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Hex Player—a virtual musical controller

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Disciplines
  • Musicology

Abstract

In this paper, we describe a playable musical interface for tablets and multi-touch tables. The interface is a generalized keyboard, inspired by the Thummer, and consists of an array of virtual buttons. On a generalized keyboard, any given interval always has the same shape (and therefore fingering); furthermore, the fingering is consistent over a broad range of tunings. Compared to a physical generalized keyboard, a virtual version has some advantages—notably, that the spatial location of the buttons can be transformed by shears and rotations, and their colouring can be changed to reflect their musical function in different scales. We exploit these flexibilities to facilitate the playing not just of conventional Western scales but also a wide variety of microtonal generalized diatonic scales known as moment of symmetry, or well-formed, scales. A user can choose such a scale, and the buttons are automatically arranged so their spatial height corresponds to their pitch, and buttons an octave apart are always vertically above each other. Furthermore, the most numerous scale steps run along rows, while buttons within the scale are light-coloured, and those outside are dark or removed. These features can aid beginners; for example, the chosen scale might be the diatonic, in which case the piano’s familiar white and black colouring of the seven diatonic and five chromatic notes is used, but only one scale fingering need ever be learned (unlike a piano where every key needs a different fingering). Alternatively, it can assist advanced composers and musicians seeking to explore the universe of unfamiliar microtonal scales.

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