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How Steno Keys Work

The keyboard of a steno machine is divided into a number of major groupings, shown in the illustration below. The first image is a view of the keyboard from above and to the front of the machine. The image just below it is from the same level as the key banks and to the left of the machine.

Court Stenographer Keyboard

Here are four banks of keys. Starting from the “top” of the keyboard (the side farthest away from the operator), they are the:

  • NUMBER BAR
  • UPPER BANK
  • LOWER BANK
  • VOWEL KEYS

The four vowel keys are slightly lower than the rest of the keys, to accommodate the natural position of the thumbs, which rest on them. This is illustrated in the side view.

The number bar is a single key across the width of the board. It is used to change the definition of the keys just below it in the upper bank, somewhat like a shift key is used on a computer keyboard.

The Upper and Lower Banks are further divided into these groups:

  • INITIAL
  • ASTERISK
  • FINAL

The initial and final keys stand for consonants. The vowel keys produce vowels, and the asterisk keys are just that — asterisks. The asterisk is used most commonly to denote a correction, similar in a way to hitting the back space key on a computer.

The entire arrangement of the keyboard is designed to be very compact, keeping all of the keys under the user’s fingers as much as possible. Single keys can be pressed, but more commonly the keys are pressed down in groups, rather like playing chords on a piano.