Sonic Palette

sound at your fingertips

Christensen Controllers
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How it is played:

The Sonic Palette was designed to be held, as opposed to being placed on a table or stand.  However, it can be used laying on its back on a table. Sonic Palette standing 1

Basically, the Sonic Palette is held like a guitar; either in the players lap when sitting, or slung over his/her left shoulder with a guitar strap.  (Right shoulder works too, although very differently, and not covered here.)

Hand position is one place where the Sonic Palette diverges with a guitar.  Instead of the left hand passing behind and under the instrument, like is done with a guitar's neck, the left hand goes over the top, so that both hands' thumbs are facing on the note surface. 

Sonic Palette standing2

The instrument is shaped to provide an area for the right arm around the elbow to rest, pushing the instrument against the player's body, steading it.  This pressure counterbalances pressure put on the instrument by the players left hand, by using the players body as a fulcrum.

When using the strap, adjust it so that the your left elbow is just above the power switch.

The note surface provides both tactile and visual references.

finger position

A small bump on each sensor helps center your fingers on the key and lets you find notes without looking.  A dot on the "C"s,  along with the black and white pattern help to orient visually.

Pressure, both initial and during held notes can affect volume and tone.


Key Layout

Pitches go chromatic left to right, and in perfect Fifths/Fourths up and down.

white notesWhite areas contain natural notes, black ares contain the sharps and flats.Black notes

Remembering the order of key signatures or circle of fifths, can make finding notes easier.

A video covering the basics:

Intervals are the building blocks of harmony and tonality, and it’s this concept that was the inspiration for the design of the note surface.  An interval is the distance between two pitches, and so we felt a symmetrical grid would make it easy to conceptualize and remember these distances or relationships.

The note surface is a chromatic line of pitches that wraps around to the next line up. This “wrap around” makes the surface compact and thus allows one hand to reach great pitch distances. However, its downside is that the wrap interferes with keeping the “shape” of intervals and chords always the same. “Shape” is the exact position of the fingers in relation to each other. (Clever systems do exist without this issue, but they have the issue of interval distances not being represented by physical distances, making them difficult to play.)  For any interval except the perfect fifth up (one shape), there are two shapes. (This is better than the piano, which has four shapes for most intervals: white-white, white-black, black-white, and black-black).

Let’s take a look at intervals using only the middle section above middle “C” of the surface:

Here are the two shapes for Octaves:
Like I said before there is only one shape for the Perfect Fifth:
These are the two shapes for the Perfect Fourth:
The two shapes for the Major Third:
And for the Minor Third:
If you should want a Tritone, here they are:
Hopefully you get the idea from these common intervals, and can figure out the rest.

Now, let's take a look at some Major Triads. Because the Perfect Fifth is in every Major and Minor Triad, there are only two possible shapes for any Major and two for the Minor Triad.
The same chord may have a different shape depending on what octave it's in.
C Major

C Major
However, different triads of the same quality have a 50/50 chance of having the same shape.
G Major
A Major
If you know your harmony, you know that a Minor Triad is the same as the Major except that the middle note is a half step lower.
So again only two shapes apply:
Now let's look at the patterns for one octave of a Major Scale. With this scale you can easily see the advantage of the seven note wide row. Again we will only use a section of the board, and this time we will remove black note graphics so that the scale's pattern is more easily seen. There are three more patterns, can you figure out what they look like?

News in blog form

What the Sonic Palette is

Why it was created

- How is it played

How to get one

Links to friends

Technical stuff

What is a MIDI controller?

Music Examples

Control this

About us

Questions or comments?


Christensen Controllers' musical instruments are made in the U.S.A.
Patent #7273979
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