Custom Xenharmonic Keyboards
Vertical Keyboards
  • © 2021 Elaine Walker 0

Vertical Keyboards

About the Vertical Keyboard

The idea of the Vertical Keyboard came about in 2010 when I was rearranging the keys on a Roland keyboard I had, for a very special macrotuning called the Bohlen-Pierce Scale. There was an upcoming music conference in Boston dedicated entirely to the Bohlen-Pierce Scale, and I wanted to have a proper keyboard to perform on.

Once I had rearranged the keys, I thought it would be great if everyone in the audience could actually see it while I performed. Most keyboard performers place their keyboard on a stand and it's hard to see their fingers. It wasn't the first Bohlen-Pierce keyboard ever made, but it was probably the second, and the first one was in Germany. So I thought it would be really important for people to see that the keyboard was specially made for this tuning. So I threw away the original case and built a new backing and a handle for it, and attached a guitar strap.

With the Vertical Keyboard, the audience can see the performer's hands playing, and the keyboard can be grand piano length (88 keys) if need be. My favorite Vertical Keyboard length is around 74 keys, and I've also made them 61 keys long. The image of a 1980's keytar may have entered your mind by now, but keytars are much shorter – usually around 37 keys, and mostly just played with the right hand.

The Vertical Keyboard can be played in many ways, and is the most versatile keyboard I know of with piano-style keys. It can be played as a normal keyboard on a stand, or horizontally in front of the body with a guitar strap. The recommended way for performing on a Vertical Keyboard is to hold it in a nearly vertical position with a guitar strap hidden behind the player's back. The left hand wraps around backwards so that both thumbs face the low notes and pinkies face the high notes. This is a novel way to perform on a keyboard, and is actually easy to teach to beginners since both hands use exactly the same fingerings.

The Vertical Keyboard can also be held like a sitar, sitting on the floor, or like a cello, sitting on a chair (there is a cello stick option). It's actually very satisfying to play Bach piano music in a cello position, with the hands playing from both sides. Classical musicians generally find it easy to play with the left hand backwards with very little re-training needed. Jazz musicians tend to rely more on muscle memory and seem to prefer playing with the hands in a normal position.

I personally love the feeling of playing with my left hand backwards, whether in cello position or standing up with a guitar strap. It's almost like hugging the instrument. The joy of playing this way really took me by surprise the day I first performed on a Vertical Keyboard at the Bohlen-Pierce Scale conference in 2010. I had built it so fast–just in time for the conference with so little time to rehearse–so I was as surprised as everyone else at the performance. The feeling of playing my first Vertical Keyboard was so intense I thought, "Everyone is going to want one of these." So I made more!

I think of the time spent making these designs as the design phase. I sold a few, and lent a few out in order to get feedback. I also designed a new set of white keys that can be rearranged for any microtuning (the microtonal "xenharmonic" community will appreciate this!) and am working with an engineering form on a "rearrangeable keyboard" using these novel white keys. The next engineering phase after that will be to manufacture these special Vertical Keyboard handles as custom options.

Money I raise on Patreon goes toward my keyboard designs, and I will have an Indigogo fundraising site soon too. Engineering and manufacturing is very expensive so I appreciate all of your contributions very, very much.