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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.
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.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.
The jammer 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.
Hobbyists are making DIY jammers. Recent availability of adaptable commercial keyboard controllers, especially the Axis-49 from C-Thru Music, has spurred innovation and many functioning jammers have been built. Software for their construction through the modification of commercially available instruments is now available.
The many multitouch touchscreen products running Android or iOS, particularly tablet devices, can be adapted to be utilised as jammers. The dynamic display allows for key sizes to be easily adjusted to preference.
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.
|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:
|Greater musical intervals can be played by each hand at once||2 octave range 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
|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 Florentine harpsichords and some 16th century organs designed to accompany singers.
|Lightweight and portable||Smaller and lighter than a guitar|
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.
|Wider keyboard, with 19 notes per octave, 9.5 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 an almost-touching spacing.|
Of the large number of isomorphic note assignments possible, jammers use the Wicki-Hayden note layout. All scales fall in the center of the layout, directly under ones fingers, and it is simple to relate to conventional music notation. All conventional chord progressions can be easily fingered in the jammer arrangement with minimal hand movement.
Octaves ascend vertically, increasing the playable interval sizes, easing chord inversions, and greatly reducing the time needed to move to a new note or chord.
Although no one is yet expert on a jammer, Fitts law 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. Since playing an instrument is always a speed vs accuracy tradeoff, a novice player should be able to play more accurately, while a trained player should be able to play with more precise timing.
Some hexagonal isomorphic keyboards are commercially available:
Devices that do not use the wicki-hayden note layout natively can be converted to jammers by electronically remapping the notes received via USB midi to the wicki-hayden note layout.