It's an ingenious machine that prints musical notation with the finest precision.
Sheet music is in a league of its own and rightly so. It stands for the notion that music is more than just catchy tunes and rhyming verses but also has an academic element to it. Sure, these days we may hear musicians cite that they were self-taught and can't read sheet music, but if it weren't for the practice which dates back many centuries, we wouldn't have had some of the greatest classics in musical history.
Though most composers like to handwrite their sheet music, giving it that personal touch, there are many machines that actually help make their process much simpler. One of the best among these is the Keaton Music Typewriter which was first patented in 1936 by Robert H. Keaton from San Francisco. The original idea was for a 14-key typewriter, which was then upgraded to 33 keys in a later improved model in 1953. It was made popular in the 1950s and sold for about $255. You will notice it by its circular keyboard and its ability to print characters precisely on point and indicate where exactly the next character would be printed with sublime accuracy.
With the printer itself having a unique keyboard arrangement, Keaton realized that there was a need to separate two types of characters. “One keyboard is adapted to type one class of music characters such as bar lines and ledger lines, which, when repeated, always appear in the same relative spaced positions with respect to the [staff] lines… and a second keyboard adapted to type another class of musical characters, such as the notes, rest signs, and sharp and flat signs, etc., which may, when repeated, appear in various spaced positions with respect to the [staff] lines,” Keaton wrote.
The 1953 Keaton music typewriter. pic.twitter.com/CNz8ux7EJm— Pulp Librarian (@PulpLibrarian) September 11, 2017
The Keaton Music Typewriters' distinctive look is a result of the fine engineering that has gone into it. There is a curved meter on the left that Keaton called the Scale Shift Handle and Scale Shift Indicator. This makes it easy to control where the notes and characters fall on the page. The typewriter adjusts to print 1/24 inch in either direction by moving the handle up or down a notch. That will cause the character to fall one musical step either way. This is fairly helpful for those who already have surplus experience in dealing with sheet music. It isn't quite a trending phenomenon on television these days but classical music and the sheets that accompany it remain evergreen in the hearts of humanity.
The two keyboards are notably different in the way they work with the Scale Shift Handle. The larger keyboard with its notes, scales, sharps, and flats is allowed free movement along with the handle. The smaller keyboard, on the other hand, contains the bar lines and ledger lines, staying fixed due to the characters always appearing in the same place with respect to the staff lines. It's rather simple once you actually use it, and because that may not be immediately possible, a video might suffice.