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Bias against Black Notes stopped me in my tracks!

I would have been leg pressing at the gym but for my detour to Nancy Williams’s Facebook Page.

Here’s what I found:

“Those bloody sharps and flats–those endless calamities of the personal past. Bah! I disown them from the rest of my life, in which I mean to rest.” From “Grass” by Mary Oliver.

My inserted comment

Shirley Smith Kirsten: “I wish it were not that way. If our teachers had made us friends with black notes from the very beginning, there wouldn’t be such avoidance.”

“For example, my little 5-year old student whom I mentor, loves her new FLAT as much as the whites.”


Nancy strongly interjected when a prior poster had voiced surprise that the blacks were stigmatized:

Nancy Williams: “Adult students sometimes” have a “bias” about “black notes” and perhaps they’re not white notes “gone wrong.”

To me, this attitude hearkened back to 1960’s Montgomery, Alabama with its apologia about desegregation.

Such double talk as it applied to keyboard inequality was nipped in the bud by an African American piano student/retired postal worker:

“Gosh darn, I see only 36 Blacks, and 52 Whites? That’s a sure-fire case of discrimination.”

I could relate.

Lyrics from South Pacific suddenly popped into my head.

“You’ve Got to Be Taught before it’s too late,
“Before you are six or seven or eight,
“You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.”

Such riveting words were applicable to piano learning in “traditional” teaching environments around the country.

The cold-hearted truth was, beginning piano students were TAUGHT that BLACK NOTES DIDN’T EXIST as EQUALS among whites.

As a case in point VICTIM of BLACK-NOTE AVOIDANCE SYNDROME, I believed:

1) That too many of us were glued to the WHITES with our THUMBS stuck on middle C until it hurt. We were so primordially ENSLAVED by the 52s that our DEEP SOUTH-indoctrinated prejudice deterred us from making friends with our NORTHern neighbors.

To wit:
2) Our Southern-biased teachers, may they rest in peace, refused to introduce us to the stigmatized blacks until we had advanced so far along in our primers that we would rather eat spinach than make friends with the dark-colored outcasts.

Sad but true.

I was fed on John Thompson RED books and he, too, furthered the cause of Whites as a dyed-in-the-wool Yankee from Philadelphia, home of the Liberty Bell.

John S. Thompson Bio

“For thousands of people who taught or studied piano in the 1930s and later, the name of John Thompson brought immediately to mind the shiny red covers of his “Teaching Little Fingers to Play;” his six-volume series, “Modern Piano Course;” and his three-volume series, “Adult Piano Course.” Using his own original compositions, simplified transcriptions of familiar classics, and actual works by famous composers, Thompson crafted a graded series of piano pieces that allowed students to begin with an introduction to the keyboard and music reading and to progress to a fairly sophisticated performance level. These publications had a profound influence on the teaching of piano…..”


Time marched on with little progress made since Thompson churned out Pixie plus publications.

Lisa Corcoran, an adult piano student residing in Oregon, seconded the stone age view of “blacks.”

“They always called them ‘accidentals’ because they were accidents waiting to happen.”

Likewise, a candidate for admission to a major East Coast music Conservatory flew in from Mississippi and played a Beethoven sonata, avoiding all black keys. In response, a shocked panel of teachers queried him about his new arrangement. His reply: “I’m not going to touch those blacks.”

Seymour Bernstein, pianist and author, added his own black-key anecdote:

“When I performed the Bach F minor Concerto with orchestra during my one year at the Mannes School, the late Leopold Mannes, who was present at the rehearsal, said to me, ‘Isn’t it odd that when we get nervous before a performance, the black notes seem so much higher than the whites?!!’

“I did a double-take because I never considered these keys to be ‘higher.'”


In the Millennium, enter the Faber Piano Adventures Generation, with a peep-through, veiled relief of black-key associated anxiety.

At least for the first few pages of Primer Performance Purple, the little ones pleasingly dance on the blacks without a hint of displeasure–an ebony-realized dream that should be FOREVER, according to fairy tales.

But like Cinderella’s fate at the stroke of midnight, Primer page 6, sent the blacks packing– banished from their privileged KINGDOM, restoring WHITE-note supremacy!

The story line might have been changed:

“Wind in the Trees,” and “The Shepherd’s Flute,” such sweet black-key melodies, wooed newbies, keeping them in the throes of love-sickness through page 5. They could have stayed in variation form but were mercilessly bumped by “Hot Cross Buns” on the Whites, (p. 6) dashing the hopes of blacks for keyboard EQUALITY.

Oh No!!!!.. “HOT CROSS buns” and the DEEP South. The pairing smacked of unabashed black-note bigotry!

The clock had been turned back..

More of the same:

“Lil’ Liza Jane,” Level I, RED FABER, Piano Adventures, (Revised?)

It was time to bring on the Black Notes for a rousing rebellion!

I’d say, Give beginning students early exposure to sharps and flats,

“before it’s too late.

“Before they are six or seven or eight,

“They’ve got to be carefully taught….”

REPEAT refrain as needed….in chorus


Curtain drawn

15 thoughts on “Bias against Black Notes stopped me in my tracks!”

  1. In Music Moves for Piano ( students begin with black key pieces, gradually adding white keys. When they transpose, they learn F# major and very soon the Db major scale. Black keys are very friendly — some students say they are easier to play than white keys. Black key pieces make it possible to play all over the keyboard – so students learn how the arm takes the hand places and the fingers stay together, building good playing technique. BRAVO for the black keys!


  2. That is a very funny post. With today’s ridiculous “political correctness,” the humor might be lost on some.

    And I must have been an oddball Southerner kid in the 1960’s (piano lessons) as I loved the black notes! That’s where all the “pizzaz” could be found! Example (the One & ONLY song I remember from 3-years of lessons, quite a few black notes played in this):

    🙂 I was glad to learn from that video that the song was in JT Grade Level book #2 & it even gave the page number (66), which I had also hoped to find out. God bless the internet for “Memory Lane” purposes!

    Found your site via google images. Your red JT book pic is the first I’ve found of the long sideways/horizontal books, as that is how I remember them. All the other pics available look tall vs horizontal, so thanks for that!


      1. You’re welcome! I enjoyed finding/reading your articles & insights!

        Took 2 days but I finished a YT Playlist collecting various renditions of Habanera (piano, violin, orchestra, vocal, etc.); plus ballroom dancing versions (Paso Doble, Tango) & Flamenco. There’s even a Country-Western “twang” version & a boogie-woogie version (Liberace, Andrew Sisters). Lol. Great fun. Now back to the “real world.” 🙂

        Also, if anyone is interested in who the man John S. Thompson was, this forum thread dug up some nice well-rounded bio info about his life:

        Take care!


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