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  • Writer's pictureLinda Gould

Piano Boot Camp meets Narrow Keys

We just finished an energetic, summer, Piano Boot Camp. This camp is a week-long immersion in lead sheets and chords that has been running for 12 years. As this was the first time we met live and in person since the pandemic, everyone agreed it was wonderful to be back together playing ensembles and sharing experiences. I brought lots of little surprises with me during the week to kept the momentum going, just as I have done in previous years. This year, however, I had a Big surprise.

Here is a little background …

One of my students, who has small hands, bought a D.S. 5.5 narrow key action for her Yamaha U1. These keys have a 5.5” octave vs. the 6.5” octave that regular pianos have. She purchased them a few years ago and says the only reason she is playing piano in her retirement is because of her narrow keys. She can play pain fee and she loves them!

Our Piano Boot Camp was held at Taber Music School in Victoria, B.C. They have a marvelous group piano studio with seven 88-key Yamaha DGX pianos. They are wonderful keyboards and they all have regular sized keys. After two days of camp, I could see that Ruth (the lady that owns the narrow-key piano) was getting fatigued. She loved what we were doing but playing on large keys was tiring.

When Ruth showed up on Thursday morning (camp day 3), instead of a Yamaha DGX, my NK 5.5 (world’s first digital keyboard) was in its place. I placed it there for her to play for the rest of the camp week. You couldn’t wipe the smile off her face. She had several personal bests after the narrow keyboard arrived. Improvisation in front of others has been a challenge, except for this year - she nailed it! Beautiful notes in a groovy rhythm. I think her success, in part, was because she felt comfortable on the keys.

What I didn’t expect was what happened at the afternoon camp. Doreen was playing on the keyboard that Ruth occupied in the morning camp. I didn’t tell this class that there would be a narrow-key keyboard in it’s place. When I arrived for the afternoon class everyone was gathered around the new narrow keys and was trying them out. They ALL felt the narrow keys were a better fit for their hands. Doreen said she would be happy to play on them for the rest of the day, and the next day … and the next! She had the choice to move back to regular keys and she preferred experiencing narrow keys instead. She adjusted quickly to the new size and went home and practiced on her regular sized keys without an issue.

In the picture above, both pianos have 88 keys. The lower one (my NK5.5 inserted into a grand piano shell) fits my small hand and the other fits my Dragonfly Sisters larger hand.

How will the future enjoyment of piano playing evolve when affordable narrow piano keyboards become abundantly available? Experiences like this one tell me to hold onto my hat and be prepared for some fun surprises! No surprise, Ruth and a few of her classmates are eagerly awaiting the chance to own their own narrow-key digital piano.

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