Reversing Black & White Piano/Keyboard Keys


Is there some reason other than just to be different?



Did you hear it being played? It’s possible you were seeing a harpsichord. Otherwise I would assume it’s just decorative.

Yeah, I’ve only seen reversed keys on a harpsichord (which is the standard layout.) Never seen a reversed piano, but I’m sure someone out there must have made one to be silly.

No, it was a piano. That’s what I thought: just a novelty.



One site I read said that the rationale behind the colors is that the less used black keys can just be wood (ebony), while the more used white keys had to be something hard like ivory. I don’t know if that’s accurate or not.

On the documentary “In Search of Beethoven”, one of the first interviewees, pianist Ronald Brautigam is playing one. I listened closely, and it wasn’t a harpsichord, but a piano.


Not quite an answer to the question, but a Vox organ traditionally had the key colors reversed as well…

Not. Ivory keycovers are fragile and troublesome.

Also, the sharp keys are used just as frequently as the naturals.

And what’s more, I’m told they live together in perfect harmony.

I don’t know why it was made that way, but I did encounter one once. It took about 3 nanoseconds to parse the change, otherwise no effect whatsoever on playing.

I’ve never bothered to look into the reasons for the various dark/light key colors on various keyboard instruments, but have always assumed it was simply custom. And one does see exceptions, although on 20th century pianos it’s strictly for novelty effect. As far as I know, I hasten to add.

In my opinion, ivory as a piano keycover material has only two things in its favor: when it’s in perfect condition it looks wonderful; and it has a porosity that provides a pleasant traction for the musician’s fingertips.

I’ll weigh in in favor of ivory – they’re tops, but I’m not that happy with the whole killing of the wildebeests or whatever. In fact, I’m not happy with that at all, so I’ll stick with my plastic digital keys (hey – always in tune!). I grew up playing a nice, but played-out upright with ivory keys, and I think I cleaned the keys with milk once, because I read it somewhere. Didn’t seem right. My first real piano teacher had a Hamburg Steinway with ivory keys, though – even though that was a better instrument by far, it felt good to have something familiar feeling under the pads of the fingers. But I never got that good at piano to be a primadonna – I like the feel, but I’m not sad the ivories are gone one bit.

I wonder where Hammond had those reverse keys for the presets made? You know how on the Hammond, there’s an octave of reverse keys on each manual that latch down and give a different registration? I bet he had them made, or else just dyed some from his own stock of waterfall keys. Who knows.

ETA that would be trippy as hell to play on a reverse key keyboard. I think of Groove Holmes’s album with the X-Ray negative photos of him playing, I think called … the one with “Fingers” on it.

Either way, it’s just molding keys with plastic of whatever color they choose.

I’ve played dozens of harpsichords, clavichords, even a couple of 60’s Vox “organs” with various keycolor themes, and I happen to really like the appearance of dark naturals/light sharps. But as someone upthread already noted, the novelty evaporates almost instantly. By the time you actually lay fingers on keys, you’re no longer noticing.


Ivory tends to yellow with age, right? Any way to keep that from happening?



I was told that ivory yellows faster if the fallboard (piano keyboard cover) is kept closed; it needs to “breathe.” The tradeoff is that in many if not most non-museum environments, leaving piano keys constantly exposed invites other problems.

Direct sunlight can cause ivories to warp and come unglued; children and clumsy adults spill things on, drop things on, bang into, and otherwise damage piano keys all the time. With an ivory keyboard in otherwise good condition, repairing such damage can be very difficult and expensive, with results that can range from “not quite invisible” to “disappointingly conspicuous.”


In modern day, I know this is correct (I am a keyboardist, after all), but I thought, when the first keyboard instruments were created, this might not have been the case. I know that, for a while, the only accidental was Bb.

I had occasion to visit one of Beethoven’s apartments (the Pasqualetti one) while vacationing in Vienna recently, and the pianoforte displayed there looked remarkably good over all, including the keys. They were, of course, covered with hard plastic, but now that I’ve read TC’s post, I wonder if it: a) maybe was a facsimile or b) was one of those restored successfully.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of the questions that came to mind during my visit.

Incidentally, this was also the apartment he had masons drill through to make his music room larger - unbeknownst to Herr Pasqualetti.

I bet you would have had to love the guy, and he would have fit in splendidly right here on The Dope! :slight_smile:


All right, spill, Quasi. Do I have to start a whole new thread?!? Actually, I’d love to hear in detail what the experience was like, from crossing the threshold, to discovering the room(s), to seeing the piano. It would certainly be worth a thread, like “Ask the Man Who’s Seen The Coolest Thing On the Planet” or something. Just jealous, is all. I was going to go to Bonn with a classmate in 8th grade, but it was pipe dreams – we just talked about it. Now you make me want to get to Vienna, which is of enormous interest to anybody in its own right, but I didn’t know you could see some Beethovenalia there, which makes me want to go even more.

Because we’re in the process of moving, I haven’t been able to chronicle my “pilgrimage” to Bonn and Vienna. There are pictures of me with the piano and the busts in his garden, which I’ll include, but I will say the trip was too short to see all the “Beethovenalia” I wanted to, so I imagine we’ll go back, hopefully next year.

The apartment in Vienna (there are 3) which I saw and in which he worked on his Fifth is 4 flights of stairs up, and as I walked over each one, I thought to myself, “How did he keep doing this with his life as dismal as it was?”

It was very inspirational for me.

I’ll catch you up as soon as I can.

Thanks for asking!


Ah. Apologies for the unintended (and mild, I hope) insult.

This is outside my field of expertise, but I’m pretty sure that such early keyboards were long obsolete (possibly by hundreds of years) by the time ivory was introduced as a keycover material.