The original transposing piano!

Did you think the transpose button was the exclusive reserve of the contemporary keyboard?

Think again. This piano dates from 1894 and was built in London by George Russell. You can see a Liverpool company, James Smith & Son, was the seller.

Developed for “ear” players who tended to play in a preferred key, the piano can change key by physically moving the entire keyboard up or down.

The pianos were often used in theatres when the silent movies were around. They needed music to bring the film to life and often the “ear” players were best at this kind of extemporary type of music. This particular piano was tuned in the honky tonk style to suit the era.

The famous song writer Irving Berlin had one of these pianos as he could only play in one key and didn’t read music!

Helpful resources

If you don’t have access to a transposing piano (or simply want to learn more about playing in different keys) check out the following:


Photographed by Marie Page at the Whittakers Musical Museum, Waiheke Island, New Zealand.