Frank Benner
piano technician

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The left-sided piano

Does left or right-sided music exist?

The left and the right side of the brain do react on different kinds of music. This has been proved scientifically, ten years ago in Switzerland, with the aid of electrodes.
Of course it was known for a long time that both halves of the brain have clearly different functions. The left side is occupied with learning processes, words, language, reason; the right side with meaning, emotions, intuition and the sense of rhythm!

When the right side of the brain is damaged one can still talk and act in a logical way, but speech becomes monotone in every way, a lot of things are taken literally. When one asks, for instance " How are you feeling?" the answer will be: "With my hands…." For a part of the group of left-handed people the brain is divided the other way round.
Now there is evidence that consonant sounds stimulate the right-sided brain and dissonant sounds the left side.

Paul Robertson is a violinist and specialist in music-psychiatry and together with the British neurology-psychiatrist Peter Fenwick; he is researching the relation between different kinds of music and the function of the brain.

Apparently it is possible to deduct knowledge about a composer, based on his compositions.
Intuitive composers appear to be writing music that mostly stimulates the right side of the brain; the intellectual, logical and dissonant musical language of for instance Schönberg is clearly orientated from the left side.
As opposed to Schönberg one can put minimalists like John Taverner, Philip Glass and John Adams who are right-sided in sound (consonant) as in strategy.

Seen from a neurological point of view there are two ways of stimulation: through something new or through repetition.
Repetition lessens the emotional response, so each minor difference is experienced as a huge change. This kind of music is similar to some traditional Eastern kind of music in creating a certain emotional mood.

The huge interest for this music is only natural in our world full of technology and external stimulants, where the left side of the brain works on full strength all the time. Strictly speaking the musical cliché is working as a minimal 'sound carpet'. The basis gets familiar, so small unpredictable changes cause excitement.

It is a well-known fact that music can influence bodily functions like the breathing and the heartbeat, but now it seems that changes in the hormonal levels of composer's influences their musical language in a radical way. Robertson gives the example of the unusual idiom of Janácek in his later years, when he was falling in love again.

Composers, who are getting older, often write more peaceful music. All kinds of neurological complaints seem to be noticeable in music: brain damage caused by syphilis in Smetana, lunacy in Gesualdo, who changed from consonant to dissonant from one moment to the other.
Synethesis in Scriabin, Scriabin makes one sense react on the stimulation of one other using colour and sound. Maybe that is why we sometimes talk about 'loud colours' We now know almost for certain Mozart suffered from the so-called syndrome of Tourette, where one can have an increased intellectual activity but at the same time no control over the use of abusive language.

Robertson has proved with some brain scans the atonal music stimulates only activity in the left side of the brain while a consonant piece like a sonata for strings by Rossini activates only the right side.

The 'Lettzte Lieder' by Richard Strauss stimulate both halves of the brain: the left side through the text, the right through emotion. It must be obvious that these findings can have far going consequences. It could even be possible to announce at a concert or on a recording if will be right or left-sided music that is going to be performed.

Christopher Seed is an internationally well known piano performer, but one with a left side difference. Mr Seed is convinced his left hand, and even the whole left side of his body is much more expressive and agile than his right hand side. He therefore had a mirrored piano build. The keyboard has turned; the bass register ends on the right side. Most piano music is written with the melody for the right hand and the accompanying chords for the left hand. When one turns this around it makes much more sense for left-handed people. The only practical way to achieve this is to turn the keyboard around.

Chris hopes this will be a precedent for the future generation of left-handed pianists. This new keyboard could bring an abundance of new talent in the music world.


Poletti and Tuinman, who normally build Forte Piano's, built the Left-handed piano in the Netherlands.
It is a mirrored version, based on an instrument build by Conrad Graf in Vienna around 1826, it was finished in the summer of 1998 and exhibited on a Music-festival in Bruges.

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