What are the black keys on a guitar or other instrument?” But the answers are a mess.
This is a real problem because, for one thing, there’s nothing you can do about the keys being black. These keys are always black, regardless of whether you can play them or not. What can you do about that?
A possible solution is to paint them differently, usually red or yellowish-yellow. “They would look good on some instruments,” says Dr. James Leibowitz, director of the Institute for Research in Music Cognition at the University of Texas at Austin, “and they would be less difficult to play, but the real question is whether black is a good color for piano keys.”
So far, no one has produced a test that could actually measure the differences that might cause such differences. It’s not clear that the colors have to be changed all at once, however — it might be desirable to gradually introduce more of a new color from time to time so as to keep things interesting.
There are, of course, more straightforward ways to tell whether your keyboard is black or not. In a 2005 study (which has never been reproduced), for example, Dr. Leibowitz’s colleague, Dr. Edward Bauza, found that people rated keys a couple of centimeters farther from their hands as being black, more than a half inch farther than white keys. On average, a person could distinguish the black keys from a white (or yellow) piano one to three millimeters from their hands, he says.
But whether one can measure musical differences on a single finger-sized portion of a piano depends on exactly how exactly those black keys are arranged, with the white keys on the right hand coming up short. “The whole black point is really important, but you’ve got to determine if those points really change the perception of the pitch or not,” Dr. Leibowitz says.
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Dr. Leibowitz says he has developed a method to determine the pitch, even when playing the white keys. It involves tapping a piano a small distance behind you after you’ve memorized one letter each, which is how Mr. Wootton discovered the pitch in a series of “finger-pickers” that he has been showing to musicians since 1986. “The key part of this is that you actually tap on this one point at a time and there should be a sharp shift for a black key,” Dr. Leibowitz says
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