What's my game?


Hi I'm Monxmood. Both my parents were pianists. I should be a cross between Art Tatum and Wanda Landowska. So how come I erupt in spots when I get near a piano?

Among my earliest piano lessons "Wash your hands" and "Don't poke the keys" figure strongly, but the breaking point came with those SCALES !

everyone should have a dream

Naturally, having been dosed from the womb with wonderful music, I had the URGE. At first I was only dimly aware of my life plan, which was to be able to play whatever came into my head on whatever instrument came to hand. I wanted to be able to improvise without worrying about what key I was in, like singing in the bath. But I soon found that not all instruments permit you to do this. In fact hardly any. I enjoyed the guitar for a while and tried saxophones. Then I got into ethnic flutes, and then discovered the Romanian panpipe or nai. For 14 years I annoyed all around me by taking these things on gigs and hitting wrong notes.

The nai is basically diatonic (usually in the scale of G major), and altered notes are available by tipping the instrument up, to lower the note by a semitone. So all 12 major scales can be learnt provided you know what note you started on. Because you can't see the pipes while you are playing, the effect is like playing the piano with your chin in the dark. I was dangerously close to coming out in spots.

my big breakthrough

My big breakthrough came when I converted the pipes to the wholetone scale (C D E F# G# Bb). Now, instead of 12, I had only 2 major scales to practise, and it didn't matter which tube I started on ! And wrong notes were practically eliminated ! The reason for this is that the instrument satisfies the design criterion of interval consistency. That means that a given movement always produces a certain interval regardless of where you start from. This makes the instrument intuitive to play: the instrument itself is your teacher, you just learn by biofeedback! See for yourself.

Very few instruments satisfy this criterion completely. Chromatic accordeons is about all (try one out). Guitars would come a lot closer to perfection if they were tuned E A D G C F (i.e. in fourths). The perfect improviser's instrument would be one on which all scales had the same fingering, or scale shape (if you don't use fingers to play it). I still prefer the wholetone panpipes, as it is the neck which moves and I suspect the neck muscles to be in closer cahoots with the voice than the fingers would be. But I realise there are people out there who don't like blowing and would prefer to hit or tap out their stuff. So here are some instruments designed especially for you. Because I am not the Yamaha Corp I have not got around to the mass production stage yet, so some of these instruments are still virtual. If we can all join hands and imagine them very hard at once, they may come into being. If you're too impatient check out my adaptor.

Relative pitch rules OK

Perfect pitch - the ability to name any note one hears - has up to now been considered the ideal window upon the musical world. People with only relative pitch - the ability to finish the tune in roughly the right key if someone has started them off on the piano - have in an unspoken way been considered as in some way handicapped, and been accorded a nonvoting presence in the general run of musical things. BUT THEY ARE THE VAST MAJORITY. Relative pitch is what makes a tune one tune and not another; or in other words, I could commit the sacrilege of lowering Messiaen's "Jardin du sommeil d'amour" by a semitone to save myself learning it in six sharps and less than one percent of you would know the difference, and an even smaller percentage would know it through the composer's own "synaesthetic" sense of note-colour correspondence (if the truth be told, colour perception and memory are also in fair degree relative.) This same sacrilege has been performed on the entirety of Bach's output with the adoption of successive universal pitch standards, the result more often than not of a voiceraising match between competing orchestras. Who is going to get up and say that Bach's work has suffered as a result? Certainly not today's leading conductors. The fact is, that for every person who can name a note, there are a hundred who can recognise an interval. So why not throw the poor sods a life belt if they're that keen on playing music?

The quasi-religious respect accorded to the faculty of perfect pitch is enshrined in the Western system of musical notation. Or to be more precise, it is the reason why a system which works well as a tablature for keyboard instruments became the norm for all other instruments and voices as well. When I began to question the design of the standard keyboard, I soon realised that dismantling the keyboard would mean dismantling notation as well.

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