Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programmers

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Friday, May 29, 2009

chord graphics

Ha, crossover humour! It’s like Core Graphics, which is a Mac thing, only it’s chord, because I’m talking about music, but I’m a Mac guy…oh, never mind.

When I’m trying to think of chords in music I always end up with a mental image of a piano keyboard, with the notes that make up the chord pressed. That’s all well and good, but I don’t have a piano! Apart from some set pieces like barre chords, I can’t really think of note combinations in the same way on a guitar, and certainly get flustered trying to harmonise on a violin. What I really need is a piano to sit down and work out harmonies at, which I could then play on the instrument of my choosing (playing a string of notes on any of those instruments isn’t so much of a problem).

Unfortunately the biggest piece of floor space I currently have access to is about 1.3m x 0.4m. Maybe some cheap Bontempi would fit there, but not an 88-key upright. If there were a real-space version of the GarageBand digital keyboard, that would certainly fit…in fact it would probably fit in one of my nostrils. One octave doth not a piano make. Some people have suggested Clavinova, MODUS or similar electric pianos before. The thing is, they cost around £2k, whereas an upright is <£500.

posted by Graham Lee at 19:06  


  1. properly weighted MIDI keyboard with a good piano sampler? Seems like the obvious solution….

    Comment by Nigel Kersten — 2009-05-29 @ 22:04

  2. What about one of the many MIDI controllers that are available in all sizes (from one octave to eight)? You can also take your pick between weighted, non-weighted and even semi-weighted (which I find a good fit for a general purpose controller).
    My personal fave is the Axiom (of which I have the five octave version), which is semi weighted – although it has a number of other controller pads and sliders that may not be necessary for you.

    Anyway, I’m sure you are well aware of all these – just wondering why you seem to be ignoring them?

    If size and portability are the biggest issues, there are a few roll-up “keyboards” (keys are pressure pads, rather than moving parts) that may suit your needs.

    Comment by Phil Nash — 2009-05-31 @ 11:17

  3. Thanks for both of your suggestions. Yes, I have considered the USB/Midi keyboard controller option. I think I’d need one with a good piano patch/wavetable, as Nigel suggests, because it would have to be useful outside of the GarageBand context just for noodling or “entertaining” the neighbours. Although, maybe always playing through the Mac isn’t too much of a hardship.

    Anyway, to be honest the space problem is still an issue, I’ve tried the roll-up keyboards as Phil put forward but they just don’t feel right. I suppose they’re still better than nothing, but I’m picky! The Axiom 49 (4-octave thing) looks like quite a nice bit of kit though, tempting…I’d need to store it wedged down the side of a speaker or something until I move into my next place with (hopefully) more space.

    Phil’s correct though in that I have been ignoring that option. Despite being a software engineer I still have that built-in “real world is better” feeling, so was contemplating the luddite option of (obviously after waiting until the more-space move has been completed) just chucking my Shure mike in the back of a real upright. Actually, the cost of doing so would be about the same as the Axiom and a stand ;-).

    Comment by Graham Lee — 2009-05-31 @ 15:32

  4. Funny thing: I 'think' the same way – as a keyboad is the most visual way to rationalize chords. I'm also in a similar position, as I've been hunting for a new controller. I'm currently using a rather old keyboard and I'm in fear of it dying. I'm pretty much using virtual instruments via Logic these days, so, I don't care about the controller itself having decent sounds.

    However, the less expensive keyboards feel like garbage. It seems like anything worth putting my fingers on is in the > $1,000 USD range. Hmmmm…I just want a controller!

    I'll be keeping an eye on this post for follow-ups. Thanks to Phil, I'm going to check out the Axiom Pro 61 next time I'm in a music store.

    Comment by Edward Marczak — 2009-06-01 @ 20:35

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