Friday, August 19, 2016

Playing the Literary Piano by Alicia Dean


I have absolutely no musical skills. None at all. Or so I thought. Until I discovered I’d been playing the literary piano for more than forty years (yikes!! I’m soooo old). And, I’m guessing all of you know how to play it as well. ‘Literary Piano’ was a term used for the typewriter at the beginning of its creation.


A printer/newspaper editor/politician named Christopher Latham Sholes is credited with inventing what we know today as the typewriter. At the time, the ‘literary piano’ was in existence, but it was clumsy and inefficient. In 1868, Sholes came up with a new version that could type sentences more quickly than he could write them.


Sholes called it “the typewriter.” Since he didn’t have the funds to manufacture the device, he typed out letters and sent them to potential investors. James Densmore offered to invest, but regretted it when he saw the prototype. The device printed letters on the underside of the paper, and you couldn’t see what you were typing, it only printed capital letters, and unless you were a typing expert, the keys constantly jammed. This was a bit of a problem since Sholes was the ONLY expert typist in the world.
They worked to resolve the flaws and Shole sold his share of the patent for a few thousand bucks. Densmore, however, became a millionaire.
Part of Shole’s efforts for the device was designing the layout of the keyboard. In 1873, the license for the typewriter was sold to Remington, and they re-designed the keyboard into the one that is still used today. Don’t you find it funny/interesting that, with all of the modern technology and advancements, the keyboard has remained the same? Even today’s computer keyboards still use this same layout. Muscle memory is a hard thing to retrain, so I for one, am glad they haven’t changed it. I have enough trouble keeping up with all the new stuff I HAVE to learn.  

Supposedly, the current QWERTY layout was created so salesmen could impress customers by typing out the brand name, "TYPE WRITER QUOTE", from one keyboard row. The story is unsubstantiated, but it's kind of interesting, so I'm going to pretend it's true. :)

Little did I know back in junior high when I took the typewriting course, that it would come into such good use decades later. I actually disliked the class. I sucked at typing, and I didn’t really care to learn, because I didn’t plan to work in an office (which I have done many times over). I guess it didn’t really occur to me that I would need it in my dream job as a writer. :) (I’m still not an excellent typist. I type really, really fast, but with a bazillion errors.)


What about you? Do you remember learning to type? Did it come easy for you?

18 comments:

Andrea Downing said...

OH, Alicia, I do remember my typing class. My mother forced me to take it one summer at a business school near my father's office where I was working part-time. I hated every moment but then...I also influenced (ha!) my own daughter to learn to type. Where would be without it? BTW, there was a discussion about changing the keyboard a few years back but I think there was such an uproar of disapproval they ditched the idea. And thank goodness; my brain never would have coped.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Alicia, funny how what was a sexist notion...make sure all girls can type... morphed into a skill every man and woman and kid must have...in order to make it in the tech/arts world. Remember how all girls took typing? When computer classes developed in high school, boys signed up. But they couldn't type. When I opened a brand new high school in the 90's, I saw the problem...and required computer basic classes for all students. The point being, the old 'departments' in high schools didn't describe the way of the world. Graphic arts, midi key boards (sound mixing)...the list goes on. We think typing will always be with us, but with voice controlled technology (and carpel tunnel), we are wise to imagine a world without Qwerty :-)

Vonnie Davis said...

I took typing in high school so I could type papers for college. I was so slow at it. I think I timed at 27 words per minutes with less than 3 errors. Has my speed improved over the years since? I don't think we'll go there. Thanks for the post. I loved learning a bit of history. Learning keeps us mentally young.

Jannine Gallant said...

OMG, I hated typing! The only C I ever got in high school was in that class. I memorized the typing test so I could look at the keys... A double major in English and history with untold papers, plus over 20 books later, I still look at the keys!

Alicia Dean said...

SO funny, Andrea. I guess Mother's do know best! Oh, yeah, that would NOT be good to change the keyboard. I'd never learn a new one!

Yes, so true, Rolynn. It's not just for girls anymore! Good, forward thinking on your part. I agree, with voice activation things will continue to change, but I can't imagine doing away with QWERTY completely. We shall see!

Well, Vonnie, we don't have to be all that fast, as long as we get the job done, right? :) You're welcome. I enjoy learning too!

Hahaha, Jannine. So it's not only me who sucks at typing! Good to know. Yeah, I hated it too.


Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Wow didn't realize the typewriter was ever thought of like that... Literary piano...love it.

Great post. Thanks for sharing!
Good luck and God's blessings
PamT

Alicia Dean said...

I only learned recently, Pamela, and I thought it was pretty cool! :) You're welcome...thanks for stopping by!

Ashantay said...

I love the term "literary piano." And I also hated typing. I was so insecure I kept looking at my keyboard instead of the paper I was to type. Later, I learned to type without checking the keys every other second and went on to an impressive typing speed. Well, impressive for me. LOL Thanks for the interesting bit of trivia!

Brenda Whiteside said...

Educational, fun to read! Thanks, Alicia.

Margo Hoornstra said...

The only class my mother insisted I take in high school was typing. She said I would definitely use it. She was so right. Thanks for the lesson, Ally.

Alicia Dean said...

I loved it too, Ashantay. It really caught my attention. Good for you with your impressive speed, LOL. That means you can keep those books coming!

You're welcome, Brenda...thank you! I enjoyed writing about it.

Margo - Yes, your mother definitely steered you in the right direction. You're welcome...thanks for stopping by!

Elizabeth Alsobrooks said...

It's a good thing I learned to type better than I learned to play the piano, which I studied at an earlier age when all I wanted to do was go outside and play with bats and baseballs. I didn't mind typing class in high school, and probably learning "scales" on the piano helped me with my speed skills, because it came fairly easy to me. Now texting...do we really have opposable thumbs? I still miss my quirky keypad! Thanks for sharing your musical lessons, Alicia!

Leah St. James said...

What a cool story! I'd never heard of the term before. I also took typing in high school back in the dark ages when you had to pound the keys although we did develop strong pinkie fingers. The timed tests killed me...the stress!

Susan Coryell said...

OK, get this: I am so old I remember when there was ONE electric typewriter in class. We all fought over it. Cool post!

Diane Burton said...

Great story, Alicia. I can one-up Jannine. The only D I got in high school (or ever) was in typing. I would get minus words per minute when you deducted the errors. How I love a computer. I so dreaded timed typing that when I had to do one for a temp job, I just cringed. Ended up with over 60 words/minute with no mistakes! I guess typing all those manuscripts helped.

Alicia Dean said...

Elizabeth, I never took piano lessons, but I don't think I would have enjoyed them either. I'd like to just magically be able to play piano, but lessons? No thank you. :) So, you're one of the few who liked typing class. I'm glad someone did. Thanks for stopping by!

I hadn't either, Leah. :) Ha, yeah, timed tests...ugh!

LOL, Susan. Fighting over a typewriter. I would have loved to see that. :)

You're welcome, Diane. Thanks for stopping by. Minus words, that's funny. I'm sure I've had a few tests like that, too.

Barbara Edwards said...

Hi Alicia, I also took that high school typing class and barely passed. I had so much trroube understanding the weird layout of the keys. What a fun memory.

Alicia Dean said...

Wow, Barbara. It's funny how all of us authors (or most of us) struggled with typing class. :)