The Uniform Keyboard

When you use the phrase "piano keyboard," most people assume that you're talking about one thing only: a irregular collection of black and white keys. Equal-width white keys are all side-by-side, interrupted at half their length by parallel but narrower black keys in groups of twos and threes. The notes of the scale are arranged from left (low) to right (high). Here's a picture of a single octave:

familiar piano keyboard layout

The above may be what is most often seen, but other layouts exist. Consider the following, for example. The notes of the scale are still arranged from left to right, but half steps regularly alternate between two rows. This picture shows two octaves:

uniform piano keyboard layout, two rows

The above is often referred to as the "uniform keyboard." Why use it? The linear span for an octave is 25% less than it is on the familiar piano keyboard, meaning that it's easier to play larger intervals. There are only two scale patterns to learn for each mode: one that starts on the upper row, and one that starts on the lower (compared to the twelve patterns for each mode on the familiar piano keyboard).

Now, take that layout and make a duplicate row, so that the first and third play the same notes:

uniform piano keyboard layout, three rows

On the above three-row layout, you can play every mode in every key with the same fingering pattern -- it's just a matter of moving your hand to a different starting position. Additional rows give you more possibilities and allow for a more natural hand position. For any of these keyboards with duplicate rows, if you learn to play a piece and stick to one fewer row than is available on your keyboard, you can instantly transpose to any key by simply moving to a different starting position.

Jankó piano keyboard layout

The above six-row uniform keyboard layout is called the "Jankó Keyboard" named after its inventor, Paul von Jankó. Others refer to it as the "6-6 keyboard," referring to the two rows of 6 notes each that make up the western scale.

Pictures of Jankó Pianos

So what does one of these instruments look like? They're unsurprisingly piano-shaped. I've gathered these images from several places and stored copies locally, just in case the originals move or disappear entirely. Click each picture to view a larger version.

After 10 years of searching, I'm the proud owner of an upright Jankó Piano manufactured in the 1890's by Decker Bros. in New York City. It was previously owned by Paul Vandervoort (see below for his beautiful MIDI keyboards) and before that by the music department at Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU) in Belmont, CA. (I'm currently doing some research with the NDNU archivist to discover more about the history of the Jankó Keyboard at that institution.)

The instrument is in great shape for being nearly 120 years old. It's finally adjusting to the humidity at my home and is now staying in tune reasonably well. One cast iron piece of the action frame was broken in transit many years ago. A local welder was able to repair it for me. The damper felts are quite old, so they don't do a very good job of silencing the strings when the keys are released. I'm currently in the process of replacing all of these felts.

Decker Bros. upright piano with a Jankó Keyboard Decker Bros. upright piano with a Jankó Keyboard Decker Bros. upright piano with a Jankó Keyboard

I'm currently learning how to play the piano all over again -- what fun! I've acquired copies of various pedagogies published in the early 1900's and am going through the exercises in those books. My intention is to start publishing my progress, blog-style, once I have the instrument back together after replacing the dampers. Until then, here are a few snaps to whet your appetite:

left hand playing an octave on a Jankó Keyboard
octave
left hand playing a tenth on a Jankó Keyboard
tenth
left hand playing a twelfth on a Jankó Keyboard
twelfth (!)
playing a simple exercise on a Jankó Keyboard, from above
yes, red hair

Also check out these short videos of me playing scales and playing the exercise pictured above.

close-up of the Jank&ocaute; Keyboard on a Decker Bros. upright piano

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C., has in their collection a Jankó Piano manufactured by Decker Brothers, New York between 1888-1992. Kristine K. Naragon, as she wrote her Master's thesis on the Jankó Keyboard, visited this particular piano for real "hands-on" research. Source page: 1

Decker Bros. upright piano with Jankó Keyboard Decker Bros. upright piano with Jankó Keyboard Decker Bros. upright piano with Jankó Keyboard

The National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota has in their collection a Jankó Piano manufactured by Decker Brothers, New York in 1895. Source pages: 1 2

Decker Bros. upright piano with Jankó Keyboard Decker Bros. upright piano with Jankó Keyboard Decker Bros. upright piano with Jankó Keyboard, being serviced

The Technisches Museum Wien has an instrument collection which contains two Jankó instruments. Edward Swenson has visited there and took the leftmost two pictures (thanks for sending them to me, Edward!). The upright piano (Pianino [German for small upright piano]) was built by Ernst Rosenkranz in 1890 and has two keyboards: a Jankó keyboard is coupled with the familiar keyboard. The smaller instrument is a harmonum built by Teophil Kotykiewicz with Jankó keyboard.

two Jankó keyboard instruments Pianino by Rosenkranz ca 1890 with double keyboards: Jankó and familiar Pianino by Rosenkranz ca 1890 with double keyboards: Jankó and familiar harmonium by Kotykiewicz with Jankó keyboard; photo by Ragtimer1 used under Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

The Ringve Museum has an instrument collection which contains a Jankó Piano. This page refers to it. The curator, Mats Krouthén, kindly sent me two photos (the ones on the right) of the instrument. It was manufactured by A. H. Francke in Leipzig. (Note: the two photos on the right were provided and produced by the Ringve Museum. The instrument depicted is located at Ringve and is owned by the Norsk folkmuseum NF 1932-0204.)

upright piano by Francke with Jankó keyboard, photo by Wikipedia user Thuen, released under the GNU Free Documentation License inside view upright piano by Francke with Jankó keyboard, photo produced by the Ringve Museum close-up of Jankó keyboard on the Francke upright piano, photo produced by the Ringve Museum

DeBence Antique Music World in Franklin, Pennsylvania recently received a Francke upright as a donation to its collection of instruments. Prescott Greene, the organization's executive director, kindly sent me these two photos of the instrument.

upright piano by Francke with Jankó keyboard, photo produced by the DeBence Antique Music World upright piano by Francke with Jankó keyboard, photo produced by the DeBence Antique Music World

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur founded a women's college in San Jose, California in the late 1800's. The College of Notre Dame was well-known for its music program. Between the 1885 and 1910, several students studied the piano, specifically on instruments using the Jankó keyboard. (The college moved to Belmont, California in 1923 and became the Notre Dame de Namur University.) The archivist for the Sisters, Kathleen O'Connor, has been extremely helpful and allowed me to search the archives from that time period. Amazingly, I believe I've found a historical photograph of the same Francke piano which has recently resurfaced at DeBence Antique Music World! The following photo depicts two pianos, one Francke upright, and one Hardman Peck grand. No specific date was listed with the photo, but it is thought to be from approximately 1910. (Photo source: Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, California Province Archives, IIB San Jose, Box 31, 1900's Scrapbook.)

two pianos with Jankó keyboards, one Francke upright and one Hardman Peck grand, photo source: Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, California Province Archives, IIB San Jose, Box 31, 1900's Scrapbook

The Stephen Foster State Folk Culture Center in White Springs, FL has in its museum collection a Steinway grand with a Jankó keyboard. Two sets of retirees have visited and have written about the piano. Paul Hirsh did, too, and took a great close-up of the keyboard. Musurgia, an instrument dealer, had a postcard for sale with a picture of a woman playing that piano. Source pages: 1 2 3 4 5

Steinway grand piano with Jankó keyboard Steinway grand piano with Jankó keyboard Steinway grand piano with Jankó keyboard, close-up Steinway grand piano with Jankó keyboard, close-up Steinway grand piano with Jankó keyboard Steinway grand piano with Jankó keyboard, close-up

The Musikinstrumentensammlung im Fruchtkasten am Schillerplatz at the Württembergisches Landesmuseum has an upright piano with Jankó keyboard, made by Carl A. Pfeiffer in 1930. (Thanks to Dr. Irmgard Muesch for the information about the instrument's manufacture.) Source pages: 1 2

upright piano with Jankó keyboard

The Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung has a piano with Jankó keyboard made by Carl Heinke in 1900. Jörg Knobloch visited the museum and took several pictures of this instrument. (Many thanks, Jörg, both for the pictures and the html suggestions!) Source pages: 1

upright piano by Heinke with Jankó keyboard, photo by Jörg Knobloch upright piano by Heinke with Jankó keyboard, photo by Jörg Knobloch upright piano by Heinke with Jankó keyboard, photo by Jörg Knobloch upright piano by Heinke with Jankó keyboard, photo by Jörg Knobloch upright piano by Heinke with Jankó keyboard, photo by Jörg Knobloch

The Grassi Museum für Musikinstrumente in Leipzig, Germany, has a harpsichord with Jankó keyboard, made by Gebrüder Percina [sic] (I suspect that should be Gebr. Perzina) in 1940. Source pages: 1 2

small harpischord with Jankó keyboard

The Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, Germany, has both an upright piano with dual-keyboards made by Rosenkranz (similar to the one at Technisches Museum Wien) and an upright piano with with a single Jankó Keyboard made by H. Roloff. Both instruments have an estimated manufacture date of 1890. Source pages: 1 2

Pianino by Rosenkranz ca 1890 with double keyboards: Jankó and familiar Pianino by Rosenkranz ca 1890 with double keyboards: Jankó and familiar Pianino by Rohloff ca 1890 with Jankó keyboard Pianino by Rohloff ca 1890 with Jankó keyboard

The Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, Netherlands, owns a piano with a Jankó keyboard manufactured by Carl Goetze. James McCartney visited in 2007, snapped the following two pictures of the instrument, and kindly sent me the photos.

upright piano by Carl Goetze with Jankó keyboard at the Gemeentemuseum upright piano by Carl Goetze with Jankó keyboard at the Gemeentemuseum

A Japanese company, known first as "Whole Tone Revolution" (at the now defunct http://www.chromatic-keyboard.com/), then "Chroma Systems" (at the now defunct http://www.chromasystems.jp/ and http://www.chroma.jp/), and now "Chromatone" (at http://www.chromatone.jp/), manufacture a 6-row Jankó-style synthesizer and MIDI controller. (All three of these companies were owned by Wataru Ohkawa, as far as I know.) The red one on the left is no longer manufactured. They're now (finally) selling and shipping these instruments via their web site, so if you want a uniform keyboard, this is the only place to buy a new one (for now -- see Daskin, below). Source pages: 1 2 3

Whole Tone Revolution synthesizer and MIDI keyboard with Jankó-style keyboard Whole Tone Revolution synthesizer and MIDI keyboard with Jankó-style keyboard Chromatone CT-312 synthesizer and MIDI keyboard with Jankó-style keyboard Chromatone CT-312 synthesizer and MIDI keyboard with Jankó-style keyboard

Paul Vandervoort is arguably the world's pre-eminent Jankó enthusiast. He's been playing a hand-built Jankó MIDI controller for many years as a professional musician. He's also been developing a MIDI controller for commercial production. Check out the Daskin web site for a demonstration video which shows off the soon-to-be-released MIDI controller. I recently met with Paul in person and can say that the prototype (pictured below) was extremely solid -- the keyboard was quiet and had a great feel.

Daskin 5 MIDI controller keyboard with Jankó-style keyboard, see www.daskin.com for complete details

Back in 1976, he designed an armature to be placed over a traditional piano keyboard (mention in this article). Paul very kindly sent me some pictures of this adapter.

Paul Vandervoort's 73-key 4-row  Jankó-style keyboard adapter Paul Vandervoort's 73-key 4-row  Jankó-style keyboard adapter, oblique Paul Vandervoort's 73-key 4-row  Jankó-style keyboard adapter, mechanics, above Paul Vandervoort's 73-key 4-row  Jankó-style keyboard adapter, mechanics, below

Paul Panebianco, a talented multi-instrumentalist, is also a uniform keyboard enthusiast. He owns an upright piano which has a 4-row Jankó layout. Paul very kindly sent me some high-resolution pictures of his instrument. (The instrument's keyboard was constructed by Paul Vandervoort, who says that the mechanics of the keyboard are similar to those proposed by Nordbö in U.S. Patent 1202882. See the rightmost two pictures below to see how each of the two rows engage the hammer for a given string.)

Paul Panebianco's piano -- front view, oblique Paul Panebianco's piano -- front view, from above Paul Panebianco's piano -- front view, keyboard detail Paul Panebianco's piano -- lowest note on keyboard struck on row 1 Paul Panebianco's piano -- lowest note on keyboard struck on row 3

In 2007, an upright piano appeared on eBay which had its keyboard replaced with a 4-row Jankó keyboard. (I didn't purchase this piano because even though its keyboard is laid out like a Jankó, it retains the key width of the familiar piano keyboard. For me, that nullifies a primary feature of the layout -- the ability for my small hands to reach larger intervals.) The listing is no longer available on eBay's site, but I saved the pictures:

hand-modified upright piano with Jankó keyboard hand-modified upright piano with Jankó keyboard hand-modified upright piano with Jankó keyboard

A Japanese site with several pictures of pianos contains two with keyboards which are a derivative of the Jankó. It's called a Rapian keyboard and is the work of Kanpei Mutoh. (As you can see, it's very similar to the Jankó, but has five rows rather than six, with all-white key tops.) Source page: 1

upright piano with Rapian keyboard (derivative of Jankó keyboard) upright piano with Rapian keyboard (derivative of Jankó keyboard), close-up

Alfred Dolge wrote Pianos and their Makers, a guide to the history of piano manufacture up through 1911 (when the book was published). It refers to the Jankó keyboard and how it was, in Dolge's opinion, poised to revolutionize piano instruction and playing. Hard to find. Here are scans from the book detailing two instruments by Paul Perzina. One is a reversible-keyboard piano and the other is a "practice clavier" -- both with Jankó keyboards. There are also detail photos of the actions from each:

upright piano by Paul Perzina with reversible keyboard (Jankó keyboard on one side, familiar keyboard on the other) key and action for Perzina's Jankó keyboard, close-up practice clavier by Paul Perzina with Jankó keyboard key and action for Perzina's practice clavier with Jankó keyboard, close-up

Piano World, a site dedicated to information about the piano, has a page about to the Jankó Piano. Depicted are a Broadwood grand and Decker Bros. upright. Source page: 1

Broadwood grand piano iwth Jankó Keyboard Decker Bros. upright piano with Jankó Keyboard

Very recently, companies have started producing pianos with Jankó keyboards. Blüthner is willing to fit their grand pianos with such a keyboard for a 7000-euro surcharge. Below are some pictures of a Hassler (a Blüthner brand) piano. It was built for Ken Ecury, music educator and Jankó enthusiast who teaches in Spain, Germany, and The Netherlands. Thanks to Ken, who sent me several photos of this beautiful instrument. Also thanks to Jordan Gary, who snapped the rightmost photo of the piano action when on a tour of the Blüthner factory in 2009. Source page: 1

Hassler grand piano with Jankó keyboard, photo by Ken Ecury Hassler grand piano with Jankó keyboard, photo by Ken Ecury Hassler grand piano with Jankó keyboard, close-up of action, photo by Ken Ecury Hassler grand piano with Jankó keyboard, close-up of keyboard, photo by Ken Ecury Hassler grand piano with Jankó keyboard, close-up of keyboard, photo by Jordan Gary

Peter Reinert of Reinert Klaviere-Flügel-Service retrofit a Jankó keyboard into an upright piano (soundboard by Sauter and action by Renner). He designed and built the action himself, taking in some of the ideas built into Jankó actions by Pfeiffer. Peter sent these pictures of his beautiful handiwork.

Reinert upright piano with Jankó keyboard Reinert upright piano with Jankó keyboard, oblique Reinert upright piano with Jankó keyboard, linkage Reinert upright piano with Jankó keyboard, levers Reinert upright piano with Jankó keyboard, keys

Jankó Pianos (pictures pending)

The Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany, has three pianos with a Jankó keyboards. Inventory number 6544 is listed as a "Janko Keyboard," but "there is a remark in the correspondence that the keyboard... isn't the original Janko-form, but a special type developed by Joseph Weiß in the end of the 19th century." Inventory number 68056 is a "Piano, W. Schön, Berlin ca. 1900, with Janko Keyboard" (also mentioned in Herbert Heyde's book Musikinstrumentenbau in Preussen (1994)). Inventory number 68057 is simply a "Janko Keyboard." No pictures (would anyone care to visit?). Many thanks to Silke Berdux, the curator of musical instruments, who provided this detailed information about the instruments in the collection.

Both Dr. Isolde Vetter and Kristine Naragon reported a Jankó piano at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, Austria. I have inquired there, but have yet to receive further information.

Dr. Isolde Vetter has reported a Jankó piano at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria. I have inquired there, too, but have yet to receive any information from the museum staff.

Robin (YouTube user "fugitiveidea") visited the musical instrument museum at the Musashino Academia Musicae in Nerima-ku, Tokyo, Japan, and recorded this short video of an Jankó piano there. I've sent an informational request in English to the PR address at the institution, but have not heard back yet. (If anyone who speaks Japanese would be kind enough to inquire after the instrument in the collection, I'd be very appreciative.)

Jankó or Janko?

From the numerous patents filed by him, it's clear that Jankó is correct (Jankó-Klaviatur, Jankó Klavier, Jankó Keyboard, Jankó Piano). Some even contain his signature, which uses an acute accent over the final 'o' in his name (c.f. U.S. Patent 474016 from 1892). Other sources, such as U.S. patent 497426 (filed by Decker, Winkler, Preiss, and Werner in 1893), does not use the accent in Jankó's name, and refers consistently to the "Janko Keyboard." Others write "Janko Piano."

It seems to me that this is a simple case of diacritical marks getting lost when words move to a language where such marks are infrequently used (e.g. English). I'm trying to consistently use "Jankó Piano" and "Jankó Keyboard" on this page.

Paul von Jankó

Many other folks have written biographic snippets of Jankó. As I find them, I'll include references here. Or maybe I'll finally slog through some translation work from German articles and books and write my own (Langenscheidt, here I come). Watch this space.

From International Who's Who in Music and Musical Gazetteer, César Saerchinger ed., Current Literature Publishing Company, New York, 1918, p. 304 (the book is now in the public domain and can be downloaded from Google Books):

Jankó, Paul von:

B. Totis, Hungary, June 2, 1856: son of Count Esterhazy's estate administrator; grad. Vienna Polytechnic Inst., stud. music there under Hans Schmitt, Joseph Krenn and Anton Bruckner; stud. mathematics at Berlin Univ., 1881-2; also stud. piano as private pupil of H. Ehrlich; invented the Jankó piano keyboard in 1882, described in his book "Eine neue Klaviatur" (1886); demonstrated same with success on concert tours, 1886, other pianists having followed his example. Now officer of the tobacco-administration in Constantinople; section-chief, 1904. Author: "Über mehr als 12-stufige gleichschwebende Temperaturen" (1901, in Stumpf's "Beitrage zur Musik," iii). Hans Schmitt wrote études for for his system and the Scharwenka Cons. in Berlin introduced it in 1906. A Jankó-Society was founded in Vienna 1905. Address: Constantinople, Turkey.

From Baker, Theodore, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, G. Schirmer, New York, 1919, pp. 434-5 (the book is now in the public domain and can be downloaded from Google Books):

Jankó, Paul von, b. Totis, Hungary, June 2 1856; studied at the Polytechnic, Vienna, and also at the Cons. (under Hans Schmitt, Krenn, and Bruckner); then (1881-2) at Berlin Univ. (mathematics), and with Ehrlich (pf.); since 1892 living in Constantinople. His new keyboard, invented in 1882, is really a new departure in piano-mechanics, though standing in distant relationships to the older 'chromatic' keyboard advocated by the society 'Chroma.' It has six rows of key in step-like succession; the arrangement of the two lowest rows (typical of the other two pairs) is as follows:

Second row:   c#  d#  F   G   A   B
First row:   C   D   E  f#  g#  a#  C  etc.
the captials representing white keys, and the small letters black ones. The 3d and 4th rows, and the 5th and 6th rows, are mere duplications of the 1st and 2d; and correspondingly keys in the 1st, 3d, and 5th rows, and in the 2d, 4th, and 6th rows, are on one and the same key lever, so that any note can be struck in three different places. The fingering of all diatonic scales is alike; chromatic scales are played by striking alternate keys in any two adjoining rows. The width of an octave on the ordinary keyboard corresponds exactly to that of a tenth on the Jankó keyboard, on which latter large hands can easily stretch a thirteenth. A full description of the keyboard was published in pamphlet-form by its inventory (1886), who has also produced it in numerous concerts. It has been taken up by several pianists (Wendling, Gisela Gulyas), and is taught in some music-schools (Leipzig Cons., Scharwenka Cons.). In 1905, a 'Jankó-Verein' was founded in Vienna.
Cf. R. Hausmann, Die J.-Klaviatur (1892); K. W. Marschner Das J.-Klavier (1899); H. Schmitt, Zur Geschichte der J.-Klaviatur (in 'Wiener Rundschau,' 1899); R. Hausmann, Das J.-Klavier und seine technische Vervolikommnung (in Ztschr. Int. M.-G.,' vol. v); G. Scrinzi, The J.-Keyboard and Simplification (ib.) H. F. Münnich, Materialen für die J.-Klaviatur (1905).

Other Resources

I've always been fascinated by these kinds of encoding systems. In a way, these music keyboards are like the few Dvorak typing keyboards in the predominantly QWERTY world. For details on other music keyboard layouts, see my keyboard layouts pages.

I first caught the uniform keyboard bug after purchasing a uniform keyboard accordion. Read all about it.

Robert Gaskins, who runs the concertina.com web site, has an informative article on various types of keyboard layouts which have appeared on concertinas over the years. He gives mention to Jankó in this article. Very informative.

Mario Aschauer has written a fascinating article about Jankó, based on his correspondence with Marie Katholicy-Soffé during the latter half of the 19th century (the correspondence is in the collection at the Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek in Vienna). The article is published in Biblos 51, 2 (Phoibos Verlag, Vienna, 2002).

Hans Palm has a page about the uniform keyboard layout.

Paul Hirsh likes this keyboard layout, too. He refers to it as the "6-6 keyboard." He's put together this page with other examples of the keyboard, including an online flash-based playable version. He also put up a bibliographic page, containing the full text about Jankó from the Dolge book.

Eric Blossom has written a java applet which converts one's computer keyboard into a 2-octave Jankó-like keyboard. Visit this page for a link to the applet and how to use it.

Alex Mauer converted a sythesizer to a uniform keyboard using Lego blocks. Paul Hirsh has this page on it.

Edward Swenson of Swenson's Piano Shop in Trumansburg, NY, has assembled an extensive bibliography of piano building. It contains a mention of the Jankó keyboard.

There's an interesting reference here which mentions "Richard Hausmann (professor, Berlin; Janko-Klaviatur), autograph letter signed with envelope, 1906 Jun 14" in the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library of Yale University. I've ordered scans of this document and will make them available here if copyright permits.

Herbert Henck has this page which discusses the evolution of various keyboard layouts. He mentions Jankó and presents several source materials.

Martin Maurer sells free reed instruments. His page on melodicas mentions one with a Jankó keyboard. No picture.

Harald Rieder has constructed several chromatic synthesizer keyboards. This page has several pictures of those instruments, as well as a short discussion of Jankó and his keyboard.

The Center For Musical Antiquities has a concert program for sale which mentions a Jankó Piano (Grand Musical Concert at Holyoke City Hall given by Prof. Willmar Robert Schmidt, the eminent artist on the new Janko-Piano, Tuesday, February 8th, 1897, 8 o'clock, P.M., assisted by Mrs. Mac Randall Allen, Soprano). Here's the page and a picture of the program.

Drew Wagner has created a web site for keyboard construction enthusiasts called DIY Keyboard. Drew's vision is to gather together information for and by people who wish to build their own alternate keyboards. There's an active mailing list and a nice group of helpful users there.

Ken Rushton is an alternate keyboard enthusiast. His personal interest these days is the Wicki/Hayden layout, but much of the information on his web sites (Alternate Keyboards and MusicScienceGuy) will be useful for readers who are contemplating the switch to an alternate keyboard layout. Check out some of his archived posts in the 2008 time frame for an account of his difficulties in manufacturing retrofit Jankó-style plastic keys for an off-the shelf MIDI controller keyboard.


Last modified 28 Jan 2013 <noel at squeezehead.com>