Skip to content

Scales on the Eigenharp, advantages and the future

If you’ve seen my “Learning scales” video, you know that through the scales selection mode it’s possible to set up any scale you like and to switch to it while playing. This mode allows you to browse for eight different scales using the row of orange keys and at any later moment use the row of adjacent red keys to select which scale you want to activate. The currently active scale is indicated by one of the red keys being lit green. You can similarly select the starting note of the scale (the tonic) through another mode. This is then all later saved together with your user setup.

The factory setup uses the following scales:

  1. natural major
  2. harmonic minor
  3. melodic minor
  4. chromatic
  5. blues
  6. pentatonic major
  7. diminished
  8. whole tone

The advantage of working with dynamically switched scales is that you always use the same fingering, meaning that a finger always plays the same key and doesn’t have to move around.

On a piano for instance, you have to know when to play the white or the blacks keys and since there is no black key between the E-F and B-C white keys, the patterns that you play are drastically different when the tonic (first note of the scale) or the scale changes. This makes learning scales a huge effort that can take many years to master. Additionally, it’s not possible to play microtonal tunings or scales on a piano since it’s fixed to our standard western octaves with twelve notes.

Another way of looking at the Eigenharp approach is that the notes aren’t physically bound to the keys, but that you learn how to express yourself with your fingers and then have full control over the sounds and notes that are being played. Some might think that this is confusing, but in reality it’s liberating. To me it feels like open tunings on a guitar, where you change the standard tuning of the six strings to bring out new ideas, possibilities and sounds. Any of the scales and chords that you spent years to learn on the standard tuning have no use in an open tuning. Instead of being limited by theory and established habits, you have to trust your ears again and start finding interesting new ideas. Just like with the Eigenharp, this doesn’t prevent you from playing in a standard setup (chromatic scale), it just opens up this wonderful intuitive world for those that are allured by it.

One limitation of selecting a particular scale is that there is currently no way to play notes that are not part of the active scale. There’s thus currently no way of manually flattening or sharpening notes. However, this has been brought up on the Eigenharp users forums and Eigenlabs is actively working on a solution.

The current plan is to add the concept of scale modifiers. This is a much more general solution than just allowing for semi tones up and down as it will allow scales to tie arbitrary up and down offsets to its intervals. Given the endless variety of scales that are possible on the Eigenharp, it’s encouraging that Eigenlabs goes further than a quick fix based on semi-tones but is developing a general purpose solution that will make sense in even the weirdest of scales. Once these modifiers are defined, it will be possible to assign keys on the Eigenharp to trigger those offsets during playing, similar to how a concert harp allows players to use a foot pedal to shift its diatonic scale a semi-tone up and down.

Another feature that is being developed is the possibility to create scales that require several simultaneous key presses for a single note, which is similar to how wind instruments work. This will allow the range of the Pico to be dramatically increased, at the downside of not being able to play chords . It will however also allow you to set up key combinations for out-of-scale notes.

Posted in Configuration, Controllers, Software.

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , .

4 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. Tenebrous says

    I love the idea of supporting simultaneous key presses to adjust the notes.

    As an aside, it’s a shame non-owners can’t access the forums. It’d be a great marketing tool to see some of the new ideas people are coming up with 😀

    • Geert says

      Indeed, I don’t now why the forums aren’t public. A little voice inside me think this is since the Eigenharps are still very early in their lifecycle and they don’t want the initial growing pains bugs to negatively affect people’s impression of them. Eigenlabs is very quickly fixing the software bugs and without closely following the forums, one might get a bad impression at times.

      Another reason might be that they have implemented they own forum web application and it might just not be optimized well enough to be able to sustain a large amount of public page hits. I already suggested them to move to a stable and well maintained open source solution.

  2. Mike says

    Geert…thanks a lot for setting up this site. It’s hard to believe how closed the Eigenlabs site is; I would think that given how radical their instrument is, and how expensive it is (due to the initial engineering cost I would imagine), that they would open up and really publicize all the details of their revolutionary device.

    So, that said, could you answer some questions about the tuning/keymaps? What I don’t understand is how all the keymaps work. I’ve read about being able to set different scales, and saw the input format for the scale map files, but I’m still confused. For instance (based on what I saw of your pico scale example):

    Why does the major scale cover 4 keys on column one, and then 4 keys on column two? And then jump back to column one but key 5, and repeat? This seems to be a weird “block” pattern. How is this specified? Is it hard coded?

    What happens when the scale isn’t comprised of 7 tones? Like, for the chromatic scale, you’ve got 12. Does it still “travel” in these blocks of 4 keys by 2 columns? If not, who/how/what determines where the tones in the scale go?

    And finally, how does this all apply to the alpha/tau layout? Are they organized into these blocks too? If so, I’m assuming that the alpha at least wouldn’t be in blocks of 2 columns wide, seeing as how it has 5 columns of keys.

    I guess I was hoping that eigenD would allow you to assign any note frequency to any key…i.e. the entire board was yours to customize in terms of layout of the notes. This would make the most sense, but I’m not sure yet that everything they do makes the most sense (take their release of manuals, restriction on forum, etc.).

    Thanks so much in advance for any info…
    Mike (who’s not even going to think about saving for one until I know exactly how the machine can be bent to my will!)

    • Geert says

      In short, the entire board is yours indeed … however the current software doesn’t allow you to customize everything to the finest detail though they’re working on a new version that will come out shortly that allows for deeper fine-grained access. On the Pico you can pretty much define the note that each individual key plays through the scales text file system atm. On the Alpha/Tau it’s not that easy since they are devided in courses. However, once the Workbench gets release you’ll not have to got the the scales for that, but you’ll be able to directly indicate the role of each individual key.

      Take care,


Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.