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Steinway M with Sirius 6.0 keyboard

Getting to standardised key sizes

While we have had a standard keyboard size for pianos and grand pianos since around 1880, before that each piano manufacturer had its own keyboard size. Sometimes a little wider, sometimes a little narrower. Pianists took it for granted that, in addition to the differences in sound, they would always have to adjust to different keyboard sizes. However, most historical instruments had one thing in common: the keys were generally a little narrower than on today's standard keyboard. This means that Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, the young Liszt and many others composed their works on a smaller (and for a smaller) keyboard. Many factors led to a gradual standardisation in the second half of the 19th century, and it is not possible to say with certainty why this led to the current size of 6.5 inches (approx. 16.5 cm) per octave. Was it based on the large hands of travelling virtuosos? Was it also to do with the enlargement of the acoustic system of the instruments?

Still relevant or outdated?

What initially proved extremely practical for almost a century is now coming under increasing criticism. It has long been statistically proven that the standard keyboard is too large for many pianists to perform the full repertoire they wish to play to the best of their musical ability. On average, women have smaller hands than men, people of Asian origin have a smaller range on average, highly talented children and teenagers have smaller hands than adults, but many men also have smaller hands. Daniel Barenboim is not the first person to play a grand piano with octaves that are about 7 mm narrower. Josef Hofmann had a piano built with a smaller scale in his day (1911). Although there are many professional ways of getting by with smaller hands on the standard keyboard, this often results in repertoire limitations or even overuse syndromes.

Could smaller keyboards soon be an option everywhere?

What began in the USA over twenty years ago through the efforts of Christopher Donison and David Steinbuhler has now spread throughout the world: The desire for the availability of smaller keyboards at all levels, in concert halls, at international competitions, in university education, in music schools and at home. Steinbuhler keyboards with 6.0 and 5.5 scales (corresponding to approx. 15.2 cm and 14 cm per octave respectively) are already available at a number of American universities. In Europe, the Stuttgart University of Music and Performing Arts was the first educational institution to have a grand piano with a 6.0" octave. Since 2020, the "Future Initiative Sirius 6.0 " of the University of Music and the Performing Arts Stuttgart has been dedicated to the dissemination and further development of pianos with a reduced scale. We are participating in this initiative with our "Steinway M with Sirius 6.0 keyboard". By providing this piano, the Nuremberg University of Music is also making an important and pioneering contribution to equal opportunities and the health of musicians.

... and what is the feel of a 6.0 keyboard?

Initial experience shows that not only pianists with smaller hands benefit. Musicians with medium and large hands also report pleasantly relaxed playing, smaller movements and easier sound shaping with large fingerings. "I realised that my sound had changed because there was no more tension in my hand," said Prof. Dr. Aurelia Visovan, Professor of Piano at the Nuremberg University of Music, after playing for half an hour on the Stuttgart Sirius 6.0.

In the spirit of differentiated learning and practice, you can only benefit from such new experiences. Switching from one keyboard size to another only takes a few minutes. There is no need to worry about not being able to play pieces well on a standard keyboard once they have been successfully practised on a 6.0 keyboard. On the contrary, many pianists report that they play better on the standard keyboard after practising on the Sirius 6.0 keyboard.

The grand piano was rebuilt in the workshops of the Steingraeber piano manufactory in BayreuthRebuiding the keyboard

Contact persons

Prof. Ulrich Hench Fachdidaktik Klavier, Klavier, Praxisorientiertes Klavierspiel

Prof. Dr. Aurelia Vişovan Klavier (Hauptfach)