Thummer keyboard

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A Thummer is a proposed commercial musical instrument characterized by

Musical instrument History and classification

A musical instrument is an instrument created or adapted to make musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a musical instrument—it is through purpose that the object becomes a musical instrument. The history of musical instruments dates to the beginnings of human culture. Early musical instruments may have been used for ritual, such as a trumpet to signal success on the hunt, or a drum in a religious ceremony. Cultures eventually developed composition and performance of melodies for entertainment. Musical instruments evolved in step with changing applications.


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

The Thummer was to be a type of jammer keyboard. Research suggests that the jammer's combination of thumb-controls and internal motion sensors could give 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]

Jammer keyboard

A jammer is a new musical instrument characterized by at least one isomorphic keyboard, and 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.

Expressive potential is the degree to which a given music control interface enables a musician to control musical expression. An interface with low expressive potential enables control over a narrow range of musical expression, no matter how virtuosic its player, whereas an interface with high expressive potential enables control over a wide range of musical expression. Expressive potential is independent of how that potential was, is, or will be realized in any given composition or performance. This independence allows the expressive potential of new musical instruments & interfaces to be compared and contrasted objectively with traditional musical instruments.

Piano musical instrument

The piano is an acoustic, stringed musical instrument invented in Italy by Bartolomeo Cristofori around the year 1700, in which the strings are struck by hammers. It is played using a keyboard, which is a row of keys that the performer presses down or strikes with the fingers and thumbs of both hands to cause the hammers to strike the strings.


Origin of jammer and Thummer

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

However the concepts developed and publicized by the company are still being developed by alternate-keyboard enthusiasts.

"Jammer" versus the "Thummer" 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.

Kleenex brand name for a variety of paper-based products

Kleenex is a brand name for a variety of paper-based products such as facial tissue, bathroom tissue, paper towels, tampons, and diapers. Often used informally as a genericized trademark for facial tissue in the United States, the name Kleenex is a registered trademark of Kimberly-Clark Worldwide, Inc. Kleenex products are manufactured in 30 countries and sold in more than 170 countries. Kleenex brands include Cottonelle, Huggies, and VIVA.

Facial tissue

Facial tissue, paper handkerchief, and Kleenex refers to a class of soft, absorbent, disposable papers that are suitable for use on the face. They are disposable alternatives for cloth handkerchiefs. The terms are commonly used to refer to the type of paper tissue, usually sold in boxes, that is designed to facilitate the expulsion of nasal mucus from the nose (nose-blowing) although it may refer to other types of facial tissues including napkins and wipes.

Trademark recognizable sign, design or expression which identifies products or services

A trademark, trade mark, or trade-mark is a recognizable sign, design, or expression which identifies products or services of a particular source from those of others, although trademarks used to identify services are usually called service marks. The trademark owner can be an individual, business organization, or any legal entity. A trademark may be located on a package, a label, a voucher, or on the product itself. For the sake of corporate identity, trademarks are often displayed on company buildings.

Design Goals

Thumtronics' design goals for the Thummer, which continue to influence the independent development of jammers, were the 7 "E"s:

  1. Easy: Facilitate the rapid acquisition of a self-sustaining level of musical competence in both composition and performance.
  2. Expressive: Offer more expressive potential than most musical instruments.
  3. Ergonomic: Place significantly less stress on its player's body than the average traditional musical instrument.
  4. Ergonomic: Place the keys and other controls within easy, fast reach.
  5. Expansive: Expand the frontiers of music-making, by (a) providing a single interface for the performance of the music of all known past and present human cultures, and (b) enabling the exploration and control of new tonalities (via effects such as Dynamic tonality).
  6. Everywhere: Be sufficiently portable to go everywhere, from concert hall to campfire.
  7. Everyone: Affordable (once in high-volume production) by people living at the First World's poverty level.


How the fingers are positioned to play a thummer. Jammer Basic fingering.png
How the fingers are positioned to play a thummer.
A controller with thumb-operated joysticks. DualShock3WhiteTopMarkings.jpg
A controller with thumb-operated joysticks.
  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.
  2. Notes assigned to the array using the 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

The Thummer was intended to have these advantages over a piano-style keyboard

Simple to learnMusic intervals are mapped to the same vector: a consistent angle and spacing
Easy to playonly one fingering needs be learned, instead of the 24 (12 for each hand) needed for the standard keyboard
Fast to playThe 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 an octave shift
Greater musical intervals can be played by each hand at once2 octave rage in normal hand position using 4 fingers, 3-4 octaves if the thumb is used
More notes can be playeddue to the ability to play several consonant notes at once.
examplea 9th, 10th 12th and 15th chord 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 fingerconsonant notes are placed adjacent to each other
Variety of novel glissandosa glissando of fourths, fifths and major seconds are easily played
Separate expressiveness controls for each handAllows twice the choice of expressive options, e.g. Sustain pedal
Capable of more sounds than a traditional keyboardhas two keyboards which each can be assigned to a separate instrument
  • has controls providing more degrees of freedom than a traditional keyboard instrument, so in principle can offer greater expressiveness
  • places notes in a pattern that matches the natural harmonics.
separate keys for flat and sharp notesthis unique feature allows more accurate, just tuning of the notes of the keyboard, as well as a host of tuning options, such as the Bohlen–Pierce scale
Lightweight and portablesmaller and lighter than a guitar

Limitations and disadvantages over a standard keyboard

Design Rationale

Of the large number of isomorphic note assignments possible, the Thummer's Wicki-Hayden format was chosen since all notes of the major and minor scales fall under the fingers and the relative simplicity of relating it to conventional music notation.

An isomorphic keyboard is a musical input device consisting of a two-dimensional grid of note-controlling elements on which any given sequence and/or combination of musical intervals has the "same shape" on the keyboard wherever it occurs – within a key, across keys, across octaves, and across tunings.

Standard fingering position. Note the small travel distance to many notes. Jammer Basic fingering.png
Standard fingering position. Note the small travel distance to many notes.

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 note.

Ergonomic Factors

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

Commercially available

Some isomorphic keyboards are commercially available, including:


Related Research Articles

Musical keyboard musical instrument part

A musical keyboard is the set of adjacent depressible levers or keys on a musical instrument. Keyboards typically contain keys for playing the twelve notes of the Western musical scale, with a combination of larger, longer keys and smaller, shorter keys that repeats at the interval of an octave. Depressing a key on the keyboard makes the instrument produce sounds—either by mechanically striking a string or tine, plucking a string (harpsichord), causing air to flow through a pipe organ, striking a bell (carillon), or, on electric and electronic keyboards, completing a circuit. Since the most commonly encountered keyboard instrument is the piano, the keyboard layout is often referred to as the piano keyboard.

Meantone temperament

Meantone temperament is a musical temperament, that is a tuning system, obtained by slightly compromising the fifths in order to improve the thirds. Meantone temperaments are constructed the same way as Pythagorean tuning, as a stack of equal fifths, but in meantone each fifth is narrow compared to the perfect fifth of ratio 3:2.

Wolf interval particularly dissonant musical interval spanning seven semitones present in most meantone tuning systems

In music theory, the wolf fifth is a particularly dissonant musical interval spanning seven semitones. Strictly, the term refers to an interval produced by a specific tuning system, widely used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: the quarter-comma meantone temperament. More broadly, it is also used to refer to similar intervals produced by other tuning systems, including most meantone temperaments.

Bandoneon musical instrument popular in Argentina

The bandoneon is a type of concertina particularly popular in Argentina and Uruguay. It is an essential instrument in most tango ensembles from the traditional orquesta típica of the 1910s onwards.

Jankó keyboard musical instrument part

The Jankó keyboard is a musical keyboard layout for a piano designed by Paul von Jankó in 1882. It was designed to overcome two limitations on the traditional piano keyboard: the large-scale geometry of the keys, and the fact that each scale has to be fingered differently. Instead of a single row, the Jankó keyboard has an array of keys consisting of two interlocking manuals with three touch-points for each key lever. Each vertical column of keys is a semitone away from its neighboring columns, and on each horizontal row of keys the interval from one note to the next is a whole step.

Electronic keyboard electronic keyboard instrument

An electronic keyboard or digital keyboard is an electronic musical instrument, an electronic or digital derivative of keyboard instruments. Broadly speaking, the term electronic keyboard or just a keyboard can refer to any type of digital or electronic keyboard instrument. These include synthesizers, digital pianos, stage pianos, electronic organs and digital audio workstations. However, an electronic keyboard is more specifically a synthesizer with a built-in low-wattage power amplifier and small loudspeakers.

English concertina

The English concertina is a member of the concertina family of free-reed musical instruments. Invented in England in 1829, it was the first instrument of what would become the concertina family.

MIDI controller

A MIDI controller is any hardware or software that generates and transmits Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) data to MIDI-enabled devices, typically to trigger sounds and control parameters of an electronic music performance. MIDI controllers usually do not create or produce musical sounds by themselves. MIDI controllers typically have some type of interface which the performer presses, strikes, blows or touches. This action generates MIDI data, which can then be transmitted to a MIDI-compatible sound module or synthesizer using a MIDI cable. The sound module or synthesizer in turn produces a sound which is amplified through a loudspeaker.

An enharmonic keyboard is a musical keyboard, where enharmonically equivalent notes do not have identical pitches. A conventional keyboard has, for instance, only one key and pitch for C and D, but an enharmonic keyboard would have two different keys and pitches for these notes. Traditionally, such keyboards use black split keys to express both notes, but diatonic white keys may also be split.

Array mbira

The Array mbira is a hand-crafted modern musical instrument with a unique harp- or bell-like sound. It is made in the United States by its inventor Bill Wesley and manufactured by Wesley with Patrick Hadley in San Diego, California, United States. Its development began in the 1960s. It is a radical redesign of the African mbira and is part of the lamellaphone family.

Generalized keyboard

Generalized keyboards are musical keyboards, a type of isomorphic keyboard, with regular, tile-like arrangements usually with rectangular or hexagonal keys, and were developed for performing music in different tunings. They were introduced by Robert Bosanquet in the 1870s, and since the 1960s Erv Wilson has developed new methods of using and expanding them, proposing keyboard layouts including any scale made of a single generator within an "octave" of any size.

Dynamic tonality is tonal music which uses real-time changes in tuning and timbre to perform new musical effects such as polyphonic tuning bends, new chord progressions, and temperament modulations, with the option of consonance. The performance of dynamic tonality requires an isomorphic keyboard driving a music synthesizer which implements dynamic tuning and dynamic timbres. Dynamic tonality was discovered by Andrew Milne, William Sethares, and Jim Plamondon.

William A. Sethares is an American music theorist and professor of electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin. In music, he has contributed to the theory of Dynamic Tonality and provided a formalization of consonance.

Wicki-Hayden note layout

The Wicki-Hayden note layout is a musical keyboard layout that differs from the traditional layout.

Harmonic table note layout

The Harmonic Table note-layout, or tonal array, is a key layout for musical instruments that offers interesting advantages over the traditional keyboard layout.


The chordboard is an electronic musical instrument based on software, and played by a keyboard controller. One implementation is a set of four MIDI keyboards arranged vertically. The patent for this musical technology obtained by Grant Johnson, inventor, in 1995, specifically identifies the seven chords that exist for each key signature, and how these key signatures can be selected at any time while playing the instrument to achieve a key signature change, and thus an instant change in chords. In every key signature there are seven chords, and each of these chords are identified on the chordboard as follows :

Anglo concertina

The Anglo or Anglo-German concertina is a member of the concertina family of free-reed instruments.

Duet concertina

The Duet concertina is a family of concertinas, distinguished by being unisonoric and by having their lower notes on the left and higher on the right.


  1. Paine, G.; Stevenson, I.; Pearce, A. (2007). "The Thummer Mapping Project (ThuMP)" (PDF). Proceedings of the 7th international conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME07): 70–77.
  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. doi:10.1080/17459730701828677 . Retrieved 2009-09-20.

See also