since I no longer practice much at all.Just play.,Stop worrying is my advice.

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Originally Posted by BruceD
Originally Posted by Retsacnal
How about tapered accidentals, narrower towards the front, and wider towards the rear?

Just a thought... smile

For most of us who (most of the time) play on the front edge of the accidentals (sharps), would that not make them even more precarious with even less area of contact?

Just a Thought ... smile


Well, I wasn't thinking any narrower than they are now. How about 9mm at the front, and 11mm at the back?

smile


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My old Kawai upright has slippery more plasticky keys than the more ivorite keys and wood (ebony?) keys of my new piano.It only really bothers me slightly in the winter.I tend to get very cold hands. Perhaps then I do not like the black keys of the Kawai KL502.I do not think the size or shape is a problem.

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Originally Posted by Retsacnal
How about 9mm at the front, and 11mm at the back?

Do you think that would help? I think I rarely ever hit the black keys at the back... mh. I'd actually like to try that.

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Originally Posted by Keybender
Originally Posted by Retsacnal
How about 9mm at the front, and 11mm at the back?

Do you think that would help? I think I rarely ever hit the black keys at the back... mh. I'd actually like to try that.

I know this thread is about black key width, but speaking of hitting/playing the black keys more toward the back, I've seen fallboards with serious fingernail scratches on the surface of the fallboard where the pianist/player apparently scraped the fallboard with their fingernails while playing the black keys closer to the back of the key.

My Baldwin R, which I purchased preowned, had some fingernail scratches on the fallboard, but not as bad as some I've seen.

Re: playing the sharps near the front, middle, or rear of the key-top; if the song/piece/arrangement I'm playing has a few sharps, I will play mostly toward the front of the sharp, in case I need to slide/roll off the key quickly. If the piece has many black keys, I will usually play somewhere near the middle, and play the naturals between the sharps. I never really stop to think about how tight the fit is between the sharps when playing a naturals that way.

I did watch a piano training video once where the teacher demonstrated the technique of moving the hands in and out when playing sharps. I liked that technique. When I play mostly naturals, I play with my fingers in front of the sharps. As I play the sharps when needed, I will move my hand inward toward the sharps and play the sharps, and then back out to the naturals. If the piece has a lot of sharps, I will keep my hand close into the keyboard on the sharps and play the naturals with my fingers between the sharps, when needed.

Although my waist is pretty thick, my fingers are not so meaty... smile


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Originally Posted by Keybender
Originally Posted by Retsacnal
How about 9mm at the front, and 11mm at the back?

Do you think that would help? I think I rarely ever hit the black keys at the back... mh. I'd actually like to try that.

I don't know if it would help. I was just sort of thinking that long thin fingers could slip way in while short thicker fingers would have a little more space in the front.


Just a thought... smile


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Just out of curiosity I measured mine: 11mm

I was surprised that although the key widths are uniform, the distance between the groups of two and three are slightly different.


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