The Six-Six Keyboard

May 27, 2009

sc00094175

So get a load of this.  I wanted to do some simple playing along to my favorite Oasis and Tears for Fears songs.  Play what?  Well, I tried guitar classes, but man is guitar hard.  So how about a musical keyboard?

I had actually taken a basic piano class across the street from Harvey Mudd at Scripps College (where the girls were), and was indignant to learn how the conventional piano’s “seven-five” (seven white keys, five black keys) layout meant that a C-major chord, while embodying the exact same sequence of half-steps between notes as a B-major chord, for instance, ended up looking very different.  Bullcrap!

keyboard3

The sequence of four, and then three, half-steps between the notes in a major chord is an easy concept to learn and understand, but that doesn't mean that all major chords look remotely the same!

The same goes for scales.  Playing a C-major scale is easy, but an A-major scale is more complicated, even though the sequence of half-steps is exactly the dingdang same:

Same thing with scales.  Even though all major scales are the same series of half-steps, they look very different.  Learn one learn them all?  Nope!

Same thing with scales. Even though all major scales are the same series of half-steps, they look very different. Learn one learn them all? Nope!

So how about this.  How about a “six-six” keyboard, with six white keys and six black keys per octave?  That way, the geometric patterns (and the shape necessarily made by one’s hand) between keys that correspond to half-step interval patterns will be consistent, regardless of where you’re starting from:

Aha, now thats more like it.  The same half-step pattern corresponds to the same geometrical pattern between keys, wherever you start from!

Aha, now that's more like it. The same half-step pattern corresponds to the same geometrical pattern between keys, wherever you start from!

Now we’re talking.

What’s weird now is that the “white” keys are no longer always the “natural” (as opposed to “flat” and “sharp”) keys.  The C, D and E keys look the same as before, but F, G, A and B are black keys now.

It’s all the same notes, though.  All the same notes.

Bingo!  I took the brains of a cheap Casio MIDI controller and figured out how to re-wire it to a new set of keys.  (Now in a storage room at Cornish College of the Arts).

Bingo! I took the brain of a cheap Midiman MIDI controller and figured out how to re-wire it to a new set of key switches. (Now in a storage room at Cornish College of the Arts).

So I got a cheap Midiman keyboard and figured out to wire its brains to a new set of Cherry keyboard keys.  I water-jet cut the “white keys” from a sheet of fiberglass panel and glued the black keys down.

In triumph, I sat on the floor in my underwear for an entire Saturday and played along to my favorite songs with the help of some guitar tabs from the internet.  The regular geometric pattern of the keys meant that most of the time, when I intuitively reached out and played a chord, I actually got it right, like I’m Elton John!  Victory lap!

Advertisements

8 Responses to “The Six-Six Keyboard”

  1. ekpaulson Says:

    I agree that having a different layout for different chords is “bullcrap” when you have a keyboard tuned to equal temperament (as many probably are these days) but the standard layout makes some sense from the perspective of different keys being different when other temperaments are used (as is often the case for pipe organs).

    I think that equal temperament is why pianos always sound out of tune to me.

    Your keyboard is pretty cool, though!

  2. bradley Says:

    Hi Craig,

    The midiman controller at the top: what is the model name of it? Who makes it? I am experimenting with attaching a midi controller to my electric guitar but I want a really small one with miniature keys like the one in the picture. I can’t find any on line. It looks like it’s about the size of, like, a pocket nintendo game (I’m old and don’t know what they are really called.)

    I would really love to hear back from you or anyone who may know.

    Thank you,
    Bradley

  3. craigrmeyer Says:

    Hiya Brad,

    That’s a Yamaha QY-70, which are going for ~$200 on eBay now. Go crazy!

  4. Kristoffer Says:

    Great instrument you’ve made! Makes so much more sense with 6 white and 6 black keys. More intuitive and you can play from any key without a lot of learning.

    Kristoffer

    • craigrmeyer Says:

      Thanks, Krisoffer.

      The “6-6” keyboard isn’t perfect. It’s hard to play “blind”. You gotta look at it to remember where you are, while the traditional 5-7 keyboard’s asymmetry gives it a “feel” so that your hands know where they are. Eh. I still think it’s nifty.

      • PavelK Says:

        I thought the blue strips on white keys were there to allow playing without looking, by having a differrent surface texture, right? Was it not enough?

        By the way, the left hand side of the accordion is obviously played blind, and so some of the buttons are differrent. The tops are curved (domed) in instead of out or have ridges.

      • craigrmeyer Says:

        The strips were also helpful as tactile cues, yes indeed, but at the time I was only thinking about having C, D and E look different. For a real-deal tactile cue it would be something more like you describe, with sandpaper or little bumps or something. That would be better.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: