October 1, 2005 A new, smaller-sized piano keyboard helps smaller players conquer complex piano pieces -- without missing a note traditional-size keyboards are too big for many pianists, causing pain and injury. The new keyboard is seven inches smaller. Attaching electrical measuring devices to the hands of players during a performance, ergonomists measured greater comfort, accuracy and better technique with the smaller keyboard.
LINCOLN, Neb.--Piano players' hands come in all shapes and sizes, but piano keyboards don't. Small hands are defined as having a hand span of eight inches or less. If you fit into this category it's likely you may have a hard time playing the piano. Now there is new piano keyboard that's just the right size.
Brenda Wristen, a pianist and assistant professor of Piano Pedagogy at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, says, "I have struggled for my entire life to achieve technical fluency and comfort at the conventional-sized piano." Wristen makes playing the piano seem easy, but it hasn't always been that way. For years, her small hands deprived her of fully mastering the keys. But she isn't struggling anymore.
For the first time, a new smaller-sized piano keyboard helps Wristen conquer complex piano pieces without missing a note. "Learning the piece on this instrument was really revolutionary," Wristen says. Traditional-size keyboards are too big for many pianists, causing pain and injury. The new keyboard is seven inches smaller. "My hand is more naturally fitted to this instrument," she says.
Just what does this new $9,800 keyboard mean for musicians? Ergonomists attached devices to the hands of players during a performance to find out. The devices send electrical signals about muscle stress and joint angles to a computer and results show players have greater comfort, accuracy and better technique with the smaller keyboard.
Susan Hallbeck, an ergonomist at the University of Nebraska says, "Because the keys are closer, their fingers can be in a more relaxed position. And when they're playing, then their muscles aren't as stressed."
Wristen says, "The performance experience is even more rewarding and more fulfilling." The small size keyboard is interchangeable, can be put in and taken out of a traditional size piano, and is perfect for kids.
BACKGROUND: A new piano keyboard that is 7/8 the size of a regular keyboard is easier for kids and people with small hands to play, according to a new pilot study by researchers at the University of Nebraska. This is important because people can develop bad playing habits when trying to reach the keys. The natural alignment of the hands and wrist, and how the size of the hand, or the reach of the fingers, relate to the size of the keyboard, are important factors in determining how easy or difficult it is for a person to place their wrist in an unnatural position while playing the piano. A hand span of 8 inches or less generally indicates a "small-handed" pianist.
WHAT IS ERGONOMICS: This is a branch of science that strives to design the job to fit the worker, rather than the other way around. In the modern office, it most commonly relates to the physical stresses placed on joints, muscles, nerves, tendons, bones, even hearing and eyesight, along with other environmental factors that can adversely affect comfort and health. Ergonomics deals with the interaction of technology and work environments with the human body, and involves anatomy, physiology and psychology in the design of chairs, desks, computer accessories, the design of car controls and instruments -- in short, any kind of product that could help relieve potential repetitive strain from a given job or task.
POTENTIAL FOR INJURY: The most common cumulative trauma disorder (also known as repetitive strain injury) associated with computers or pianos is carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects the hand and wrist. Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome or related repetitive strain include tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers; and loss of strength or coordination in the hands. Tendonitis and many back injuries can also result from repetitive motions.
TIPS ON PROPER FORM: Raise or lower chairs to avoid typing with your wrists at an odd angle. Place your keyboard at a level slightly lower than normal desk height. Use a footrest to avoid dangling your legs. While typing, wrists should not be bent up, down or to the side. The knuckle, wrist and top of the forearm should form a straight line. Elbows should form a 90-degree angle while hanging at the sides from the shoulders, and the shoulders should remain relaxed in a lowered position while typing. Do not use wrist supports or rests while you are typing, only when pausing to rest. Adjust computer monitors to avoid glare. Take frequent breaks from repetitive tasks to give your body a rest. Use a light touch when typing or holding the mouse.
The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.