Serious noodling

The whole point of having an intuitive instrument is to be able to follow the promptings of your Inner Ear without having to stop and think. Which scale is this? What note am I starting from? And much less: which notes are allowed?

You want to be able to start a run (or walk, whatever) without deciding in advance which scale you are embarking on. Just following your nose. Or rather ear. Your ear’s nose, if you prefer. Ace clarinettist Eddie Daniels calls this “noodling “.

Let’s assume that the noodle you are about to embark on will contain a mix of whole tones and semitones, some of them scalar and some passing, plus the occasional augmented second. You may feel like changing direction at any point. This is a known unknown, in Donald Rumsfeld’s immortal phrase. Stay with that.

The other known unknown, since you don’t even know what note you will be playing five notes from now, is what finger you will be using to play it with. Even pre-learnt scale fingerings have a habit of coming unstuck when a chromatic passing note shows up on a whim.

The common design element shared by intuitive instruments like the wholetone panpipes, the Pertchik vibraphone or the Lippens keyboard is the whole tone row. This allows the physical distance of the notes to faithfully reflect their intervallic distance. And this “isomorphism” is the basis of their claim to be intuitive instruments.


All diatonic scales contain 3 notes from one whole tone row and 4 from the other. Semitones happen when you cross between the two rows; and the positions of these crossing points are what define the name of the scale you are playing.

Rather than learn 12 diatonic major scales and 72 modes, an intuitive instrument allows us to leap at will from one whole tone row to the other, without stopping to decide which scale we have defined.

But what about the physical interface? The presence of duplicate rows on the Jankó piano allows us the freedom to use the thumb at any point in any scale, avoiding the need to learn fixed patterns. But I said in my last post, freedom is not free. It comes at a price. If our noodling is to be serious – and exciting to listen to – we need to eliminate dither. Any hesitation about which stick or finger to bring in for the next note will break the flow.

The Lippens (Jankó) keyboard emancipates us from the need to think like pianists; but we will still need to develop both our melodic and our mechanical reflexes if we want to “play like singing in the shower”.

Which brings me to the exercises I have been working on for the Lippens keyboard, which are good for the Chromatone or any other Jankó-type keyboard. The idea is to be prepared for anything on the fly, any idea that comes to mind. For this we will use just five short scales:

(1 2), (2 2), (2 1 1), (1 3) and (3 2).

These five short scales are the building blocks of a vast range of noodling possibilities, including diminished scales, major, minor, blues, pentatonic and whatever takes your fancy. The first four make up so-called symmetrical scales if you stack them upon themselves.

For preparedness of the fingers, we will practice the five scales using two, three or four fingers in cyclical fashion.

1 2 , 1 2 3 , 1 2 3 4 , then 21, 231, 2341, 312, 3412, 4123

… and down again 4 3 2 1 , 3 2 1 , 2 1 …

The “shape” of the short scale will change depending on where the thumb comes in the cycle, as the thumb should be mostly limited to the bottom two rows.

Just to get you started, here is the (1 2) scale using two right hand cycles. There is no point in knowing which note is which, this being about intervallic awareness, so I won’t paint in the black notes:


As you see, the shape changes at each turn of the cycle. The 1234 fingering cycle is simple and unchanging, so I will let you work it out for yourself! But to fully explore all the shape permutations with four fingers you will need to check out 2341, 3412 and 4123.

I believe the Lippens keyboard could soon be looking for crowdfunding to make it more widely available, so watch this space to be among the early adopters!







About jazzpanflute

jazz panpipe pioneer and designer
This entry was posted in Intuitive Instruments, Scale Practice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Serious noodling

  1. Roy Pertchik says:

    Nice article! (Thanks for the mention ;^) I’m living in Guatemala overseeing this project I designed for my friends:
    Working on my app;
    Thinking I need a tri-chromatic marimba down here soon!


Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s