Intelligent Instruments

Ken Rushton, June 2009, - Nov 2010.

The standard music keyboard long ago reached a "local optimum: further enhancement is pretty unlikely (believe me, it's been tried). But these ancient instruments were designed, built long, long before music theory was known, and some really clunky kluges have been frozen into them.

Now, with modern knowledge and electronics, much better instruments can be created. That's what this site is all about. Note that we are not interested in gadgets that play the music for one, or are like the silly keyboards in that play "one-finger" chords or other clumsy cheats. We are aiming for instruments that your friends with 10 years of piano will be envious of.

It needs a bit more detail than that, of course. we need a clear and achievable ideal.
We hope to help people create keyboards that are:
  • Easy to learn and play
  • Expressive
  • Rugged and portable
  • Able to do many new musical things 
  • Do most or all traditional musical things as well as or better
  • and ... oh- yes, it's got to be affordable, eventually under $500, and initially under $2000
Ideally, it should actively help learn how music works, and each successive piece easier to learn.
For more details, see: Overview & Vision: Design Intent

Some techniques Used

Isomorphic keyboards

A huge time-saving and ear-friendly feature.  more

Symmetrical Keyboards

This is another great idea: an big time saver, with many other benefits, and little downside - except it boogles the mind of traditionalists.  more

Beveled keys

Not very sexy, but this allows a player to do some impressive glissandos and other things


One of the best alternate keyboard designs, the jammer uses notes in an 2-dimensional array and uses the jammer key layout, formally known as the Wicki-Hayden (W/H for short). 

The W/H layout avoids many problems that the beginning pianist encounters. The jammer's key layout moves the keys to where they are more quickly reachable, useful and less prone to mistakes. We believe it also is easier to learn, faster to play and provides a special insight into how music comes into being. (more)

Why the Jammer's key layout is cool Basic background on the reasoning behind the keyboard

Longer explanations for those who like detail & theory:  The jammer is a flexible instrument and can be set up in many ways, here are some ways I promise to describe in detail.
Ideal setup for a full performance, with all the special controls,
Single keyboard setup, for when one just wants to be the drummer or bass player
Practice setup for just noodling around
Wearing the jammer across the chest, so one can walk around and strut
Hand-held with Wii-Stick

And details on how to use the components well:
Double keyboard
Full multiplex piano replacement
For more see:

Somones use the Harmonic table note layout, which is a novel way of looking at musical harmony. 
Here's the Wikipedia article: sonome.
Axis-49 - A nice compact instrument
Axis-64 - a professional level instrument 
Opal this is the high-end version of the sonome keyboards - hand-made for the musical elite


Other keyboards
Tonal Plexus
A unique instrument - with microtonal flair

Terpstra Keyboard
         A very interesting keyboard - and it's being crowd-sourced as you read this - Oct 2013.

    Novation launchpad Controller (as a keyboard)
Zander has created a very nice blogsite here.  Among many other things he has done is written software to
make this flexible little controller into a not-half-bad sonome.

The Standard (Piano-style) Keyboard as a basis for comparison.
Standard Keyboard

Comparing Instruments

Integrating and enhancing

Instrument Costs
Ok, Ok, What does one of these things cost?

Links to related sites