- Paul Hirsh
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Wholetone keyboards cut piano scale practice by twelve, make transposing and improvising a piece of cake, and allow wider interval stretches
I believe in breaking down the barriers to instrumental expression, the ideal being to making playing an instrument as easy as singing in the shower. And most people manage to sing in the shower without knowing what key they are singing in. So that is my first criterion for the ideal instrument.
The piano keyboard, whose design dates back to before the discovery of equal temperament, simplifies the execution of one scale (C major) and in so doing complicates the other eleven. What is more, because of its physical configuration, the correct division of function between the thumbs and the remaining fingers necessitates a high level of training to master. The problems of technique specific to the traditional piano fall into the following categories:
*Fingering. Primarily a problem of placing the thumb undertuck, through scale practice.
*Memorisation of chord and scale shapes in all twelve keys.
*Muscle training. Physical interface problems arising from weighting, relative keyboard and hand dimensions, and responsiveness of the mechanism.
*Independence and co-ordination of hands.
The fourth is a problem for the brain, and will require practice whatever improvements we make. The first three are design issues.
The Janko keyboard completely eliminates the first two problems by making the fingerings the same for all keys (like a guitar), and by offering extra rows to provide total freedom of thumb undertuck. In addition, because the danger of getting a finger stuck between two black notes is removed, a wider interval can be covered by one hand-stretch without making the keys narrower. The Janko design can be seen by googling it.
Other instruments such as tuned percussion (marimbas and xylophones), harps and panpipes benefit from dual wholetone row tuning. Wholetone instruments are great news for ear players (I play wholetone panpipes created by CNC machining). So what are the obstacles to wholesale adoption of the system? Does anyone want to do something about it?