Getting towards a tipping point


Paul Jankó’s original keyboard on a Steinway grand

Paul von Jankó was a man ahead of his time. His ideas fell on stony ground and he ended up spending the last 17 years of his life laboring on a Turkish tobacco farm. Perhaps to get away from his creditors.

His 1882 patent for an intervallic piano keyboard (above) has been lapsed for a while now, leaving the field open for the idea to be exploited by new arrivals.

And in the last few years the field has been broadening. Here are some more recent developments. If more people keep pushing, maybe we’ll reach a tipping point and see these instruments in schools.

Paul Vandervoort has been developing his version of the Jankó keyboards in Reno, Nevada for a number of years, and is also an accomplished performer on them. He has settled on five rows as the ideal number of keys. Find out more here


The Daskin wholetone keyboard

Next there is my early design, going back 15 or so years, an adaptor for a MIDI keyboard, which never got into production, and has only just found its first happy customer on Shapeways.  Sometimes you have to be patient. You can try it out here.


Paul Hirsh’s “Beanboard” wholetone keyboard design

The Chromatone keyboard is made in Japan and packs a state-of-the-art Korg synth inside. It uses six rows, like Jankó’s version and adds an additional chromatic row for glissandi at the top. It has already been adopted by some ace players including Wataru Ohkawa (seen here playing Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee).


Chromatone keyboard

And now a Belgian father and son team, André and Luc Lippens, have come up with the Lippens keyboard. The keys have a rather odd shape, that I guess you would have to try out to know if they suit you. Judge for yourself:


The Lippens keyboard

The website has some very well designed graphics exposng the illogicality of the traditional keyboard (click on the circles at the bottom of the keyboard page), and some nicely produced tutorials.


Majors scales on traditional and wholetone keyboards

While there seems to be a growing consensus about the keyboard design, the same cannot be said for notation reform. Both the Chromatone and the Lippens websites offer their own homemade notation systems, and they are only two among many.

In fact the sheer multiplicity of different notation systems and the inability of folks to get together and agree on the best one, makes me want to stay out of the discussion. I see from the list that I am no longer a member of the Music Notation Modernization Association.

Back in the day I had my own winning idea for the best way to notate for 6×6 keyboards and wholetone panpipes. Unfortunately my system has been lost to a grieving posterity, as I lost the paper I wrote it on and can’t for the life of me remember what it was.

If you hear of any wholetone keyboards I have left out, let me know in the comments section. And being hard up for cash is no reason to let the wholetone revolution pass you by. I leave you with keyboard pioneer Alex Mauer‘s elegant Lego conversion to inspire you:


Alex Mauer’s Lego keyboard

Did you know?

Synth keyboards and Lego are both made of ABS (acetyl butyl styrene) plastic, which is soluble in Acetone. No special glue is needed. Just paint acetone onto both surfaces and press parts together for 2- 5 minutes.

Follow me on Twitter @jazzpanflute


About jazzpanflute

jazz panpipe pioneer and designer
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4 Responses to Getting towards a tipping point

  1. Mark Ramsden says:

    Back in the day I had my own winning idea for the best way to notate for 6×6 keyboards and wholetone panpipes. Unfortunately my system has been lost to a grieving posterity, as I lost the paper I wrote it on and can’t for the life of me remember what it was.

    Most excellent!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. WALLER says:

    Hi Paul,
    Great file, but you say that the Japanese Chromatone had state-of-the-art Korg in it, but that’s not the truth unfortunately, I bought me one and was very disappointred because the synth in it is of the cheap kind with very poor sounds. Dominique

    Liked by 1 person

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