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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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).
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.