TouchKeys is a new musical instrument transforming the piano-style keyboard into an expressive multi-touch control surface.
The TouchKeys are touch sensors that can be added to the surface of any keyboard, measuring the location of the fingers while retaining the familiar keyboard action.
TouchKeys lets you add vibrato, pitch bends, timbre changes and other expressive effects to your playing, just by moving the fingers on the key surfaces.
The TouchKeys are thin sensor overlays that attach to any standard-sized keyboard. Each key uses capacitive touch sensing — the same technology used in smartphones and trackpads — to precisely measure the location of each finger touching the keyboard. Because the TouchKeys attach to an existing keyboard, they retain the familiar keyboard shape and action while enabling new expressive playing techniques.
Here are a few of the main features:
The sensors measure over 1500 points of resolution on the long axis of each key and 256 points on the narrow axis. That’s sub-millimetre accuracy!
The sensors are measured every 5 milliseconds for a natural, low-latency interaction.
Mappings between touch and sound are designed to be there when you need them and stay out of your way when you don’t. Mappings are fully customisable.
Your Keyboard, Your Size
The sensors fit any keyboard with full-sized keys, from a 2-octave portable keyboard to a 97-key Boesendorfer Imperial Grand piano. Choose from Classic or Inverted colouring.
Every key, white or black, senses the horizontal and vertical position of the finger. (The narrow part of the white keys senses on the long axis only.).
Each key measures up to 3 touches, enabling new multi-finger techniques on the keyboard.
Contact area measurement distinguishes between the tip and the pad of the finger, which can be used as an additional control dimension.
Connected and Compatible
TouchKeys works with any MIDI synth or instrument, software or hardware. Connect TouchKeys to your computer (Mac, Windows, Linux) or choose the optional standalone hardware kit.
TouchKeys connects to your computer by USB. The included software transforms the data from the touch sensors and your keyboard into control messages for any synth. The mappings are fully customisable, and can be different for different parts of the keyboard. Here are some of the things you can do with TouchKeys:
Rock the finger back and forth on the key to add a vibrato. The speed and width of the vibrato follows the motion of your finger, just like it would on a violin. But unlike a violin, the pitch always stays centred around the note you’re playing, so it never goes out of tune. You can adjust the sensitivity of the mapping, to make it engage on the slightest motion or to require a bigger movement before the vibrato begins.
Slide the finger up and down a key to bend the pitch. The amount of pitch bend is adjustable, and no matter where you strike the key, the note begins at its normal pitch, so it’s there when you want it and stays out of the way the rest of the time. With a compatible synth setup, every note can have its own pitch bend, letting you retune melody and harmonies on the fly.
Filter / Timbre Effects
In addition to pitch bend, sliding the finger up and down the key can control any MIDI parameter on your synth. For example, it could be used to control a filter cutoff, where sliding the finger upwards makes the note get brighter. The mappings are completely flexible: use horizontal or vertical position, absolute location or relative motion, or finger-key contact area, all with adjustable ranges.
Add or remove a second finger from a single key to retrigger the note. Normally on the keyboard, striking the same key repeatedly is hard to do quickly, but this way you can rapidly retrigger notes. You can use it for tremolo effects like on a violin, or you can also use it to trigger custom key switches for your synth.
Special Instrumental Effects
Many software instruments have key switches that create special effects. For example, on a software emulation of a brass instrument, you might add falls or buzzes to the end of a note. With TouchKeys, you can intuitively trigger these effects by pulling the finger along the key just as you release the note.
Divide the key into 2 or 3 sections with a different tuning on each section. By pressing the key in different places, it is like having 24 or 36 keys in every octave! The tunings are adjustable, and you can combine it with vibrato and pitch bend mappings to further adjust the pitch after the note begins.
TouchKeys is available as a self-install kit for your own keyboard, so you can choose the keyboard size, action and features you want. Installing the sensor kit takes an evening and requires opening your keyboard, but otherwise no special tools are required. The sensors attach securely to the surface of each key with a removable adhesive. A flexible cable from the back of each sensor attaches to a controller board inside the keyboard. The controller attaches to your computer by USB, or using the optional standalone hardware kit, connects directly to a synth by MIDI.
Written and video instructions are provided for installing the kit. However, if you prefer not to install it yourself, you can buy one of our prebuilt instruments where we install the TouchKeys for you on a new keyboard.
TouchKeys is available as a self-install kit for your own keyboard, or as a pre-built instrument with the sensors installed on keyboards from Novation and Doepfer. Choose any size kit from 13 to 88 keys, and choose from Classic or Inverted colours.