Different Sharps width?

Posted by: Jonathan Alford

Different Sharps width? - 12/08/12 02:29 PM

After struggling at my piano teacher's studio on one particular piece she assigned me for three lessons (which I played well at home) I think I discovered the reason. Could it be that the sharps on my piano (a newer Ritmuller Grand) are narrower than her older upright?

Just wondering.

Jonathan
Posted by: beethoven986

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/08/12 03:18 PM

There is no standard for key width or length, so yes, it is possible that they are slightly different.
Posted by: rxd

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/08/12 11:08 PM

The spacing between the sharps, particularly in the groups of three is, indeed problematic for some pianists on some pianos. And often we, as technicians, simply have to do something about it, particularly when faced with an emotionally immature pianist who might be refusing to play an otherwise world class piano.

This subject has come up before and I am surprised than nobody has yet mentioned this fix, it being so readily apparent an' all. You will find evidence of it on many concert pianos.

The easiest way is to alter the spacing of every F# and Bb in the appropriate direction. Any competent technician knows how to do this without damaging anything and it can be done in just a few minutes in pianos where the underside of the keys is readily accessible.

Yes. It makes the location of these particular notes a bit offset looking in their slots between the white keys as simplistic pedants will be quick to point out. It is a trade off depending on whether the piano is to be played or looked at. This adjustment is, of course, completely reversible for those whose priorities are less practical.
Posted by: Dave B

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/08/12 11:33 PM

Not sure what problems your struggling with? When you become used to playing the same piano with constant seat height and keyboard height, it can be difficult to adjust to different seat and keyboard height combination.
Posted by: Cy Shuster, RPT

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/08/12 11:35 PM

rxd is talking about the spacing between the sharps (it's always narrower between the F#/G#/A# than between C#/D#). Jonathan may be talking about the width of the sharps on their tops, finding it difficult to land on the key. Can you clarify?

Another variance is the height of the sharps above the naturals.

--Cy--
Posted by: Jonathan Alford

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 09:31 AM

What I struggle with on my instructor's piano is fitting my middle finger between a couple of sharps when playing a few chords on some pieces.

Playing the sharps is not an issue.

The height might be different, but I have not noticed that.

Thanks for the replies,

Jonathan
Posted by: Minnesota Marty

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 10:06 AM

Jonathan,

Are you referring to something like an E-flat major chord where the middle finger G falls between two black keys? (Eb-G-Bb)

The width, or the exact pyramid shape of the black keys, is not standard from piano make to piano make. It could even be different on models from the same manufacturer. There really is no mechanical solution since the problem is playing your teacher's piano and not your own.

I would suggest discussing this with your teacher. It may be an issue with your hand placement when playing in various keys. This could be a valuable learning experience about how to adapt to differing keyboards.
Posted by: Jonathan Alford

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 10:28 AM

Originally Posted By: Minnesota Marty

Are you referring to something like an E-flat major chord where the middle finger G falls between two black keys? (Eb-G-Bb)


Yes - this is what is happening. I did mention it at my last lesson - I will let her know my findings at my next lesson to see what she recommends.

Thanks,

Jonathan
Posted by: Withindale

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 11:16 AM

Originally Posted By: Jonathan Alford
Originally Posted By: Minnesota Marty

Are you referring to something like an E-flat major chord where the middle finger G falls between two black keys? (Eb-G-Bb)


Yes - this is what is happening. I did mention it at my last lesson - I will let her know my findings at my next lesson to see what she recommends.

Interesting. Have you checked all the spaces between the sharps on your piano? I have just done this on mine by sliding my middle finger, flat on the white key, into them. They vary. My finger goes into some and catches on the first joint on others.

I suppose the narrower spaces could be widened slightly by spacing the outer sharps but, as Marty says, one has to adapt to different pianos.
Posted by: BDB

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 11:27 AM

It is not that the width of the black keys varies, it is the placement of the tails of the white keys.
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 12:37 PM

Whatever the cause, you will encounter variations from piano to piano. So it's best to learn how to adjust your playing to make it work for you, which may mean avoiding certain key signatures or pieces in the case where your fingers are too large to fit between black keys.
Posted by: rxd

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 01:53 PM

Originally Posted By: Withindale


I suppose the narrower spaces could be widened slightly by easing the outer sharps but, as Marty says, one has to adapt to different pianos.


I have not made myself quite clear. The additional space is definately not achieved by 'easing' the keys.. . That would just make them sloppy. As I said, an 'experienced' tech would know how to do this in the usual manner of spacing keys. There are compensatory adjustments and there are limits to this that a tech with an understanding of the gestalt of a piano action will grasp.

Yes, it is a difficulty that the OP's own piano is fine but your teachers piano gives you a problem.

You are being told, in so many words, 'live with it' or adapt your technique to it, which could be dangerous to the musculature of somebody with wide fingers. I belong to a branch of my profession that never says 'live with it' without good reason... Really good reason ...yet the consensus here is for you to make the necessary hand contortions to accommodate an unusual keyboard configuration.

There are many pianists who have very wide fingers and those manufacturers who don't consider this at all. It is often reasons like this why a perfectly good piano is not selected by a good player simply because the keyboard is uncomfortable to play. The whole ludicrous situation in the profession and trade reminds me of an hilarious joke but it's not PC so I can't repeat it.

It is unfortunate enough that we have to use a standard length of octave. Curiously enough, one of the few manufacturers who have experimented with shortening the length of the octave is the very one that at the time, was gaining a stranglehold on the concert market and has since hung on to it. The fact that it didn't take on has nothing to do with the fact that they did at least try to accommodate requests from their players as they have dealt with this particular problem.

Thank you for bringing this subject up. True, there is no standard but piano builders can look to manufacturers who don't present this problem to players and follow their lead.
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 02:16 PM

Originally Posted By: rxd


I have not made myself quite clear. The additional space is definately not achieved by 'easing' the keys.. . That would just make them sloppy. As I said, an 'experienced' tech would know how to do this in the usual manner of spacing keys. There are compensatory adjustments and there are limits to this that a tech with an understanding of the gestalt of a piano action will grasp.

Yes, it is a difficulty that the OP's own piano is fine but your teachers piano gives you a problem.

You are being told, in so many words, 'live with it' or adapt your technique to it, which could be dangerous to the musculature of somebody with wide fingers. I belong to a branch of my profession that never says 'live with it' without good reason... Really good reason ...yet the consensus here is for you to make the necessary hand contortions to accommodate an unusual keyboard configuration.

There are many pianists who have very wide fingers and those manufacturers who don't consider this at all. It is often reasons like this why a perfectly good piano is not selected by a good player simply because the keyboard is uncomfortable to play. The whole ludicrous situation in the profession and trade reminds me of an hilarious joke but it's not PC so I can't repeat it.

It is unfortunate enough that we have to use a standard length of octave. Curiously enough, one of the few manufacturers who have experimented with shortening the length of the octave is the very one that at the time, was gaining a stranglehold on the concert market and has since hung on to it. The fact that it didn't take on has nothing to do with the fact that they did at least try to accommodate requests from their players as they have dealt with this particular problem.

Thank you for bringing this subject up. True, there is no standard but piano builders can look to manufacturers who don't present this problem to players and follow their lead.

So what do you suggest, that the teacher pay to adjust her piano to accommodate one student's issues? What if by doing that it causes issues for her other students with smaller hands? What if it is more a matter of personal preference, or inability on the part of the student to adjust to the different feel and it's not a matter of his fingers not fitting?

Really, if it is a case of the latter, then the teacher knows the problem and can consider that when listening to the student. More often than not, a student will complain about a teacher's piano no matter how good it is because it's not what they practiced on and are accustomed to. A good teacher understands this and can tell when a student has practiced and is struggling with dealing with the instrument vs. just not being able to play something.
Posted by: Minnesota Marty

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 02:27 PM

So, if I understand what the tech from across the pond is saying, Jonathan should insist that his teacher buy a new piano for his use at lessons.

Originally Posted By: rxd
You are being told, in so many words, 'live with it' or adapt your technique to it, which could be dangerous to the musculature of somebody with wide fingers. ...yet the consensus here is for you to make the necessary hand contortions to accommodate an unusual keyboard configuration.

Obviously from someone who doesn't play the piano and certainly not a piano teacher. There is nothing "ludicrous" about discussing proper hand position and technique for playing in various keys.

I look forward to an analysis of the "unusual keyboard configuration" of the instructor's piano. Perhaps something with only white keys would be preferable?
Posted by: Withindale

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 02:50 PM

Originally Posted By: Morodiene
Originally Posted By: rxd
I have not made myself quite clear. The additional space is definately not achieved by 'easing' the keys.. . That would just make them sloppy. As I said, an 'experienced' tech would know how to do this in the usual manner of spacing keys. There are compensatory adjustments and there are limits to this that a tech with an understanding of the gestalt of a piano action will grasp.

So what do you suggest, that the teacher pay to adjust her piano to accommodate one student's issues?


First, I missed your original post, rxd, partly because Jonathan's agreement to Marty's clarification of the problem seemed to follow on from Jonathan's original question. No matter, what you said was perfectly clear.

Second, there are at least three Bb keys and the odd F# on my piano which could be spaced a bit. The outer gaps, Bb-B and and F-F#, are a bit wider than the ones on the other side of the sharp in each case. If I were a teacher, I would have these adjustments made once I was made aware of the problem.
Posted by: rxd

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 03:27 PM

Yes, Ian, I have often seen this on pianos, even some of the 'best'. Very often the G# can be more central in its slot also. Sorry for the confusion there.
Posted by: rxd

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 03:52 PM

Marty and Morodiene,

I seem have rattled some cages here. I read a lot of jumping to conclusions, pitiful attempts at reduction to the absurd, (such a common cheap arguing technique, it has a Latin name) and attempts to put words into my mouth.

Neither of you are giving me anything of substance to either agree with or refute, just vague accusations.

Please consider your arguments, express them cogently and with less emotion-driven language, remember you are volunteering to represent the teachers' angle here, so think of your colleagues, represent them well and I, in turn, will gladly give you more of my time.

Remember we are dealing with a not uncommon subject of thicker than average fingers here.
Posted by: gsmonks

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 04:37 PM

Want to see plenty of space between keys? Check out a Bluthner. Skinny black keys, low action.

The gap between keys is an issue for lots of pianists and is a deal-breaker for many trying out pianos. Same goes for key height.

I used to hate my dad's old 1910 Heintzman because the gaps were too small. The Pischna contracted chromatic exercises weren't do-able at all.
Posted by: Jonathan Alford

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 04:52 PM

Just to clarify, I am NOT complaining about my instructor's instrument. I was just wondering if I could be correct in my conclusion that key spacing can be different.

Thanks for all the attention to my question.

Morodiene could be correct as I am a low intermediate pianist and could possibly just be struggling with an instrument that is different from my own.

Jonathan
Posted by: Minnesota Marty

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 04:53 PM

rxd,

No, I didn't put words into your mouth - I quoted your hyperbole.

A simple question was asked by Jonathan; "Could it be that the sharps on my piano (a newer Ritmuller Grand) are narrower than her older upright?" The consensus answer was simply; "Yes."

How to approach the situation is best left to a discussion with the teacher. It needn't be a harangue about altering the geometry of the keyboard or of unusual and contrived hand positioning at the keyboard. In the example chord I chose, it might be as simple as altering the depth of the strike point of the thumb on the Eb.

How on earth would you know the thickness of Jonathan's fingers?
Posted by: Karl Watson

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 05:46 PM

Funny, this.

I have a particular affection for vintage (Boston) Mason & Hamlin keyboards, as the accidentals (sharps) feel wide and oh so comfortable to me.

Amongst modern pianos, Fazioli, in particular, feels very narrow, with sharp, uncomfortable edges.

I'm told that the old Masons could be problematic for pianists with thick fingers, one Boston shop specialising in changing the Mason accidentals for those of slightly narrower dimensions.

Karl Watson,
Staten Island, NY
Posted by: Tmoose

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 06:11 PM

I have a friend with a Baldwin Acrosonic console piano from, probably, the 1950's and the entire keyboard is narrower than normal, making the whole piano slightly smaller, width-wise. It is disconcerting to play to say the least when the muscle-memory is accustomed to 'standard' dimensions.
Posted by: accordeur

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 07:09 PM

Here I am wishing for smaller keys. 45" or 46" inch compass, as opposed to the regular 48"and spacing between sharps and naturals to my liking.

I could get a custom keyboard, or even modify one myself. Lots of time and money involved.

In the meantime, I work with what I got.
Posted by: backto_study_piano

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 07:30 PM

M&H with Rosewood keys has a wider gap (narrower keys).
Posted by: j&j

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/09/12 10:27 PM

Men typically have much wider finger widths than women, so you and your teacher might have to find different fingering for you on some of those troublesome chords. We all have to struggle with our finger and hand dimensions. Big hands can reach big chords but have a harder time squeezing between the sharps.

My hands are larger, but I still struggle to reach a 10 key chord.

Best of luck!
Posted by: Mark R.

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/10/12 05:07 AM

Originally Posted By: Minnesota Marty
rxd,

No, I didn't put words into your mouth


Of course you did!

Originally Posted By: Minnesota Marty
So, if I understand what the tech from across the pond is saying, Jonathan should insist that his teacher buy a new piano for his use at lessons.


Absolutely nowhere in this thread did rxd make any such ridiculous suggestion.

Originally Posted By: Minnesota Marty
Obviously from someone who doesn't play the piano


How would you ever know?

Besides, rxd indicated that wide fingers are a common problem, and that many a good instrument is passed by a good player because of this. It's not as though his comments on this state of affairs, or suggestions on possible remedies, are totally harebrained.

Originally Posted By: Minnesota Marty
I look forward to an analysis of the "unusual keyboard configuration" of the instructor's piano.


rxd already indicated where the configuration of the three adjacent sharps can be problematic, and how it can be adjusted within reasonable limits. There was no talk of "insisting on a new piano".

And then you top it all, by suggesting

Originally Posted By: Minnesota Marty
Perhaps something with only white keys would be preferable?


As rxd said: reductio ad absurdum.

It stinks.
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/10/12 08:12 AM

I'm still waiting to hear what rxd is suggesting the teacher do (see my previous post).

As far as the comment about wide fingers being a common problem, I have been teaching piano for 13 years, and I have only ever encountered one student whose fingers were wide enough where there was an issue. It wasn't just on my piano, but his own as well where he ran into this problem (as soon as we started playing chords like E-flat major). I had him play the chord with 1-2-4 fingering as finger 2 wasn't as wide as 3. Other possible solutions would be to redistribute the chord among the fingers so that one hand plays the black keys and the other plays the white, or even dropping the unimportant 5th of the chord. None of these options are weird contortions of the hand as rxd assumed, and they are the same kinds of things that we with smaller hands have to do when we can't play what's on the page.

Of course, any such solutions would have to be the only way the OP practiced, even on his piano at home otherwise other problems with muscle memory could arise. So the decision to do this would have to be weighed against how much the OP cares about the problem with the teacher's piano, or if he could potentially be playing this piece on an unfamiliar instrument for a performance and should therefore plan on there being this issue just in case.

The solution all depends on the person and the piece of music in question, so I suggest the OP informs his teacher of the problem if he hasn't done so already. I'm sure she'll be able to figure something out. smile
Posted by: rxd

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/10/12 11:03 AM

Morodienne

I will grace your question with an answer.

I hope you will note that, as a seasoned professional musician, teacher and counsellor, I make a point of never giving advice. I am usually careful to only outline the possibilities and let others take from what I offer as they will. You may wait for ever to hear me give advice concerning what others should or shouldn't do.

Do me a favor, Please read my post again, accurately, as you would a piece of ultra-modern music, and, if at any point I have actually given anybody any concrete advice, please inform me, quoting the exact terminology I have used. I am not infallible and I am always open to a bit of proof reading, particularly when there is a cultural difference.
Posted by: peterws

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/10/12 01:52 PM

" The whole ludicrous situation in the profession and trade reminds me of an hilarious joke but it's not PC so I can't repeat it."

We`ll not sleep tonight if we don`t hear it . . .
Posted by: peterws

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/10/12 02:00 PM

It is fun reading through these. Like being at a "debate" in the House of Commons. .. .!

The solution is simple. A small grinder . . . and a steady hand!
Posted by: rxd

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/10/12 02:16 PM

Originally Posted By: peterws
" The whole ludicrous situation in the profession and trade reminds me of an hilarious joke but it's not PC so I can't repeat it."

We`ll not sleep tonight if we don`t hear it . . .


But if I told it, someone else might not get any sleep for laughing.
Posted by: rxd

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/10/12 02:21 PM

Thanks, Mark. R

You have a fine analytical mind.
Posted by: Minnesota Marty

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/10/12 02:56 PM

rfd,

When descending from your throne of pomposity, you might deign to spell the names of your subjects correctly.

Originally Posted By: rxd
Morodienne

I will grace your question with an answer.

Posted by: rxd

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/10/12 03:27 PM

Originally Posted By: Minnesota Marty
rfd,

When descending from your throne of pomposity, you might deign to spell the names of your subjects correctly.

Originally Posted By: rxd
Morodienne

I will grace your question with an answer.




I am aware of what I did and I did not find it important enough to change. What surprises me is that you didn't spot the other one I put in there for you. How can you let me have this much control over your mind????

It look like you have hit the bottom of the barrel with nothing constructive to say so now you're just being silly.
Posted by: Jonathan Alford

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/10/12 04:08 PM

Originally Posted By: peterws
It is fun reading through these. Like being at a "debate" in the House of Commons. .. .!


Not until someone gets called a nincompoop!
Posted by: rxd

Re: Different Sharps width? - 12/11/12 12:51 AM

Ohmygoodness, I hope not. I have not read any actual name calling in these forums for a long time. We are, hopefully, above the level of the politicians we elect to govern us.

It's OK for Marty to say I was being pompous and imply that I am capable of eventually climbing down from my throne of pomposity because I deliberately chose to be pompous in that one sentence. Similarly, I think Marty was deliberately injecting a note of silliness into the whole thing which it needed at the time.

For either of us to say 'you are silly' or 'you are pompous' is totally different. That implies a total dismissal of another person and to begin a sentence with 'you are a....,' is only heard, as you say, in political 'debate' and on the playground.

Marty and I know each others posts to be mostly serious and genial. We are both free to inject silliness or pomposity at will but we would never descend to name calling.