Harmonic Table: From elegant simplicity to surprising complexity
Much of this information comes from these sites: C-Thru Music ; Peter Davies' Opal site and the Wikipedia article Harmonic Table keyboard layout.
When presented with an innovative, totally new device like the Axis 64/49 and the “Harmonic Table” layout. The mind takes a while to sort out the salient new features.
First lets take a look at the key-field and get a feel for the larger features:
First, the basic unit of music - the notes in a octave as they can be grouped on an Axis keyboard. I've coloured the notes of the major scale and marked in the musician's names for the notes.
At first the notes look a bit daunting to learn, but it's not really too bad, with a good, practical mapping to one's fingers.
notes that often be played together are close and can be played with
one finger. (I'll talk about playing later, in a separate posting).
This keyboard layout is totally nuts about the 5ths; everything pivots around them. In most music the 5th has a very special relationship with the key (the root note) of the piece. It is in many ways a secondary key center. On this keyboard simply by moving up a key row does this shift. That's all that's needed.
The replacement of the conventional octave as the dominant musical center (paradigm) in a musician's mind may be the single greatest advantage of this keyboard. It's different, but still profoundly musical. The octave notes are so like the root note that they are boring.
To give just one example: a cool thing one can do on this keyboard is tune the fifth perfectly, rather than temper (flatten) it to fit the octave scale. (if you do this, the octave will be a bit (~2% of a semi-tone) sharp, which is not a grave musical sin, just slightly scandalous, and therefore interesting).
Another, more important example: many pieces of music involve establishing a pattern, then once it is established in the listener's ear, tweaking it in a musical way, so that the harmonics invoked change in simple ways. Thus we musicians keep our listeners interested. The trick is to do this in the aforementioned "musical way". That's the power of this keyboard, as it is wrapped around and deeply embedded in musical theory.
Tip: if you have learned a neat pattern, turn your hand 60 degrees. The same pattern sounds mostly musical and sometimes interesting. You can repeat this until you have gone all the way around, giving yourself a chance to explore music in a unique way.
What I think will work: shift the hand up, down, sideways etc. for just a moment (one chord, one or two bars), then snap back.
Ridges and gutters:
Right: Axis Harmonic Table - Ridges & Gutters
There are distinct lines of consonance and dissonance (white keys and black keys) in this keyboard. Which makes sense: the consonant notes are grouped together, consequently the dissonant notes are also grouped.
In my diagrams, I've given the "white notes" a unique colour and coloured the black keys white, as this makes the coloured notes stand out better.
Based on my experience the the jammer's Wick-Hayden layout, I strongly recommend that the keys on the Axis be coloured.
It's often the case that an improvement in one respect comes at an cost in other ways. So it is with the Harmonic Table layout:
The musically important intervals of Octave and Fourth are nearly "Missing In Action". This makes playing some parts of "normal" music, like inversions, harder.
Semi-tones and Whole-Tones:
Major (and Minor) scales :
The major Scale and it's close cousin, the Minor Scale are shown above, in what I guess is the commonest way to play these scales, showing a numbered ascending sequence on the left side, and the fingers needed on the right.
that the distance traveled to play is measured in millimeters and scant
centimeters, while on a piano, it is a factor of 10 greater or more. This should translate to a huge improvement in playing speed.
Around the octave one is playing, is clustered other clusters of octaves, but because an octave unit on the Axis is 6.5 notes wide and less than 2 notes high, the octave units abut in a different way.
seems to be seldom needed. The thumb has an awkward shape and is
awkwardly placed (except to play bass, perhaps) to be used on the
smallish hexagonal keys of the board. Note that Jordan Rudess' in his demos seldom uses his thumb. Addendum: Jordan confirms this.
One can also "slice up" the notes in other ways.
Zones, each 7 columns wide.
So there you have it: an interesting and versatile instrument.