Alternative keyboard layout


I tried multiple times to learn myself to play the piano. But the layout just doesn’t make sense to me. I am constantly struggling with the scales and chords and it is hard to imagine where they are and why. So I was searching the internet for some alternative options and I found some.

As a first I found Axis 49 by C-Thru Music. I am amazed by the layout and theoretically it looks great. I have feeling that this could be exactly the thing I am looking for. But it was discontinued before couple of years. The only alternative seems to be the Opal which is too expensive for me.

Then I found LinnStrument. Completely different then Axis 49, but still the layout seems to be more understandable for me. It even play well with Analog Four. But it is quite pricey.

As a next there is Dualo Du Touch but it is more standalone insturument than something which can be used to control external synths.

Surprisingly that’s all I was able to found. Everything else seems to be just DIY projects and experiments or prototypes with unclear future. So at the end I am thinking about compromise in form of Novation Launchpad Pro which has midi out and it should be able to use it instead classic midi keyboard. But I am not sure about it because it is designed mainly to be used in conjunction with Ableton Live and I don’t have good feeling about that for my use case.

Do you have any experiences with alternative keyboard layouts? Would you recommend some of them? Are they just “toys” or viable alternative to classic piano keyboard? Or is it just me and classic keyboard is perfectly fine since everyone is using it? :slight_smile:


I have had zero experience with the hexagonal style controllers you link to but I did own a Linnstrument.

Alternative controllers is a growing market I’m really interested in - more so for the benefits of MPE midi (which Linnstrument supports). I’m a keyboardist at heart so am happy enough with basic piano playing (though my theory/knowledge is dreadful!) but I like to have an alternative.

At the moment that alternative is Push 2 which is fantastic for scales/chords and makes a lot of sense to me though you are, obviously, tethered to Ableton which unfortunately remains non MPE compliant without work arounds.

There is a smaller Linnstrument model available now that’s half the length of the original which might be an option. I found it very difficult to learn though I was pretty lazy with it so sold it on. You have to approach it as if it’s a stringed instrument - your “slides” will be horizontal rather than vertical (if that makes sense!).

I don’t think there is one alternative that ticks all the boxes right now though. It will be a bit of trial and error. The Roli Rise, for examples, is a fabulous piece of equipment that offers some wonderful possibilities but it’s in keyboard format and, for an Ableton user, is a pain in the arse!

The Launchpad pro can be used outside of Ableton though I think and will give you scales/chords into a number of midi capable bits of gear. It’s also the cheapest of the pieces you list by a long way!


There have been alternative controllers around since … decades … and from the last centuries. You mentioned some and I think that for some reasons the hexagonal systems are the most promising, but they are known for a long time and produced not often. The market is too small.

IMO most of the alternatives, which I have come across, are not toys. Often the developers have put much brain into it, to improve the learning and playing experience. Sometimes improvements have been achieved partially, but have been limiting in other aspects too. Obviously they did not become mainstream controllers, because keyboard players are quite comfortable with the black and white keys since centuries, and don’t see the necessity to change in masses … which does not mean that alternatives would be bad ideas.

There was never that “quantum leap” like in 1847, when Theobald Böhm presented his flute with his new key-mechanism and layout, which eliminated many hardships of traditional designs and almost all flutists made the change and got the new technology.

Some keyboard players like to experiment with alternative layouts. Some synth instrumentalists seek the multi-dimensional-expression-optimised controller like the Roli products or the Linnstrument etc. But it has been a minority. That’s IMO the reason, why we have a problem to find, check out, or even buy such gear.

TBO … every instrument takes its time to be learned. If you have a problem with black and white keys, you will also have problems with hexagonal systems, or others, which I have seen. The path to master many advanced instruments is stony … at the beginning. Don’t look for a controller, which promises - often wrongly promises - to make your life easier … try to find a good teacher, who might help you to master the first steps until you become fluent enough to continue of your own :wink:

If you are a guitar player, the Linnstrument should be easy for you to use, because AFAIK its layout is resembling string instruments.


SoundRider is right, you have to learn every instrument, even if it has an alternative layout or tuning (I am a guitar player myself, 13 years now).
There really is no layout to make it easy, you have to train the ways of playing and most important: you have to train your ears!


I largely agree but where the argument falls down a little is with something like Push. Push does make life incredibly easy. Arguably too easy! Set up your scale and away you go without hitting a “wrong” note. I believe the Launchpad Pro has similar features.

All these controllers do still need time invested in them though.


IMO Push or MPC-like pad instruments are a great choice, even to play melodies. If a musician learns how to hit his pads at the right time, it’s a great alternative to dropping notes with the mouse on a GUI, or programming a sequencer. But even Push requires to get the right scale and time to master making music.


RE: The AXIS Series keyboards

The AXIS 49 and 64 by C-Thru-Music are no longer in production. But you can sign up for notice when they do produce more. It seems to me if enough were interested they would make a few again.

ADDED: Instead of the AXIS jump down the page to this.


Just for the record if anyone’s still looking the layout is called an isomorphic keyboard


As for wind interfaces:

The Aodyo Sylphyo – Recorder like fingering, no internal sounds, nice packaging and radio midi plus battery operation makes this thing mobile.

The Roland Aerophone AE-10 – The best sax feel in the wind synths short of the Synthophone. It also is configurable to have multiple different fingering options, recorder, trumpet, left hand only, right hand only, and an Electronic Wind Instument mode – that is a mongrel that fingers something like a sax but lets the ‘extra’ keys raise and lower the notes one or two semitones. The sax has built-in sounds using Rolands SUPERNatural sounds (lots of choices that sounds good imo) and a USB midi out port. (Added: It’s two way – you can play the synth via external midi, but no local-off!) There is also a mini-joystick control under your right thumb, that you can configure in a variety of ways. You can get it in gray, or pearl. They also have a cheaper stripped down version, the GO.

The AKAI EWI Series – These have been around for a while and hence is a standard for many pro-players. Quite a range of choice between models. AKAI seems determined to support this line.

The eCorder from Cantux Research – New startup that makes an instrument specifically to provide a midi recorder, in both feel and sound. Kind of a niche thing, but all the power to 'em, for pursuing something so devotedly.

The Yamaha WX5 – discontinued. You can still buy them used though, quite a few were made.


Playable surfaces:


Haken Continuum series of keyboards. Very nice but expensive.
Full size: $5290; Half size: $3390
There is also the new ContiuuMini currently priced at $550.


The Dodeka Keyboard

I had forgotten about this one.

Unfortunately it got cancelled from kickstarter. Such a promising start but perhaps too radically good, with the new simplified notation system, and key layout.


The Lippens Keyboard

This is on an actual piano. I don’t think you can get these.

ADDED: This is a variation on the Jankó layout, see that below.


the best non-piano layout, IMO.
using it myself with Launchpad Pro. (for DAWless kind of rig, Axoloti patching involved, since LP Pro can’t do this layout itself)


Starr Labs Hex Keyboard

These can also be done with microtuning.

They make all sorts of variations.

I think these are available (not positive) – i think they make them per order one at a time.


Anyone mentioned the Deluge?


Forgot the link…


Remembering that these sort of multitouch things are possible made it really easy to return the Roli Lightpad Block M.


I think it had some crucial drawbacks. There was a kind of music notation theory to this keyboard too and my impression was that the developer tried to make things more easy but made it harder than the standard notation/keyboard requires. It was a good intention, but not convincing solution.

On the other side the Axis keyboard concept is very good and overcomes the problem of the typical black/white standard keyboard to have for each key a different fingering. Additionally there are tone intervalls possible with one hand, which are impossible with the standard keyboard (eg. more than one octave).

There might be a reason, why Jordan Rudess is using it …



Here’s a guy that has made a 3-D printed model for (a version of an) isomorphic keyboard, that sits over top of a standard sized keyboard.

A little clunky, but could be tuned up and would probably work really nicely.