... some hints on what to expect when learning an alternate instrument
Finally, I am seeing significant progress in playing my jammer.
The critical point came after about 9 months of practicing 3 hours per week. Finally we have some data on what to expect in learning to play an alternate keyboards.
Consistency = faster learning
The fundamental reason to use an consistent- layout (the formal, ugly name is "isomorphic") keyboard is to reduce the number of fingerings one has to learn, thus saving much time. This is the reasoning behind the century-old Janko keyboard.
Further, through use of two dimensions (fancy new concept, that!) and careful choice of the particular brand of layout consistency, one gets further advantages: far simpler finger movements; and simpler, smaller hand movements (i.e. on the sonome and jammer respectively). These advantages compound, as shown in the rough (and quite conservative) picture of the advantage is shown right.
But what is the real advantage?
Now this sounds very cool, and one could analyse finger movements and other ergonomics to estimate the learning speed, giving naive and erroneous results:
Wow 1/12 the keys! times Log(1/4) the movement! that comes to 24 times faster! !
Whoa! There are other keyboarding skills that one must also learn: rhythm and developing a musical ear. The actual improvement rate will be somewhat less! Still, learning to play in many different fingerings is a significant challenge: the beginner's keyboard books I have devote over 2/3 of their pages to addressing this challenge. The best way, the only sure way, to discover the real learning rate improvement is experimentally.
What do we expect to see change?
How will this "increased learning rate" actually manifest? Unfortunately we humans only learn at a set rate: nerves only grow so fast; they will learn to press finger x down on key y at time z at the same rate on a piano or a guitar or a jammer.
So learning the first set of notes, chords and songs will take just as long. It is when you have to learn the next song that things will improve, and this should steadily increase over time.
Once you've over come the little hurdles that being the first explorers in a new territory entail . . .
Initial confounding factors
Always the introduction any new gadget has confounding factors the slow down initial introduction. I have found three confounding factors that initially got in the way of learning my jammer.
1. It's a New Device
The first is simply that alternate keyboards are brand new: no body of common practice exists; the musician is on his or her own. Thus fingerings have to be worked out and limitations discovered, good beginners' practice pieces need to be found.
Worse, current keyboard books and exercises for the beginner are optimized in various subtle ways for the piano, for example the Hanon excercises are designed specifically for the key of C. This sabotages them for our use.
I have may much progress in this area, and can save my fellow jammerists much work in this area. Let me know and I'll post what works.
2. The Horse-drawn notation
The second is the #$%#@$% ancient notation! Standard Traditional Notation (TN) is highly optimized for the traditional keyboard, and this presents a sustained obstacle: it takes mental time to translate an erratic note spacing to the even note spacing of an alternate keyboard, and the vertical progression of notes in TN to the folded layout of the jammer or sonome. Even with the Janko layout there is a lot of trouble.
The notation challenge was greater than I had hoped. However, I am discovering "this pattern translates to this chord inversion" rules that do greatly help.
3. Nerves only grow so fast.
You still have to learn to press the right keys at the right time on any keyboard. The growth of the nerves and building of the movement skills still takes the same time.
And the Actual Results are . . .
I expected and can now confirm, a new keyboardist can expect this initial learning experience: This is worse than I had hoped , better than I had feared. I am sure that two of the confounding factors can be greatly reduced:
Fixing the New device issues
I've worked out a fingering for the jammer, and found that it works very well, much better than the fingering used on a traditional keyboard. It is simple, ergonomic, puts all the needed notes under the fingers and is quick to learn.
Fixing the Notation issues
The actual experience
Twelve years ago I learned to sing, this required a lot of work (1+ hours/day) for 18 months.
Since I only have about 3 hours a week for jammer practice, I was prepared for a long spell of not much progress (naturally I hoped for much, much less, an month or four). Alas, it took 9 months.
Just as indicated in the diagram to the left, there was a fair "learning to learn" period (All the details of this and the quirky XBox setup will be posted in a separate posting). Learning to play along with a song was at first a laborious process of translating a moving piano-layout image into a jammer's "folded scale" pattern. I learned to play 6 songs at "Normal" level, put them into a set list to use as a standard drill, and tried to gently improve them while I investigated learning other songs. I rigorously used the fingerings that I guessed will work best, even when the song of the moment could be played a bit more easily in a sloppier style.
Growing a new ear
At first not much happened, except ... my musical ear improved; I became and remain way more conscious of the keyboard part of songs, and I heard details on notes and timing I'd never heard of before. I got ghostly flashes of what keys were being pressed. My typing improved quite noticeably (to about double the speed -50 wpm), while my handwriting got worse. I knew what was going on - I was growing nerve connections and the nerves themselves slowly - at the rate of fractions of a millimeter a day. I has also snitched the handwriting wiring in my brain and repurposed it for jammer playing.
One thought I had was "this is a really roundabout way to learn to type". Meanwhile things got a bit easier.
Then finally it came together
Then about two months ago, I took up Billy Joel's Miami 2017, in D major, at the "Hard" level, and found that I could play large parts of the Intro section - which has quite a sequence of eighth-notes at half speed right off the batch correctly. It thereafter took me a full month to bring my speed up to 100% of Mr. Joel's without a single error, but the important part was the instant way that "my fingers" had learned the general pattern from doing a few specific songs and had developed speed. Had learning generalization begun, of was it just a fluke?
The fingering works
Another important fact was that I could play the whole thing - 1 1/2 octaves without moving my hand more than a centimeter or two. The keyboard fingering was validated, and in fact works very well; there is not a note combination or sequence that is hard to play in the songs I've covered.
Now (mid-January 2012)
Last week I moved on to Paul McCartney's Maybe I'm Amazed, which has twice the chords of the songs in my set list set, at the normal level. I played many sections of it at full speed, right off the bat, and now after a week of practice, I can play nearly the whole song at full speed. I can also play it with my left hand at 70 % speed! While musically this is not thrilling: "Normal" level in Rock band 3 is 2-note chords, this is great validation in several ways:
- The jammer fingering really works well: The fingerings were easy, my hand do not have to move more than 2 1/2 centimeters over a wide range of chords.
- A simple, consistent ergonomic fingering really does facilitate skill generalization. So went the theory, so goes the actual practice!
- Skill transfer between hands really does happen at a very significant rate. This will be a big, no a huge, time saver.
It's about time I saw some results! Who would have thought that the initial part of learning to play an instrument would be such a slog? Fancy that: learning is hard work, even if you sugar coat it and add all sorts of nifty gadgets and get-educated-quick schemes.
Caveats: I'm 59, thus my nerves may grow a trifle slower than an spritely young 30-year old. This just means I have to be a bit more dedicated and sneakier.
In the long term, we hope for results as charted above. Lets see what really happens!
I've done this before, that is, I've already learned one, far more complex instrument, about 13 years ago. The instrument was my voice. That's right, I'm one of the few adult people that have learned to sing from no singing ability whatsoever (I kept recordings and can prove it), with "no singing ability" being defined as (1) unable to match pitch (or octave) with another singer or instrument and (2) no ability to properly vocalize: I sounded lousy.
Learning to sing was a lot of work: it took 18 months of roughly an hour or two a day (an hour of lessons/week, 3 hours in a community choir, and an hour a day of practicing while commuting in a car) before singing simple songs became as effortless as walking.
The moral: Learning a new skill as an adult takes time but eventually you can get there.