Wherein is told the story behind my devotion to a funny avant-gard keyboard.
In the business world, we are often told that our top executives must have a very special quality called vision. Without vision, we are told, a company will be unable to navigate properly into the 21st century, will be adrift and flounder into obsolescence.
But what is vision? I was struck by a small one, and here is my tale.
One of the problems quirks of being a systems analyst, of the geek persuasion, is that one reflexively, compulsively analyses every gadget one sees. Thus it was that when I sat down at my wife’s piano a handful of years ago, a vision struck.
I belong, with my wife, to the wonderful Maple Leaf Singers Show Chorus (motto: It's not a choir, its a Show!). My need was simple: to be able to play my singing part in the new music we learn each season. I had just learned to sing (a story in itself) and I knew this would really cement my learning.
It had to be simple, right? After all, the notes were there on the sheet music, laid out in a pretty simple digital format. And I, being a geek, knew a fair bit of simple music theory.
"In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not."
-- Lawrence Peter (Yogi) Berra
But it was way harder to play the piano than I thought it should be. The spacing and location of the notes varied, the thumb got in the way, the black notes were irregularly spaced – it was, to put it mildly, a mess. Then I sat down and thought it through. They must have started with only white keys and added the black ones later; that was the only answer that made sense! I checked the history books and yes, by golly, that’s what happened; for 10 centuries keyboard players have taken it as a automatic given that you have to learn 24 different fingerings (12 for each hand) to play a keyboard.
Well, I was having none of this. My heart just quailed at the thought of wasting so much time. I looked around and fell in love with a keyboard that had just one fingering — the jammer keyboard.
Look it up in Wikipedia if you are interested; the details aren’t important to this saga.
So here came my cunning calculation: it takes a regular pianist 10 years of daily practicing to become a passable pianist. If I have a keyboard that I can learn, say 3 times faster, that has lots of cool features (did I mention the thumb-controls?), then even if I spent two or three years acquiring the thing, I’d still be way ahead in ten years.
Well, it took me closer to five (or is it six?) years (and my adventures in creating it are a wild story), but I finally finished my jammer about a year ago. Now all I have to do is learn to play it, and that should be easy, right?
Reality Bites – the Challenges
Well not so fast; there are challenges to implementing a vision. In this case one challenge is working out the fingering — unlike for a piano, where your teachers have had centuries to get it right. Another challenge is subtler: the traditional keyboard has a massive tradition behind it and many, many little and some big things, like musical notation, are designed to mesh with it. And yet another challenge is people: trained keyboardists — including my wife — after many years spent on their instruments, can barely imagine any other arrangement.
It’s not all been plod, as I am after all, a geek. I hooked up my jammer to a game called Rock Band 3 — the grandson of Guitar Hero. I’ve been playing along as a simulated keyboardist to the likes of Sting, Sir Paul, and Billy Joel.
The Vision unfolds
So I practice and practice on … and in the last few months the magic begins happening. The patterns and fingering I had laboriously learned are becoming easy and automatic. The horribly archaic music notation is getting a bit easier to read and I recently found a good course called Piano Marvel.
Patterns learned are showing up again and again, greatly speeding the learning process, so much so that I have in Roak Band leaped from “medium” level to “expert” level, bypassing “hard” level — it’s getting to be a hoot!
And most of all, the excellence of the proper, informed design of the instrument is starting to shine through. The learning rate on the new instrument, once the hurdles have been crossed, is indeed at least double, perhaps triple or more than that of a traditional instrument. I can play things (as yet a very few things) that even an expert pianist cannot.
Thus although I still have much to do, I am now a happy man. A man’s vision can, with a little bit of work, become a solid reality.