Harmonic Table Keyboard Brings Old Idea Back To Life

If you missed the introduction of the Axis-49 and Axis-64 keyboards by C-Thru Music, you’re definitely not alone. At the time it was a new musical instrument that was based on the harmonic table, but it launched during the Great Recession and due to its nontraditional nature and poor timing, the company went out of business. But the harmonic table layout has a number advantages for musicians over other keyboard layouts, so [Ben] has brought his own version of the unique instrument to life in his latest project.

Called the Midihex, the keyboard has a number of improvements over the version from C-Thru Music, most obviously its much larger 98 playable keys and five function keys. The keys themselves are similar to Cherry MX keys but which use Hall-effect sensors. This style of key allows the device to send continuous key position information to the host computer, and since this is a MIDI instrument, this capability allows it to support a MIDI protocol called MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) which allows each note to be more finely controlled by the musician than a standard MIDI instrument. The PCB is powered by a Teensy 4.1 at the core.

For any musicians that haven’t tried out a harmonic table before, an instrument like this might be worth trying out. The layout provides easier chord and scale patterns, and for beginner musicians it can have a much shallower learning curve than other types of instruments. If you can’t find an original Axis-49 or Axis-64 anywhere to try out, though, we actually posted a teardown of one way back in 2009 when the company was still producing instruments.

11 thoughts on “Harmonic Table Keyboard Brings Old Idea Back To Life

    1. the Harmonic Table note-layout is more musically logical than a chromatic button accordion layout. It’s maybe not that big of a deal for performing because people will just have muscle memory and a layout that is ergonomic is more important than one that is logical.

      The Harmonic Table layout is cool because moving horizontally moves in half-steps. Moving vertically moves in Fifths. Diagonal to the left is Minor Third, and diagonal and to the right is Major Third. And a major third + minor third is a Perfect Fifth, so you can play a triad by pressing between thee buttons (which is why the hex layout needs to be pretty tightly packed).

      Move up then left one step and that’s a perfect Fourth. so an upside-down L shape is a suspended chord (tonic + fifth + fourth). Lots of interesting little shapes that transpose perfectly anywhere on the keyboard.

      1. As you say, “logical” isn’t the same as “practical”, and I wonder if this layout is actually more useful to anyone, or just an abstract exercise. Like, it’s not an accident that a piano isn’t a uniform strip of white keys at chromatic intervals – that was chosen on purpose, based on how people perform (specific types of) music.

        It’s a bit like metric vs. inches, or touchscreen vs. physical keys. The engineering mindset tends to see the more general solution as inherently better than the less general. But it forgets that for specific purposes, constraints can be a feature, too.

        I’m not leaping to conclusions though. The baggage of traditional instruments can be confusing, and it can work against experimentation, so it’s always worth trying new ideas.

  1. @ TG. Bayon or Russian style is possible on this for sure, or you thinking of the left hand of most accordions.
    In that case it could be chord buttons but that’s in software. We have known how to do single pattern layouts for a couple of centuries, but most musicians are too conservative to deal with new and better ways of doing the familiar.
    I am saddened that C-axis is no more I had considered them in the past but since the 2 poly-touch keyboards and Geoshred this may be why it happened. Geoshred is my interest at this point but on a non-apple full touch screen.
    Couldn’t be a better way of doing this, hall effect throttles for each note. Yeah! Old Baldwin organs had variable resistors under each “contact” only if played very carefully could you squeeze out notes separately.

    1. Not: Midihex is quite up front on its inspiration, as is this article. And while the marketing gloss for the Exquis/uualo might have you believing they originated harmonic tables, the idea predates by centuries, with such keyboards as products and patents predating them by decades. (Not that you could tell by the prior art section of their patent).

      Also not: The Exquis/dualo have additional hardware features such as training lights, and most importantly, have an ecosystem of software and training materials. So the two are not at all comparable.

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