Many concert pianists launch their careers on the basis of their success in high level piano competitions. While smaller-handed pianists can choose repertoire to suit their hand size, those who sustain a successful performing career (including those who perform in ensembles) are normally expected to play a wide range of repertoire.
A pianist wanting to sustain an international performing career needs to have a hand span that can reach a 10th to achieve excellence with a wide range of repertoire. (See Repertoire choice and APPCA conference paper by E. Booker and R. Boyle, July 2011.) The impact of the DS5.5® (7/8) keyboard is that the ‘average’ female is brought into the realm of the ‘average’ male in terms of hand span – opening up opportunities for a much larger proportion of women to perform works by Russian composers, for example.
At elite levels of piano playing, very subtle things will distinguish winners from everyone else – just as in many sports. The more technical barriers a pianist has to overcome, the greater the disadvantage in relation to others with the same ability but without those barriers, of which hand size is clearly one. Other physical factors that could negatively affect a performance, such as stool height, have long been recognised by pianists and dealt with by providing choice.
Piano performance can be compared with those sports that require a blend of artistic and technical skills (such as many winter sports). The quality of equipment and clothing and their suitability for the specific needs of the performer can make a difference at the highest levels of competition. Any skier in an international competition would be disadvantaged if his/her skis were too short or too long for the particular event. For elite pianists, competition for performing careers is intense and a high level of technical skill and musicality is taken for granted. A pianist who is able to perform on an instrument most suited to his hand size is likely to perform the advanced repertoire better and with greater security.