Sakai’s study (2008, pp. 169-170) of the octave span in old keyboard instruments uncovered that with the exception of the Cristofori piano, octaves from 1785-1850 were up to 0.6cm smaller than today’s grand piano. While certainly many standard works from the classical and romantic repertoire were written during this time for a slightly smaller keyboard, the relationship of a 0.6cm or 3.2% reduction in octave span to avoiding PRMDs is unclear. A pianist may still stretch, even if the octave is 0.6cm smaller.
Donison acknowledges that stretching is a PRMD risk. Furthermore, he speculates that being on average 15% smaller disadvantages females, which explains why men as prizewinners overshadow females by 10:1 at the Van Cliburn International, despite female piano students outnumbering male piano students at tertiary level by 8:1 (2000, pp. 111-112). This was the impetus behind developing the Donison-Steinbuhler (DS) standard 7/8 sized keyboard. Today, the DS standard can be retrofitted into standard grand pianos in ten minutes. The DS standard has gained prominence in the last decade and has even been introduced into five Canadian music institutions (Horvath, 2004, p. 210).
A 7/8 keyboard may promote greater comfort, but again does not prevent pianists from stretching, twisting the hand away from the arm, and / or attempting chords that are unplayable on a regular keyboard (see Boyle & Boyle, 2009, p. 11). Furthermore, until 7/8 keyboards are readily available in practice rooms and performance venues, it is impractical to practise one set of fingerings and kinaesthetic memory on a 7/8 keyboard, yet perform on a full-size keyboard, or vice versa (see Donison, 2000; Wristen, Jung, Wismer, & Hallbeck, 2006, pp. 3, 8). While a 7/8 keyboard may indeed benefit many small-handed pianist by reducing the size of large intervals and chords, child prodigies and small-handed virtuosi routinely demonstrate the powerful results of healthy, economical movement on a full-size piano, despite the “disadvantage” of their smaller hands.
Extract from Learning and Teaching Healthy Piano Technique: Training as an Instructor in the Taubman Approach. Available through: http://www.theresemilanovic.com/phd-published/
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Boyle, R. B., & Boyle, R. G. (2009). Hand size and the piano keyboard. Literature review and a survey of the technical and musical benefits for pianists using reduced-sized keyboards in North America. Paper presented at the Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference. The King’s School, North Parramatta, Sydney.
Donison, C. (2000). Hand size vs the standard piano keyboard. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 15(3), 111-114.
Horvath, J. (2004). Playing (less) hurt: An injury prevention guide for musicians (Rev. ed.). Minneapolis, MN: J. Horvath.
Sakai, N. (2008). Keyboard span in old musical instruments. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 23(4), 169-171.
Wristen, B., Jung, M.-C., Wismer, A., & Hallbeck, M. (2006). Assessment of muscle activity and joint angles in small-handed pianists: A pilot study on the 7/8 sized keyboard versus the full-sized keyboard. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 21(1), 3-9.