[Dixielandjazz] Irving Berlin's piano>>Clever Mechanical Devils They Were

BudTuba at aol.com BudTuba at aol.com
Thu Dec 4 23:38:51 PST 2003

In a message dated 12/4/03 8:32:41 PM Eastern Standard Time, 
Adaywayne at aol.com writes:

> As far as physically moving the keyboard up (or down) by half a tone (for 
> example), would that really mean that the output would be totally correct in 
> the 
> "new" key? That is simply a genuine question from a non-piano-playing person 
> who is looking at a piano keyboard and scratching his head as he moves from 
> one 
> major chord to the next and tries to picture the spacial placement of the 
> strings and their hammers..

If you open the keyboard section of a piano you will see that the spacing of 
the key levers is equally-spaced and that only the tips of the beams create 
the staggered appearance we associate with the piano.  Therefore, if the whole 
set of tips of the beams (that which you actually engage with your fingers) is 
made seperate from the beams and this set of tips is allowed to shift up and 
down over the beams, they could be placed at any location.  This means though 
that not all 88 keys can be used since the tips would run off the beams at one 
end of the piano or the other, so I expect the set of tips was limited to 
about 75 (88 minus 13).  This would have been done, by physically lifting the set 
of tips and shifting it up or down over the underlying beams.  Berlin's piano 
maker might have been clever by providing some camming action associated with 
turning a knob, etc.  

Moving the keyboard tips in this fashion would be musically true at any 
position.  This mechanical "tranposing" is the same as musically transposing a song 
from one key to another.  Some player pianos had this transposing feature by 
shifting the holes bar under the paper roll to make a song easier to sing by 
matching its range with the singer's vocal range.

Bud Taylor
Smugtown Stompers
Rochester, NY
Traditional Jazz since 1958

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