Alternatively-Sized Keyboards: Special Guest Q&A with Expert Carol Leone

Last year we invited you to submit questions for Carol Leone about alternatively sized keyboards via our social media channels. We are pleased to give these newly updated answers a permanent home on our Discovery page. We invite you to join us on social media for the opportunity to have your questions on a variety of interesting topics answered by additional experts in the coming weeks. Finally, we’d like to extend our gratitude to Carol for her valuable contributions. Click here to explore more PianoInspires content by Carol!

Carol Leone

Are there multiple different sizes of keyboards?

The conventional octave is 6.5 inches wide.

There are two standard alternate sizes in the Donison Steinbuhler Standard:

  • DS6.0 keyboard: octave width of 6 inches
  • DS5.5 keyboard: octave width of 5.5 inches

Additionally, other keyboard manufacturers have recently produced keyboards with an octave width of approximately 6.2 inches.

Do you get a different tone quality on alternate vs regular keyboards?

The size of the key has no bearing on the sound, since the hammers are exactly the same. Therefore the only mechanical effect on tone would be how one has each action’s hammers voiced. However, a person with a small handspan is able to produce a bigger tone using a narrower keyboard because they are able to deliver more force with their more compact hand.

What do you think about the possibility of teaching young beginners on alternatively sized keyboards and then switching over once they grow?

I think it’s ideal for a young student! I did this with the young pianist Aaron Kurz, now a graduate of the Yale School of Music. He studied with me on both the conventional and DS5.5 keyboard for several years starting at age 9, until his hands were almost fully grown. I believe that being able to play challenging repertoire at a young age was a key to Aaron’s phenomenal piano technique.

While I think I could benefit from an alternatively sized keyboard, I’m nervous about practicing on a smaller keyboard and then performing on a standard size since most performing venues only have regular pianos. What advice would you give?

My students and I find that it is relatively easy for us to go back and forth between the sizes on the spot, since some of us have our hands on both keyboards daily. It’s important to note that countless pianists have reported improvements in their playing on the conventional piano keyboard after practicing on a narrower keyboard.

That said, I generally practice specific repertoire on whichever size keyboard will be used in my upcoming performance.

Also, if you have a keyboard action made for a grand piano by Yamaha, you can travel with that action and place it in another Yamaha of a similar size and model, and it will fit well.

How long did it take you to adapt to playing on an alternatively sized piano?

On average it takes no more than 10–15 minutes to feel very comfortable on the DS6.0 and about 40 minutes for the DS5.5. Your brain will learn this flexibility and after that it will take virtually no time at all.

For the very quickest initial adjustment time, look at your hands when trying out the keyboards rather than looking at a score, and begin by playing octaves and large chords slowly.

I would love to see the piano community accept alternatively sized keyboards in a similar way that the string community expects students to begin with smaller instruments. How can we accomplish this? Is it awareness? Cost? Acceptance? Access?

Great questions!  All of those answers are correct, especially access! The DS Standard Foundation is now lending actions with narrower keyboards to universities and conservatories world-wide at no cost (except shipping). You may contact me for more information.

For more on this important topic of acceptance, please see the Pianists for Alternatively Sized Piano Keyboards website.

Click here to sign the global petition to piano manufacturers.

How many companies make alternatively sized keyboards? Do you have a favorite manufacturer?

There are several manufacturers globally. All of our keyboards at SMU Meadows School of the Arts were manufactured by David Steinbuhler in Pennsylvania. DS Standard Foundation website.

Steinway will also now provide a special-order custom keyboard for particular models of their grand pianos, or they will retrofit your own Steinway.

Are there alternatively sized keyboards rather than pianos?

High-quality digital pianos with narrower keys are in development at the prototype stage from at least two manufacturers. Watch for them to be available to the general market very soon!

Do you know of any major performers who perform on alternatively sized pianos?

Joseph Hoffman and Daniel Barenboim both played on narrower keyboards in past concerts.

Additional Resources

Universities that Offer Alternative Keyboard Sizes

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