'Wonderful' keyboard innovation for small hands helps Calgary pianist play

Monique Fournier suffered strain whenever she tried to play a regular-sized piano keyboard, because her small hands barely stretch an octave. Now the Calgary-based piano teacher and composer has no trouble playing, thanks to an innovation that made her ask: "Where has this been all my life?"

'It was one of those, 'Where has this been all my life?' kind of moments,' says Monique Fournier

Calgary-based piano teacher and composer Monique Fournier says she's able to play piano without pain for the first time, now that she has a small-sized keyboard. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

The first time Monique Fournier sat down to play at a small piano keyboard, her fingers finally felt no pain. 

The Calgary-based piano teacher and composer typically could play only 10 to 15 minutes on a standard grand piano before the strain forced her to stop.

Her hands are too small for a regular-sized piano keyboard. They barely stretch an octave.

But then she tried a small keyboard, modified to be 7/8ths the size of a regular one.

"It was one of those, 'Where has this been all my life?'" kind of moments," Fournier told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"I have so long wished that I could just stretch a tiny bit further, just have slightly bigger hands — or the piano could be smaller.

"Unfortunately, I couldn't do those first two things, so it was wonderful when the third one came to me."

When playing a conventional grand piano keyboard, Monique Fournier misses notes and can barely touch keys at either end of an octave. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

Fournier has had her grand piano retrofitted to have the small-sized keyboard.

Instead of an octave being a six-and-a-half inch stretch, her new one is only five-and-a-half inches. She's no longer missing notes.

"It's much easier to reach," she said.

"The one thing I always notice when I go back to the regular keyboard after playing my small keys is that the keys look like giant marshmallows."

Monique Fournier's small-sized hands can easily span an octave on the adapted keyboard. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

She shipped her grand piano to a U.S. business in the small city of Titusville, Penn.

The owner helped create the Donison-Steinbuhler Standard for pianists with smaller hands.

For $10,000, David Steinbuhler replaced her piano's keys with smaller ones. Other times, he replaces the action — the mechanism that holds the hammers that strike the piano strings — with a smaller one he made, as well.

"I'm wanting to encourage the world to adopt them. There is a profound discrimination," he said by phone from Titusville.

 "Very often, it is life-changing for them."

A grand piano's action mechanism connects the keys to the hammers that strike the strings. This is an action for a piano with keys much closer together. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

Steinbuhler has sold at cost only 125 such adapted keyboards in 26 years.

One helped a piano student who was suffering carpal tunnel syndrome return to studying.

Steinbuhler started building the keyboard as a hobby after seeing one played in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., in 1991.

Since then, he's developed two standard small sizes, and several universities are teaching with his product.

Now he's aiming to change his business into a non-profit to bring costs down.

Fournier says if anyone is interested in getting an adapted keyboard, she would be open to letting them try hers first.

She's holding a 7/8 keyboard demonstration at Michael Lipnicki Fine Pianos Ltd. on Friday at 7 p.m.

With files from Kathryn Marlow, Monty Kruger and the Calgary Eyeopener


  • Previously this article said her piano's action was replaced. In fact, her piano keys were replaced with smaller ones.
    Nov 06, 2017 7:17 AM MT