Why are the black keys on some ancient fortepianos now white on modern pianos?



Asked by: Kelsey Owens

Somebody got the idea to make the accidental keys of ebony to contrast with the ivory on the natural keys. It is entirely a manner of style of course. It has nothing to do with playing the instrument.

Why did piano keys change from black to white?





Since there are less black keys on a keyboard, switching the key colours meant using less ivory to make a piano and making it more affordable to composers and pianists.

When did piano keys switch colors?

18th century

On modern piano keyboards, the seven “natural” notes of each octave are the white keys and the five half-tones are black keys in between. But, on pianos dating from the 18th century when Mozart was alive, the colors of the keys was exactly reversed: the white keys were black and the black keys were white.

Are the black keys on a piano ivory?

Although the white keys were made from ivory, the black keys on a piano were often made from ebony which is dense dark hardwood. They were sometimes made of other kinds of darker woods, including spruce, sugar pine, and basswood.

What are the black keys on a old piano made of?





Traditionally, longer keys were played more often than shorter keys, so they were conventionally covered with strips of ivory as it’s such a hard-wearing material. The shorter keys weren’t played as much. Therefore, they were made from simple dark wood, such as sugar pine, spruce or basswood, called ‘black notes’.

What is the best piano color?

If your décor tastes prefer lighter furniture, if white complements your décor more so than darker colors, white may be the perfect choice for you. If you are purchasing a piano to be a part of your home for years to come, white may be the right choice to make.

What are black piano keys for?

The black keys on the piano are known as the flat and sharp keys. In technical terms this means they make a note half a step (or a semitone) lower and higher respectively in pitch from their corresponding white key.

Why are old piano keys black?

And quite early on. And you might wonder what why did they ever switch. Well there's our very pragmatic simple reason why it's switched. If you look at the keys. On a harpsichord. Or an early forte

Is ebony still used for piano keys?

Most of the white key is made of wood and then a thin layer of plastic covers the top and sometimes the front of the key. The black keys of a piano are made of ebony. Piano keys are still often referred to as the “ivories”, even though they aren’t made from it.



How can I tell if my piano keys are ivory?

Look for an ultraviolet torch. Hold it above the piano keys. If you notice the keys reflect either bright white or violet-blue colours, the keys are made of ivory. Artificial material like resins or plastics will show a completely different reaction.

Is it legal to sell old ivory piano keys?

Buying and selling ivory is illegal.



The ivory trade was outlawed in 1989 thanks to The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). Real ivory may not be sold, bought, given away, transported over state lines, or shipped out of the country.

When did piano keys stop using ivory?

The American piano industry voluntarily abandoned ivory as a key-covering material and switched to plastic in the mid-1950s. By the 1980s, European makers had taken the same path.



When did Steinway stop using ivory keys?

1956

1956-Steinway along with the other American piano manufacturers all agreed to abandon ivory and start using plastic for keys.

Are old Steinway pianos good?

With the exception of digital pianos, which do depreciate with age (because of advances in technology), most reputable pianos age well as long as they are properly cared for. Therefore, there is no evidence or market research to suggest that Steinways hold their value longer or better than other reputable brands.

Are old ivory piano keys worth anything?

If they have a big enough collection of old ivories, they will have a greater chance of matching. Before laws tightened, a set of ivory keys may have been worth thousands of dollars. If you find anyone selling or trading ivory today, you should use caution as laws are complex.