Robert Estrin - piano expert

Why Were the White Keys and Black Keys on the Piano Eventually Reversed?

Discover why, in the past, keyboard instrument key colors were reversed

In this video, Robert gives you a very interesting piano history lesson by answering a common question: Why did keyboards of the past have white keys and black keys reversed?

Released on February 15, 2017

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, this is Robert Estrin at and, with a great question that I finally figured out the answer to quite recently. Why is it that the black keys and the white keys on the piano were reversed at one point? If you've ever seen early instruments, you notice that the naturals are the black keys, often times in rosewood or ebony. And the white keys, the sharps, I should say, were actually white keys. They had the little bit of ivory on them. And then at one point, it just switched over, and quite early on. And you might wonder, "Why did they ever switch?" Well, there's a very pragmatic, simple, reason why it switched.

If you look at the keys on a harpsichord or an early fortepiano, you will see that the naturals are all black. Therefore, seeing between the keys is very difficult because those black lines just seem to meld into the keys themselves. You could certainly see the sharps easily enough, being white, but it's hard to distinguish between one natural and another. By reversing the keys, you see those dark lines between the natural keys, which are white now, and the black keys, of course, present no problem at all. So, that's the long and short of it, as to why the black and white were reversed. Why did they start that way to begin with? Probably because crafting ivory on keys was a difficult task and having the smaller sharps to put them on was a lot easier than doing it on all those keys.

So, that's the answer if you've ever wondered why those keys were reversed, and I can't tell you how many times people asked me that question before I knew the answer. I'm happy to share this with you. If anybody else has any perspective on this, love to hear from all of you. Again, Robert Estrin at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Dean * VSM MEMBER * on February 15, 2017 @2:49 pm PST
Interesting. I had thought about this at times.
Thank you for all of your regular informative entertaining videos.
paul.plak * VSM MEMBER * on February 15, 2017 @1:37 pm PST
brilliant, I always wanted to know this ...
Juan Manuel * VSM MEMBER * on February 15, 2017 @6:56 am PST
Very clever answer !
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