Ergordica Key Layout Explained

At the heart of the Ergordica is a key layout that makes it possible to play entire pieces of music consisting of multiple simultaneous notes without re-positioning the hands on the compact instrument. It does take a bit of effort to understand this layout and somewhat more to master it. In this post, I’ll explain the layout starting from where it comes from.

The Ergordica key layout is a derivation of a piano keyboard layout where the musician’s eight fingers span the eight notes of a C Major scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C.

The left hand is solely responsible for the notes C, D, E, F and the right hand is solely responsible for the notes G, A, B, C (upper C). Given this, it makes sense to split the keyboard so no confusion of roles happens between the left and right hands, as in the image below.

Now, in order to make it a handheld instrument, the keys are rotated inwards as in the image below.

Next, all but the notes dedicated to the eight fingers are removed, as in the image below.

The layout so far is fine for playing melodies and chords that span no more than one octave. But there’s a lot of music out there that requires more. So a second octave of keys is added in parallel as in the image below.

Now, given white keys (naturals) are played more often than black keys (accidentals), the outer keys are flipped to put adjacent white keys closer together.

The big problem of the layout described so far is that piano keys are meant to be played while simultaneously re-positioning the hand for better comfort. But on a handheld instrument, the hands need to remain somewhat stationary. So the Ergordica keys were designed smaller so they can all be reached from a single hand position.

The above is a Tenor Acoustic Ergordica spanning C4 to C5 plus another half octave below and above, so G3 to F5 (F#3 to F#5 more accurately). Other Ergordicas can be built to span different ranges and even having additional half octave pairs the hands can move to for more range. But if you want a single instrument that can do it all, you’ll want to go with an electronic Ergordica. It has buttons for transposing by octaves to switch between tenor and bass, etc. And synthesizers (including those on a smartphone that can be easily attached) are also available that can transpose by semitones so that you can learn a piece of music in one key and then play it in any key.

The layout of the Ergordica described on this page works great for those familiar with the piano. For others, it might be a bit confusing that the notes ascend from pinky to ring finger in the left hand while the opposite is true for the right hand. If there is enough interest, I might eventually put together an Ergordica that has keys that either ascend or descend for both the left and right hands, kind of like you have in a saxophone or clarinet. This will be a lot easier to do with an electronic Ergordica. All that is needed is to change hole positions and re-code the Arduino pin-to-note mapping. Perhaps someone else out there would like to give that a shot!

So, what do you think about the key layout of the Ergordica? Any suggestions on how to improve it?

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