three times easier to play!

The symmetrical keyboard

The symmetrical keyboard is a piano keyboard on which, differently from the standard piano, the lower row of keys (the white ones) and the raised keys (the black ones) alternate regularly, like this:

It’s a layout of keys that eliminates the asymmetry of the usual keyboard and for that very reason, it drastically simplifies the learning of scales and chords. It’s nothing less than a revolutionary conception of the piano and of all the keyboard instruments: the digital piano, synthesizer, electric organ, accordion, melodica etc. as well as the keyboard percussion instruments (vibraphone, xylophone, marimba). It’s been estimated that it cuts in three the time usually spent on learning scales and chords. As the distances between keys are very similar to those of a standard piano, this keyboard can be learnt with basically the same fingerings. Another advantage is that it shortens octaves by one key, which allows one’s hand to play octaves, ninths and tenths more easily.

The symmetrical keyboard is not another electronic gadget nor a novel futuristic instrument. Its functioning doesn’t depend on a technological artefact but naturally results from its very own structure. By making instruments three times easier to play, this innovation happens to be a powerful element of music popularization.

To tell the truth, the alternation of black and white keys is very monotonous as far as visual orientation is concerned. The solution to this problem was found a long time ago and since adopted by numerous inventors: coloring in white all the notes of the C major scale and in black all the sharps and flats, which gives the pattern above.

Musician Massimo Montagna plays one of his compositions on a symmetrical piano, accompanied by a virtual flute.

What is achieved is then an irregular pattern of colors within a regular pattern of keys, which allows visual orientation without modifying the symmetry of the structure. An even better solution is to assign the black keys of the lower row a third color, for instance yellow, or to make those three keys of varnished wood.

Pierre Therrien interprète Crepuscule with Nellie de Thelonious Monk.

The website le-nouveau-clavier.fr proposes resources for the widespread of the concept of the symmetrical keyboard. It is designed to invite the general public, musicologists and professors to discover this instrument, and craftsmen and instrument makers to produce it on a large scale.

I nvented in Prague in 1654 by mathematician and Jesuit scholar Juan Caramuel y Lobkowitz (left), the symmetrical keyboard has never been widely adopted since despite its obvious simplicity. To learn more about the unfinished story of this revolutionary keyboard, see my article.

Tags: new keyboard, symmetrical keyboard, bilinear chromatic keyboard, isomorphic music instrument, digital piano, organ, innovation, invention, Juan Caramuel y Lobkowitz, accordions, Jankó keyboard.