Different From Other Musical Instruments

The KeyMusician Keyboard is different from most (if not all) other musical instruments. I designed it that way. I wasn’t sure how well it would work, when I did the design, but now I am convinced. It’s better this way.

Let me explain how it’s different, and why it’s better.

Typically, in learning to play a musical instrument, especially when learning to play from written music, you start out by learning which key is which note. With a piano keyboard, teachers might even put stickers on the keys, showing this key is C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C again.

Teachers might even have flash cards showing a key, and you name the note, or a note of music, and you show which key it is.

You learn where “middle C” is. On a typing keyboard, using the KeyMusician Keyboard, in the key of C major (the default key), middle C is the Q-key.

This works on the KeyMusician Keyboard too, but that’s doing it the hard way.

On a piano keyboard, you have to learn how to play all the key-signatures – which notes have to be black keys, rather than white keys.

With the KeyMusician Keyboard, you set the key-signature, rather than having to learn to play all the key-signatures. This lets you start out learning your favorite piece of music, no matter how many flats or sharps it has. Just set the key-signature to match, using the “Transpose” button.

But this has an unexpected side-effect which may seem surprising to music teachers used to teaching the usual way.

On the KMK, in the key of C, the Q-key is middle-C. When you switch to the key of E, the Q-key could be called “middle-E”. And when you switch to the key of A-Flat, the Q-key is A-flat.

Take a look at this screen-shot of the KMK set to the key of A-Flat, and I’ll explain.

Here, you can see in the “Keyboard Monitor” window, I’m playing the Q-key. The piano keyboard diagram in the music display part of the main window, shows I’m playing a C in the middle of the keyboard (middle C). The right column of note names shows that note is indeed a C.

But the left column of note names, shows the note we’re actually playing, in the specified key signature (having 4 flats), and that note is an A-flat. Where it’s near the middle of the keyboard range, we can call it “middle A-flat”. The “Transpose” button, near the upper right of the main window, says: “-4 = 4-flats”. That’s the key-signature it’s set to.

The lower right button of the “Chord” window’s buttons naming notes, says “Ab”, meaning “A-flat”, which is the major key name. It corresponds to the “1” key of the numeric keypad. The button corresponding to the 6-key of the numeric keypad, shows the name of the relative minor key-signature name, or “Fm”, meaning “F-minor”.

The filled-in blue circle, to the left of the columns of note names, is the note-head of the note played, in the key-signature currently set. You match this to the round parts of the notes in the printed music. That works if you’ve already set the key-signature of the music display (the “Transpose” button) to match the key-signature in the written music.

If that note in the printed music has a flat, sharp, or natural sign in front of it (it could also be a double-flat, or a double-sharp), it’s a rare note not included in the key-signatures’s scale, called an accidental. To play it, you hold the Page-Up or Page-Down key before pressing the note key, to produce the same flat, sharp, or natural sign you see in the printed music.

But if the chord you’re already playing uses that same accidental (flat, sharp, or natural), it will ‘gift’ you that accidental, and you don’t even have to use the Page-Up or Page-Down key. The software tries to make it as easy for you as possible.

If you’re using a MIDI keyboard, it works the same way. The MIDI keyboard key you press, is shown in the piano-keyboard diagram part of the music display. The transposition to the key-signature you’ve set, works the same way. Only with a MIDI keyboard, to play an accidental, you press the black key above, or below the key that puts the round part of the note (the note head) in the proper place.

So forget flash-cards for memorizing which key is which note. Just match the round part of the note in the music-display part of the main window, with the round part of the note(s) in the printed music.

The fingering really is the same, in every key-signature. When you learn a piece in one key-signature, you can play it in any key-signature.

It may also surprise you to find that this applies to the chords too. The fingering is the same in every key-signature. When you change key-signatures, the chords under your numeric keypad fingers, change too.

On the surface, this may at first seem troubling.

Compare the chord windows shown below, for the keys C, and F:

Notice that the chord-name buttons have moved around under your fingers, never-mind that in the left chord-window screen-shot, I’m playing a sharped 1-chord (C-sharp major slash C-sharp, which is a chord not typical of the key of C).

You pick the chord shown in the printed music, from the buttons under your fingers shown in the chord-window. The position of the button for the chord you need, in this key-signature, will be the same as different chord names, in a different key-signature.

Learn a piece in one key-signature, play it in every key-signature. The fingering used, is the same.

But it makes it easier another way.

In the left of these two chord windows, I played a C-sharp major slash C-sharp chord, by holding down the Page-Up key, while I double-tapped the 1-key of the numeric keypad. This made it a C-sharp major chord, rather than just a C-major chord. The 2nd tap gave me the additional slash-chord note, C-sharp, played lower in the bass.

You can play all kinds of chords on the numeric keypad, without changing key-signatures. That picture above-left is an example. But setting the key-signature makes it easier.

Here is the chords window for modal chords, in the key of D-flat major (7 flats):

Notice that the chord names, shown on the buttons, include a flat (lower-case b) as part of the chord name, for every chord except the “Cdim” (C diminished) chord. You don’t have to hold down the Page-Down key to get the flat version of the chord. Just press the numeric keypad key of its button to select it – just as you would do in the key of C.

When you change key-signatures, the chords natural for that key-signature, appear under your keypad fingers, as if by magic. Learn a piece in one key-signature, play it in every key-signature.

Though the names of the chords on the Chord window buttons change, the way you play the chords of the key-signature remains the same. You select chords in a key-signature independent way. And you don’t have to memorize them, because they’re shown in the Chord window.

And though modal chords (best for improvising) are shown here, this same thing applies to standard chords (best for written music).

There is a similar way of designating chords, in music theory. We use Roman numerals to indicate which note of the 7 notes of the diatonic scale, the chord is based-on, called the “root note” of the chord. We also use lower case Roman numerals to indicate minor chords, based on the same note of the diatonic scale.

But why bother with Roman numerals? You have perfectly usable decimal numbers on the numeric keypad:

Numeric Keypad Keys, Surrounded by a Highlight

The numeric keypad keys 1 through 7, specify which note of the current key-signature’s scale, the chord is based on.

So to think of chords in a key-signature independent way, think of them as a 1-chord, a 2-chord, a 3-chord, a 4-chord, a 5-chord, a 6-chord, and a 7-chord. That works in every key-signature.

Instead of naming the chords of the key of C-major, C, D, E, F, G, A, and B, think of them as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

The modal chords of the key of C (and also in every key-signature), are 1, 2-minor, 3-minor, 4, 5, 6-minor, and 7-diminished. A chord number without minor or diminished following it, is assumed to be major.


If you leave the KeyMusician Keyboard set to the key of C, it is the same as other musical instruments. The note keys are always under the same key, and you can use your beloved note flash-cards. But you also have to learn to play all the sharps or flats of every key-signature, by doing all those scale exercises.

Also, the numeric keypad keys used to select each chord stays the same, but you get complicated key-stroke pattern to select the proper flatted or sharped chord, along with any flatted or sharped slash-chord note.

Or, you can set the key-signature(s) to match the music, and when you learn a piece in one key-signature, you can play it in every key-signature. The choice is yours.

I really think setting the key-signature is better, even though it is different from most (if not all) other musical instruments.

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