For any piano (keyboard, digital or acoustic), is the piano made or tuned differently for Indian and western music? Or, can the same piano be used for both?


I think the main problem in using a piano for Indian music is that quarter tones are often employed. For other instruments, special versions are sometimes made specifically to add them in addition to the normal half-step distances between notes.

It would be easy for a trombone to handle it, through the player would have to learn new slide positions. Since the slide allows them to play any pitch in their range, it could be done.

For a trumpet, some makers produce them with an extra 4th valve that lowers the pitch by a quarter step. When combined with the normal three, the player can play scales with quarter tones in them. There are also quarter tone clarinets, etc. but they are quite rare.

String instruments (without frets) can obviously play them, because they can position the hand anywhere along the neck.

It might be possible to reprogram a digital piano to remap the keys for quarter tones, but that would be very confusing to a conventional piano player.

You could also have much more complicated keyboard layout allowing extra keys for the quarter steps in between each of the normal 88-keys for a standard piano, but it would likely be extremely difficult to learn to play.

I think it might be easier to approach by having an additional pedal effect that would lower the step of a normal key by 1/4, but that would not work when you wanted to play chords with only some of them lowered a 1/4 step.

Normally, without very bizarre custom work, pianos are not considered capable of playing quarter tone music.

  • Thanks for the comprehensive answer! I heard that the violin may be tuned for both styles of music and assumed that the same could be done for other instruments. Then I came across keyboards marketed as 'optimized for Indian music' which led me to question my assumption. I thought that my question was a simple one but for the last couple of days, I could not find an answer on Google or Youtube.
    – Kamil
    Feb 11 '18 at 19:22
  • 1
    @Kamil You may want to look at players of the harmonium in Indian classical music (both Hindustani and Carnatic) (just search Youtube, say), and read about it, for how they deal with the issues. As it's much more used than the piano, you'll get some insights about the problems and possibilities, some of which would also apply to the piano. Feb 28 '18 at 21:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.