Transposing piano

A transposing piano is a special piano with a mechanism activated by the player (e.g. with a lever or pedal) to transpose. This mechanism allows the keyboard to change position in relation to the action (see Development of the modern piano for details). There are no longer many in existence, but they have been used, for example, by people whose skills are restricted to playing in certain keys, or by those who need to transpose music, but lack the necessary skill to do so at sight.

Individuals with absolute pitch may have difficulty playing on such a piano, because the pitches they actually hear do not match the notes they are playing on the keyboard. Some such people are able to overcome the difficulty with practice, however.

Irving Berlin had two such instruments; one was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1973. Berlin never learned to read music, playing his songs entirely by ear in the key of f-sharp, employing his “trick piano” to do the work as necessary.

Many electronic or digital pianos and keyboards have wide-ranging facilities, including the ability to transpose.


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