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Just a quick question, which came to my mind several days ago. I thought that it would be much easier to learn to play a piano (or a keyboard), which has a consistent structure - a black key (halfstep) between each two white keys, thus making it.. i dunno, more chromatic?

Well, obviously the average usual piano is easier to play in the C major, but not in other keys. One needs to learn each scale in all 12 keys, which seems quite overwhelming for me. The same is with chords, while a piano keyboard with consistent blacks and whites wouldn't suffer it. At least from the guitarist perspective it seems much more logical to me.

I think I'm not the first one who mulled on it. If there is such musical instrument, I would like to try it. As a guitarist I prefer to think in steps (I, III, IV, V, etc) and really like the ability to shift my scales and forms. I tried to play the piano and I really like that instrument, but the need to learn everything in 12 keys scares me (:

P.S. It seems that not everyone understands the question, so I have edited the title to clarify it. But to make sure Everybody gets what I mean, I created a little picture, like this:

chromatic piano

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There are way more scales and chords than you think. There's no way to get around it... If you want to succeed as a pianist you need to know all your scales and all your chords. If you learn music theory it simplifies the process of learning them a lot. –  Caleb Apr 11 at 15:55
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To Note: Pianos / keyboards already have a consistent structure and have maintained this structure for the past several hundred years. –  jjmusicnotes Apr 11 at 16:48
    
Lol (sorry) some keyboards start on C, some start on A, some F, some G... (etc) So... if they all had their black keys arranged like that, how could a player tell what the keys are? –  Lee Kowalkowski Apr 11 at 21:08
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Standard notation and the way we name notes and keys are all tied to the piano keyboard (every white key is a natural note). In many ways, this is an advantage for keyboard instruments over pure chromatic instruments, and your keyboard would lose that. –  Ben Miller Apr 11 at 21:35

5 Answers 5

I've looked into this before, and there really don't seem to be any keyboards like this available apart from the Jankó Keyboard. Whether that's because it's really a bad idea or more because the current layout being a heavily established convention I couldn't say for sure, but when I compared the pros and cons A few years ago, it did come out with quite a lot of cons.

Pros:

  • There are only two major scales to learn instead of 12 - half starting on a black note and half on a white note. If you want to transpose something, simply play it a little higher or lower on the keyboard. This seems like it could make learning a keyed instrument a lot easier, and is the main benefit of the new layout.
  • The full keyboard isn't as long, for the same amount of notes.
  • Now you can reach a note or two further, and it's easier to play octaved notes.

Cons:

  • Every scale is one of two types, but every scale kind of sucks to play. With the existing layout, every scale is different but most are easier to play on their own than this. You'd have to play the first four fingers and then cross your thumb over onto the second black note, or something similar.
  • For fingering, you'll actually still have to learn four scales, since the left hand fingers are reversed.
  • Each C would have to be marked so the ocatves can be differentiated (I chose to use a dot, which would be raised for playing blind).
  • The standard notation of sharps and flats doesn't work anymore. F is a black note for instance. However, that's not a practical drawback, just a notational one. Music notation would essentially have to change because of this:

enter image description here

Sharps and flats make little sense in the new system, but the current system is pretty strange anyway - E# is just F, another white note, double sharps... In the uniform system sharps and flats can be re-structured logically to always appear on black notes. B is no longer necessary as a designation.

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I think you may have pinpointed the only real practical constraint - you either have to cross your thumb up onto a black key halfway through the scale, or cross after only two notes and then ALLL the way up to the next octave, neither of which sound very appealing. –  Darren Ringer Oct 24 at 17:37
    
@DarrenRinger Or start by 2 rather than 1, as you do in B major scale ;) –  yo' Dec 8 at 22:56

Well, obviously the average usual piano is easier to play in the C major, but not in other keys

On keyboards, digital pianos and even some rare acoustic pianos it is possible to use transpose feature if some other key seems much easier to play. I have learned some chord progressions with transposition first to make easier, but then re-learned to get them also with untransposed keyboard..

Learning this way bounds you to your instrument. You will not be able to play the piece on the majority of acoustic pianos, and even on unknown model of a digital piano you may not find fast enough how to turn transpose on (may be model-dependent).

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Trouble is, in the middle area, how would you know which black or which white note was the one you wanted to play? The idea of 2 blacks/space/3 blacks is to see a pattern to help. As in the note(s) in between the 2 blacks are all D.

Your idea may work if there is colour coding as in a harp. If all the Cs, say, were red then it would help navigate round.

Then you'd have to wait, maybe 50 to 100 years, while the idea caught on, and there were plenty of similar instruments for you to play on.But you're right about trying to make it more guitar-like in that the shapes are transferable, so you use the same pattern for each key, just move up or down.

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so how do I know in the case with guitars then? I just know, by shifting from the selected position probably. And who forbids us to mark the keys in some way? For example, by dots, or even by tones? –  Occulta Apr 14 at 7:36
    
All of my guitars have dots/markers on particular frets. Take those away, and you've got a bit of a problem. Most fretless basses will have markers too. No-one forbids it - it's already there in a standard keyboard, in the pattern. But I did suggest colours. –  Tim Apr 14 at 7:47

You could program a MIDI device to play pitches this way when triggered from a regular MIDI keyboard. (For instance, to only have semitones on the white keys, and not to use the black keys - this would reduce the range of course.) It would make a nonsense of the repeating pattern of black and white keys though…! These would no longer have the same pattern for each octave. I'd love to try playing a keyboard set up this way.

I once played a "left-handed" piano, where all the low keys were at the right, and high keys were at the left - I reckon your suggestion would be even more confusing - but a wonderfully weird idea!

EDIT: I must stress, there is NO musical advantage to doing this - it would just be interesting… Similar suggestions have been made about having music notated on staves with equally spaced semitones, but this just doesn't make musical sense.

ANOTHER EDIT: the type of keyboard you propose would indeed make learning scales (and so how to play in different keys) similar to how a guitarist sometimes thinks about learning them. But it isn't necessarily any easier. This difference (between learning scales on the guitar and piano, and the relative difficulties of each) often comes up in my guitar lessons, so let me elaborate...

On your keyboard, you would still need to learn the patterns for (say) Major and Minor scales (two of each in fact, one starting on "white", one on "black"). Yes, you could then play all scales with these two patterns, just as a guitarist only needs a couple of patterns (or even one of each) to be able to play each scale type in all keys. Easy huh? Well, no. Because what a guitarist gains in fewer patterns to learn, they lose in reference points - apart from the fret-dots (which some guitars don't have anyway) there is nothing distinct about the positioning or patterns for scales of each different key. This would be even more of an issue on a keyboard of many octaves, which would now have no reference points, instead only a uniform alternation of black and white keys.

To sum up: yes, it is a pain learning all those different patterns for scales on the piano - I know, I'm a good guitarist but a not-so-good pianist. But, it is the fact that they all have individual patterns, which helps to make scales on the piano easily identifiable, and so learnable…

Finally, it is worth pointing out, the kind of keyboard you propose would, ironically, make it harder to play tonal music that uses major and minor scales, as the pattern of tones and semitones on a conventional keyboard reflect the pattern of tones and semitones in a major scale. A keyboard laid out with uniformly alternating black and white keys, would be best suited to playing intensely chromatic music, or music solely in whole-tones (Debussy meets Philip Glass, springs to mind...)

I'd still love to play on the kind of piano you propose, though - but don't reckon it would catch on!

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I wanna have the keyboard with no semitones between two adjacent keys. You know, black keys everywhere. No skips (: –  Occulta Apr 11 at 16:00
    
You might need wood-working classes then! –  Bob Broadley Apr 11 at 16:00

Your keyboard scheme basically is a simplified Jankó keyboard missing a significant number of its chord and transposing possibilities.

While rare versions of it can be found, you are likely going to have more success with a chromatic button accordion. There are actually Midi keyboards, even new ones, with CBA to be found. I actually have a C-Griff Solton MS-80 myself though I haven't used it for a long time, instead playing acoustic button accordion. Roland produces purely electronic chromatic button accordions which are useful as MIDI controllers and there are several other manufacturers as well.

Since CBA accordions pack a lot more notes into the right hand (quite small button accordions have a larger tessitura than the largest piano accordions, and the largest CBA accordions have 64 keys in contrast to the largest piano accordions with 45 keys) they are preferable anyway.

You have to be aware though that like with a guitar, the evenly distributed button keyboard is quite easier to master when playing by ear than by playing from a score as scores reflect the black/white key arrangement rather closely.

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