Jammer keyboard: Wikis


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A jammer; the prototype Thummer.
A simple jammer.

A jammer is a new musical instrument characterized by

  1. at least one isomorphic keyboard, and
  2. thumb-operated and/or motion-sensing expressive controls.

The instrument is designed to be fast to learn to play, very fast to play and very expressive.

Research suggests that the combination of thumb-controls and internal motion sensors could give jammers more expressive potential than other polyphonic musical instruments such as the piano, guitar, and accordion.[1] Isomorphic keyboards similar to those used in a jammer have been shown to accelerate the rate at which students grasp otherwise-abstract concepts in music theory.[2][3]




Origin of jammer and Thummer instruments

The jammer was invented by Jim Plamondon in September of 2003, whereupon he founded Thumtronics to design its "Thummer(tm)-brand jammer" and bring it to market, the trade name was to empathize the unique thumb-control feature. Prototype Thummers were produced, but the effort to commercialize them failed, and Thumtronics was disbanded in mid-2009.

Sketch of the jammer concept. Important controls are placed within easy reach.

Open source jammer

Although not currently under commercial development, an ongoing open source hardware design project seeks to produce a royalty-free reference design for jammers, based on Thumtronics' prototypes.

DIY jammers

Hobbyists are making DIY jammers. Recent availability of adaptable commercial keyboard controllers, especially the Axis-49 from C-Thru Music, has spurred innovation and several functioning jammers have been built. Software for their construction through the modification of commercially available instruments is now available.

Origin and usage of the jammer name

Just as Kleenex(tm) is a trademarked brand of facial tissue, and the Stratocaster(tm) is a trademarked brand of electric guitar, the Thummer was intended to be a trademarked brand of "a new kind of musical instrument." The term jammer was introduced to give that "new kind of musical instrument" a generic, non-trademarked name. It was coined by Jim Plamondon, founder of Thumtronics, and first used when the "Thummer(tm)-brand jammer" was publicly announced on December 15, 2005, in Perth, Western Australia.


A controller with thumb-operated joysticks. These are removed and used in thumb controls for jammers
  1. At least one 2-dimensional keyboard in a hexagonal array; preferably, one for each hand.
    The keys of the left-hand instrument are mirror-imaged to those on the right, to match the mirroring of one's hands. This speeds learning the instrument, as a skill learned in one hand can transfer to the other hand.
  2. Notes assigned to the array using the ergonomically efficient Wicki/Hayden note-layout.[4]
  3. At least one thumb-operated expressive control (such as the thumb-operated joysticks found on seventh-generation video game controllers).
  4. Optionally, other expressive controls, such as internal motion-sensors (such as those found in the Wii Remote video game controller), foot-pedals, breath controllers, etc.

Advantages over a standard keyboard

Basic jammer fingering - note how many keys are within 2 cm of a fingertip
Key Shifting on a jammer is very simple
The Wicki/Hayden layout and how the harmonics of a note place themselves; playing the root note and any colored key will sound good, since the harmonics overlay.
Jammers have these advantages over a traditional musical (piano) keyboard
Advantage Reason
Simple to learn Music intervals are mapped to the same vector: a consistent angle and spacing
Easy to play Only one fingering needs be learned, instead of the 24 (12 for each hand) needed for the standard keyboard
Easy to play from a musical score Playing in a different key is a simple matter of shifting the hand, as shown right.
Fast to play The average distance the fingers need to move is reduced by a factor of 10 or more:
  • from centimeters to millimeters for a I-IV-V7-I chord progression,
  • from decimeters to centimeters for a octave shift
Greater musical intervals can be played by each hand at once 2 octave rage in normal hand position using 4 fingers, 3-4 octaves if the thumb is used
More notes can be played due to the ability to play several consonant notes at once, with a single finger
Examples * 9th , 10th 12th and 15th chords can be played easily with the hand in normal position
  • up to a four-octave span can be played by turning the hand sideways
  • 1-3 consonant keys may be played by a fingertip.
Multiple concordant notes can be played with one finger consonant notes are placed adjacent to each other
Variety of novel glissandos Glissandos of fourths, fifths and major seconds are easily played
Separate expressiveness controls for each hand Allows twice the choice of expressive options, e.g. Sustain pedal
Capable of more sounds than a traditional keyboard With two keyboards, each can be assigned to a separate instrument
Controls provide more means of expression than a traditional keyboard instrument, so in principle can offer greater expressiveness
Places notes in a pattern that matches the natural harmonics, as shown right.
Separate keys for flat and sharp notes This unique feature allows more accurate, just tuning of the notes of the keyboard, as well as a host of tuning options
This feature is seen in harpsichords and some 16th century organs designed to accompany singers.
Lightweight and portable Smaller and lighter than a guitar

Limitations and disadvantages over a standard keyboard:

  • The distance between chromatic intervals is greater
  • Not all chord inversions are easy to finger
  • Chromatic scales may be harder to play
  • Harder to learn than the piano in C major
  • No teachers or body of pedagogy for the jammer
  • Fingering techniques are still being developed
  • No formal theory of play has been developed, although one is under development, and related to standard jazz "jamming" techniques.
  • High cost of hexagonal keyboards relative to the standard keyboard (given current sales volumes)

Differences from the Thummer design ideal

Jammers are forced to make do with an assembly of independent parts. The Thummer design patents are useful as a design goal, because of its many novel features.

Thummer jammer
Wider keyboard, with 19 notes per octave, 10.5 keys wide, in a curved, 6 row arc. Whatever the adapted instrument allows, typically 7 rows wide, 14 high .
Additional expressiveness by means of motion sensing, thumb operated joysticks, velocity sensitivity, and after-touch. Thumb-controls, mounted on the hand or jammer, or motion-sensing Wii-sticks, and velocity sensitivity.
A brace through which one can affix the instrument to ones forearm and take advantage of the motion sensing capability. No brace. the instrument instead is table or chest-mounted.
Keys shaped and spaced to allow the maximum number of keys to be reached at once. Keys in a purely hexagonal array, with a almost-touching spacing.

How jammers are being made

A jammer made from a M-Audio Keystation ES-88, as a prototype way to create jammers, since superseded by the Axis-49
  1. The computer qwerty keyboard is a nearly hexagonal array of keys, so can be mapped into Wicki/Hayden layout through software applications such as the Transformsynth and Bomes midi translator (link). However limitations of the qwerty keyboard limit this usefulness.
  2. There are commercially available isomorphic instruments with an applicable hexagonal array of keys. Commercially available keyboard instruments that do not use the Wicki/Hayden note layout but use usb midi are modified via re-mapping software for the Axis-49.
  3. In the past, experimental keyboards have been made by hand, as shown right.
  4. Alternate input devices such as the Korg Nano series are most often used to give a jammmer player more expressive potential. Game console joysticks have been found to offer excellent expression.
    Experimentally, a hand-mounted, thumb operated control has been found to be superior, as it allows full mobility to the hand.
  5. After-touch has not been explored for jammers.
    Motion sensing has yet to be explored by jammer players because of its lack of accessibility and/or applicability to expressive control in its current forms.
  6. Adding an arm brace to the jammers has yet to be explored, due to the lack of feasible motion sensing capabilities.

Design Rationale

Of the large number of isomorphic {link} note-assignment possible, the jammer's Wicki/Hayden {Wicki - Hayden links} format is used by jamists since all notes of the major and minor scales fall under the fingers and the relative simplicity of relating it to conventional music notation.

All chords found in conventional chord progressions (I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi and viii, as well as others), in most inversions, can be easily played in the jammer arrangement with minimal hand movement.

This layout also places the octaves ascending vertically, increasing the notes playable at once, easing chord inversions and greatly reducing the time needed to move to a new combination.

Ergonomic Factors

Although no one is yet expert on a jammer, Fitts law {link} predicts that the jammer will be very significantly faster to play that a conventional keyboard. The expected speed increase is (log base 2 (30% smaller key / ~1000% distance decrease) or 75% less time to find and press the average key.

Commercially available

Many isomorphic keyboards are commercially available, including:

  1. AXIS-64, uses the Harmonic Table note-layout
  2. Opal Chameleon, uses the Melodic Table note-layout
  3. Stagi Hayden Duet Concertina, uses the Wicki note-layout, shown in Figure 1 above (known as the 'Hayden' layout by concertina players)
  4. Sonome article under construction.

cross-links to update to link here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isomorphic_keyboard http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generalized_keyboard


  1. Wicki.org.uk, free UK site containing Java, Flash, and PC applications to enable users to play their alpha-numeric keyboard to sound 12 equal tempered pitches using Wicki/Hayden or Janko keyboard layout.

Related links

  1. Information on the Thummer
  2. Jim Plamondon: inventor of the jammer
  3. The Wicki-Hayden note-layout explained
  4. The Sonome: a keyboard that uses the Melodic table note-layout
  5. Peter Davies: inventor of the Sonome and other new musical instruments
  6. The Melodic/Harmonic table note-layout explained
  7. Isomorphic keyboards
  8. The Generalized keyboard


  1. ^ [|Paine, G.]; Stevenson, I., Pearce, A. (2007). "The Thummer Mapping Project (ThuMP)". Proceedings of the 7th international conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME07): 70 - 77. http://www.activatedspace.com/Papers/PaineThuMP.pdf.  
  2. ^ Holland, S. (1993). "Learning about harmony with Harmony Space: An overview". Proceedings of the 1993 World Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Education on Music Education (AI-ED 93): 24–40.  
  3. ^ Bergstrom, T.; Karahalios, K., Hart, J. C. (2007). "Isochords: visualizing structure in music". Proceedings of Graphics Interface 2007.  
  4. ^ [|Milne, Andrew]; Sethares, W.A., Plamondon, J. (March 2008). "Tuning Continua and Keyboard Layouts". Journal of Mathematics and Music 2 (1): 1-19. http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a793326484~db=all~order=page. Retrieved 2009/20/09.  

Category:Musical instruments Category:Music Theory


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