Moving towards a ideal musical keyboard, the jammer
The standard music keyboard long ago reached a "local optimum: further enhancement is pretty un-likely (believe me, I've tried). Yet, with modern knowledge and electronics, surely a much better instrument can be built.
(updated Oct 2009 )
So, can we 'amateurs' do it? Yes, provided we have a clear, achievable goal, an "ideal" in mind and a practical method of getting there.
So what is the ideal?
Further, it should also help learn music, that is after all a good part of why one learns a piece, it's not just for the song itself, it's for what is learned about music in general, to make the next pieces easier to learn.
First. a separate keyboard for each hand
Rationale: key-to-note assignment can be made symmetrical, so one can transfer skills between hands, halving the number of fingerings to learn. Further:
Each keyboard assignable to a unique instrument
Each keyboard assignable to overlap the other to a variable degree, making "special" effects like contrapuntal motion simpler, even trivial
One's hands won't run into each other
- Two keyboards make a smaller package than a single, long one
They can be put on a table, on a stand in front of the player, on the chest, or held like a guitar
Far more ergonomic, as they can be angled and positioned to suit
Ends the tyranny of the right-handed keyboard on the left-handed
Second, an ergonomic key-to-note layout
A consistent layout (isomorphic) layout is essential. This reduces the number of key combinations to learn.
Third, an efficient key shape
Fourth: idealized key properties
Note for Canadians: Toonie ~= 7.5 gm Loonie ~= 7 gm, and Quarter = 4 gm
At 65 grams or more, it gets hard to play eighth notes. A qwerty keyboard is about 45 gms.
Key travel distance Paul Vandervoort (a talented pianist) designed the "ideal" key. In his opinion: key stroke is 7mm + ~1.5 mm of felt pad travel (stops the thunk, saves fingertips), 9.5 mm total travel, is considered ideal.
Velocity sensitivity - a must have - without it, it can't compete with the piano's expressiveness
Fifth, compact keyboard dimensions
Wicki layout: minimum of 5 rows high 2 1/2 octaves, up to 8 rows (4 octaves)
Width: Absolute minimum: 6 keys, better: 7- 10 best: 12-14
Axis layout: minimum of 6 rows high: 2 1/2 octaves, up to 8 rows (4 octaves)
Width: Absolute minimum: 7 keys, best: 14
With my 4-row jammers I find 4 rows; 2 octaves is cramped, and sometimes must use the left hand.
I'm aiming for a unit that I can just pick up and start playing in the same key as my buddies, wider (~10 keys) is better for this, as you can guess the key, then adjust the hand position to the right key in seconds.
The net dimensions turn out well: each keypad is under 20 cm by 20 cm (10 inches square), making for a compact, portable keyboard.
Sixth, ergonomic foot pedals
Two pedals - normally for sustain, one for each keyboard
They should have a Velcro bad so they can be joined together, or separated, one for each foot.
Note that they don't have to be plugged into the keyboard, instead they should be plugged into the computer.
Seventh, ergonomic special controls
What twit placed the pitch and special effects mod wheels way, way off to the left side? Clearly it was the keyboard engineer, and the dolt thought purely of his own convenience, not the musicians'.
Special effect controls should be put on the bottom to be reached quickly, using a joystick (2 dimensions of control at a finger's touch) instead of huge, clumsy wheels. I suggest either keyboard-mounted like on the Thummer as the ThumStik (patented BTW!), or as I suggest, mounted on the hand and attached to the thumb-tip
Ditto for the special controls like octave-shifting and key-modulation: put them near the fingers or thumb!
So, how do we achieve this lofty "ideal"? Forthcoming ...
Future wish list
1. Jim Plamondon, of Thummer fame, did a extensive analysis on the optimum shape and patented his deductions: it turns out that if one leaves a gap between keys and makes them oval in shape, one can get a considerable reduction in spacing, to 15mm or less, permitting nearly twice the number of keys to be easily (and quickly reached). This would be the "sports car model" for keeners. Refinements like this can wait.