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The Sohler Keyboard System

Article from Polyphony, November/December 1978

Let me introduce and explain a new and simplified musical keyboard called "The Sohler Keyboard". Its design offers the musician a logical and practical means of playing a keyboard instrument and has many advantages over the conventional AGO keyboard. See Figure 1.

Figure 1

The Sohler Keyboard is a rearrangement of all the keys into a symmetrical order and where each octave contains four groups of three keys. Each three-key group consists of two flat keys (similar to conventional white keys), and one raised key situated between the two flat keys. Since the entire keyboard is composed of continuous three-key groups the flat key note "C" in each octave is colored or marked for reference. The basic design of the Sohler Keyboard is shown in Figure 2. The design of Figure 1 however, improves the playing convenience by having the addition of a second auxiliary set of raised keys located adjacent to the backboard and coupled to the primary front set of raised keys. The length of the octave span is essentially the same as the conventional keyboard (approx. 6-1/2 inches), as well as the front to back dimension (about 5-1/2 inches), thus it is easily adaptable to existing keyboard instruments, fitting exactly into the keyboard space area formerly occupied by the conventional keyboard.

Figure 1

Figure 3

The symmetry of the Sohler Keyboard lends itself to "repeating patterns" which is one of its main features. This allows for easy interchangability of chord patterns and scales thus enabling the musician to easily "get around" the keys (transposing, modulating, improvising). For example, all twelve major scales can be played with only three memorized patterns. Likewise, three patterns will get you all twelve major triads. Figure 3 shows this repeating effect for one of the major triad patterns. This same principle applies to any scale or chord. This concept, which might be dubbed "pattern thinking" is emphasized by the Sohler Keyboard.

Another feature is that the full width of each flat (white) key is available in front of, and directly behind the main row of raised keys. This availability of flat key surface area optimizes the playability, while utilizing the keyboard area to its maximum potential.

Figure 2

Music in the Western part of the world divides the musical octave into twelve different notes, known as the well tempered, or chromatic scale. The conventional keyboard does not have these twelve notes within an octave arranged into a symmetrical form. Instead it uses seven of the twelve notes (derived by the formula for a major scale), and lays them out in successive octaves, which forms and comprises the white keys of the keyboard, and are known as the diatonic or C major scale. The five remaining notes left in the chromatic scale are the black keys and are known as the sharps and flats to the basic diatonic scale, and forms the pentatonic scale. A chord or scale may be built on each of these twelve notes, but because of the keyboard's irregular arrangement it is necessary to learn a different chord hand shape and scale fingering pattern for each key.

Figure 4

Figure 4 shows how the Sohler Keyboard and the conventional keyboard compare. Looking at the Sohler Keyboard, notice that within an octave between two C's will be found four raised keys (instead of five), which forms the diminished chord. In a sense the space of one black key was moved into the white key section which causes the width of the flat keys to be slightly narrower, but still within normal finger capability. In addition, the rearrangement necessitated the change of some former black keys into white key notes, and some white keys into up-raised keys. Thus E and G are now raised keys, while D#, F#, and G# have become flat (white) keys. As mentioned earlier, each raised key note has two sections with which to depress the lever action to sound the tone; the main front row and the shortened auxiliary rear row. Having the double row of raised keys permits a more natural hand shape to be assumed in the playing of any chord or passage. This makes it unnecessary to double the fingers under to play the main row of raised key in some chord or melodic run configurations.

The way in which the symmetry is manifested in the Sohler Keyboard is significant. Its design is based around the diminished 7th chord, and the diminished scale. The raised keys alone (a continuum of minor thirds), produce the diminished 7th chord, which for purposes of modulation, is unmatched by any other chord for versatility. In Jazz and Rock the diminished 7th chord is very often manifested in the Dominant 7th chord. They're the same except that in the Dominant 7th the root of the chord is lowered a half step. As an illustration of this principle — depress and sound the four raised keys beginning with C#, then lower the C# one half step to C. A C7th chord is thus easily produced. In classical music the diminished 7th is seen not only as an extension of the Dominant 7th, but also as a very flexible modulating chord. The lower white key section, which alternates between whole and half steps, forms the diminished scale which is also extensively used in classical music and jazz improvisation. (See Tom Coster's Rock Techniques column in the 1978 Sept. and Oct. issues of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine for some very comprehensive information on the use of diminished scales in jazz-rock). The keys, being arranged and accessable in this manner, might be looked at and thought of as a different type of tuning, similar to the way a guitarist tunes his guitar to an open chord. This design permits the opportunity for the keyboardist to use a very logical and harmonically based alternate grouping of keys and fingering patterns. As an alternate controller for electronic music systems it is ideal.

The Sohler Keyboard, not being based on the C major scale, uses another method of notation which simplifies sight reading and the identification of notes. It eliminates the need for sharp and flat symbols since there is a designated place on the staff for every note. Also, there is a distinct visual and physical relationship between this system of notation and the keyboard itself.

Figure 5

The Sohler System of Notation uses a basic four line staff on which a complete chromatic scale is represented. An exaggerated diagram of this is shown in Figure 5. The four lines represent directly, the four raised keys located within an octave between two Cs. A note on a line always designates a raised key, thus a note on the first line represents the first raised key; a note on the second line represents the second raised key, and so on. The flat key notes between the raised keys are notated in the spaces between lines on the staff. The lines are spaced substantially further apart than the height of a note symbol, so that the note can be placed against the upper, or lower line of a pair, with a clear separation from the other line. A note against the underside of a line designates the flat key immediately below (in scale), the raised key which is identified by that line. Similarly, a note resting on top of a line designates the flat key immediately above the raised key identified by that line. For convenience the actual music is written on a double four-line staff in each clef to encompass two octaves and avoid an excess of separate notes and lines (ledger lines), outside the basic staff. In the double staff, the first and fifth lines from the bottom are made heavier for visual reference, or a color line may be added on or below these lines for visibility. The bass clef is identical to the treble clef, thus no rememorization of space and line notes is necessary. Figure 6 shows the complete staff and its relation to the keyboard. It can be seen that every note on a line of the staff represents a raised key and that there are two notes between each pair of lines to designate the flat keys. This notation is consistent throughout the keyboard and the written music so there can be no confusion as to the identity of notes. It is not necessary to know the name of the note in order to know where it is on the keyboard. In sight reading a piece of music, particularly by an inexperienced player, this has been found to be very helpful in clarifying note identification.

Figure 6

The creative and innovative musician will find the Sohler Keyboard is just the tool he has been looking, and waiting for. It offers the aspiring musician a quicker and easier route to mastering the keyboard, and it provides the accomplished musician with a means for fully exercising the manual dexterity needed for the rendition of the most complex musical compositions. It is a superior design employing all the good features the conventional keyboard has to offer, plus the aforementioned advantages. Where before, only the most accomplished keyboardist could keep up with the chord changes and transposition of difficult melodies, as in a rock group or band, now it will be the guitarists and other instrumentalists who will lag behind the keyboardist in his ability to change key signatures easily and at will.

Those who are willing to experiment, change, and take a chance with new innovations and ideas such as this one will be among the first to benefit by them. To be sure, the Sohler Keyboard is a revolutionary idea, bucking against an established keyboard and notation system that has been around for several hundred years. I am convinced however that many people will see the merits and benefits of my keyboard, and will use it. Those are the ones who I'm trying to reach.

I should mention that I have obtained a U. S. Patent and a British Patent on the Sohler Keyboard and Notation System — #4,054,079. Also, I have built four working models of it, three on upright pianos, and the fourth on a portable electric piano. The models required only that the keyboard section alone be changed, leaving the linkage, strings, hammers, etc., or the electronic guts, unchanged.

Besides myself, two of my friends who each have one of the models, have told me how easy it has been for them to learn and play it, and that not only has their understanding and grasp of music theory been accelerated, but also their understanding and grasp of the conventional keyboard as well! In addition, other musicians I've showed it to have expressed their keen desire to obtain a model of it.

I am searching for a manufacturer who would like to market the Sohler Keyboard, however, I will make it available myself if necessary.

I welcome all letters and correspondence from manufacturers and individuals who are interested in it, and I especially welcome inquiries from individuals wishing to experiment with, or obtain the Sohler Keyboard, as the more inquiries I receive, the sooner it will be possible for it to become available. Please write to: Mel Sohler, (Contact Details).

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Publisher: Polyphony - Polyphony Publishing Company

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Polyphony - Nov/Dec 1978

Donated & scanned by: Vesa Lahteenmaki



Feature by Mel Sohler

Previous article in this issue:

> Experimenters Circuits

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