Playing the Terpstra

Garnet Willis playing the Terpstra

The following is an extract from a conversation between the Second Generation Terpstra Keyboard Prototype funders and Garnet Willis, owner of one of the two original Terpstras. Garnet owned, programmed and played the keyboard for seven years, and now is sharing his experience with everyone else in our Forum.

Working with the prototype (now with hindsight and many mappings) has shown me that the increased real estate provided by the Terpstra layout INVITES one to create increasingly complex mappings – some that fit well, and some that are an awkward fit to the keyboard. Some mappings require that they have important notes dropped in their geometric continuity so they can fit well under the fingers. Other mappings that look great on paper and fit beautifully onto the keyboard (in a theoretical/mathematical sense) often prove ….Well…near impossible to play…..

My point here is to extol the virtues of generalised layouts (in general) and Siem Terpstra’s layout in particular as (for me) it forms a kind of common denominator that “siems” to work more often than it does not. One can always drop a note off the bottom end of the keyboard and/or leave some of the top rows and bottom rows of notes blank or as software switches etc, or have them repeat notes (I call them erratics) that would otherwise be hard to reach kinaesthetically in a performance. It is amazing how the mind gets around to repositioning mappings rotating them and transposing them for the best fit and then assessing the advantages in both harmonic elucidation of a system and playability, and for me playability is the major part (believe me you can’t wait to try these after the work of setting them up.)

For me, the best part occurs when it all comes together and you jump whooping out of your chair with the understanding of how THIS mapping and layout most likely improves upon all previous attempts to explore a particular idea at the triple confluence of tuning theory and performability …..EVER.

The Terpstra is like catnip and you feel like an explorer…. in the end the real problem becomes how much time you can spend at it because the possibilities are so endless, encouraging and playable