Sunday, April 11, 2010

Redesigning the piano for the 21st century

[warning: ego boost. Sam: skip to paragraph 2]. Sam had his first Northwestern recital last night, a fantastic, virtuosic performance. Hopefully you'll hear more about this from Sam (recordings, even?), but my two cents: the Chopin pieces, particularly the F# major and C minor Nocturnes, were the best I've heard him play Chopin-- exhilarating and tender. The Lieberman was also great fun, and surprisingly beautiful. For some reason, I expected those impromptus to be egocentric, obnoxious, and droopy. But enough about Sam. This is my guest post.

The 400 person (estimated) space was packed to the brim. Well, there were only ~60 of us, but we completely saturated that narrow band of optimal piano-performance enjoyment: the left side of the center aisle, where you can see the performers hands & face without the subpar acoustics & feng shui of the left aisle. I explained this predicament to another of Sam's Yale guests, Adam, a music muggle. "Why don't they just rotate the piano?" he asked. I hopped right up on my high horse, and explained that the cover projects outward and rotating the piano would defeat the entire purpose. But Adam's idea got me thinking and I arrived at an elegant solution (perhaps it was Adam's epiphany, but my post, my story): just angle the keyboard!

Here's the classic keyboard design:

And my modification:

This redesign would obviously take some getting used to, and we know that classical musicians can be conservative (hi, Noah!). But the design makes so much sense: the visual sweetspot (face & hands visible) should be aligned with the acoustic sweet-spot (center of the auditorium). Never again would audiences scrunch to the left, threatening to capsize the room. This redesign piano would offer a further benefit for concerto performances, with a more direct line of sight between the pianist and conductor. The design would be awful for chamber music, but you can't win every battle.

No doubt, there would be substantial technical challenges to implementing this change, most notably from the angle between the action and the strings. But, as we can see in the first picture, this is a problem that piano designers have already had to contend with for low notes (strings near the top). With the angled keyboard, the low strings could extend horizontally, and the angle would be only slightly more extreme than it already is.

I think that it's at least worth a try. Be on the look-out for the new Tutor Trove brand pianos in a concert hall near you!


  1. i'm telling you bro, you're on to something here. patent it. while we're on the subject of patents, if you haven't seen this, then you haven't LIVED:

  2. sammyp's right -- this is a pretty interesting idea, and instead of wasting all your time tutoring you should hop on over to your nearest patent lawyer and get this DONE!

  3. I think it's not so much the angle between the action and the strings as the angle between the visible part of the keys and the extended part of the keys. Now it is a straight line.