The Trichord

(patent pending)

A new instrument for teaching, learning and playing music



The Trichord is a musical instrument that consists of a 12 buttons which are arranged on a surface in a geometric form which reflects the fundamental harmonic relationships between the 12 tones of the chromatic scale. The form is based upon a solid theoretical model that has the potential to greatly impact the way music is taught. The 4 basic triad types are each represent by simple shapes which can be learned by anyone in only a few minutes. Once these basic shapes are learned chords may be played in any key by spatial transposition. The correspondence between the aural and visual reinforces the harmonic/geometric relationships in a fundamentally intuitive way.

The charts below show how each of the basic chord types is represented on the Trichord. Major triads, minor triads, augmented triads and diminished triads are all represented by a simple shape. The major triad is a triangle pointing upwards. The minor triad is triangle pointing downwards. The augmented triad is a straight line pointing upwards to the right and the diminished triad is a straight line pointing down and to the right.

The space between the buttons is ergonomically designed so that triads can be easily played with one hand.

The Trichord may also be used as a display device. By connecting any MIDI input stream to the Trichord all of the notes that are being played on another MIDI musical instrument can be displayed in real time on a Trichord display. The Trichord display has the unique feature of being able to visually represent the harmonic structure of the music being played in an intuitive and immediately appreciable way. The display consists of the same pattern of pitches as the instrument. As each note is played the corresponding light on the display lights as well. This creates a direct visual feedback component which is unheard of in the history of music. There are many subtleties, nuances and variations in the way notes are displayed. One of the more interesting features controls the color or brightness of a pitch based upon the frequency and/or duration of the pitch’s occurrence in the music. This will clearly identify tonal centers as the music is being played.


Current Implementation

            The Trichord prototype consists of 12 lighted buttons mounted in a wooden frame. The buttons are connected to a micro-controller board which scans the switches, detects when they are pressed and sends an appropriate message out of a serial port to an external sound generating device. The MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) standard protocol is used for this purpose.

When a button is pressed, the micro-controller sends a MIDI Note On command through it’s MIDI Out port. The sound that is played is determined by the MIDI instrument that the Trichord is plugged into. When the button is released a MIDI Note Off command is transmitted.

The Trichord display prototype consists of 12 LEDs (Light-Emitting Diodes) encased in translucent plastic spheres These LEDs are connected to the MIDI network. MIDI data is received at the display’s MIDI In port. When a MIDI Note On command is received by the display module the LED that corresponds to the note being played lights up.