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As a kid I always wondered why there was a missing key between Fa and Mi in piano keyboards. Later I learned the reason. There is only a semi-tone distance between this two notes and therefor no in between note for the piano.

Although this explains the reason of the missing black key it does not explain why keyboards where setup like that initially. I assume this already comes from the organ, and probably even from previous key instruments that kept a familiar setup to make it easy for already existing keyboard players to learn the new instrument, but how did it all start?

Nowadays one can argue that the keyboard reflects the Do scale, a very popular scale, but through history this was not always the case.

In my understanding, for the first instrument builders, it would make more sense to just make a continuous keyboard, with the chromatic scale, where Mi would be white, Fa black, and next to it, in the sequence, a white Fa sharp... etc.

Why do keyboards have the current configuration based on the Do scale?

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The current configuration is historically based. Early singing was based on what are now the "white keys" on the piano. Also, in early time, a Bb was added so that the F-B interval (which was considered difficult to sing in tune, compared to other intervals) could be avoided a bit. The early organization (which contemporary music theorists called modes or hexachords) consisted on the 4 patterns of white notes from D-D or E-E or F-F or G-G. The patterns on C-C or A-A or B-B were uncommon.

Music theory (harmony and counterpoint) is organized around these white-note patterns with a few "black notes" (called accidentals) thrown in. Early Greek music theorists also had a similar organization of notes. A good starting reference is the Wiki page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mode_(music).

Also check out Guido of Arezzo https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guido_of_Arezzo.

The concept of a 12-note collection of semitones is more modern. Some methods of tuning instruments lead to each scale sounding different. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musical_temperament

All in all, it's a question with a rather complex answer (or just the simple non-explanatory "historical reasons.")

  • The Wiki references are a good starting point. There are actually lots of books and articles written about the subject. – ttw May 14 '16 at 13:34

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