Should The LinnStrument Double As A Computer Keyboard?

In this video, programmer and MPE guru Geert Bevin demonstrates a new mode that he’s developed for the Roger Linn LinnStrument that lets it double as a typing keyboard. 

He developed the new mode to meet his personal needs – wanting to eliminate the process of switching from computer keyboard to musical instrument and back. But he’s sharing this demo to see if there’s interest in developing this as an official option for LinnStrument users.

What do you think? Is this a feature you’d like to see added to the LinnStrument – or other music controllers?

43 thoughts on “Should The LinnStrument Double As A Computer Keyboard?

  1. If the LinnStrument actually hid the typing keyboard letters and displayed them in a legible form at the press of a single button, that’d be another reason to buy a LinnStrument. Alternative controllers are expensive and there are a growing number of options. When my band hits our big record contract I’ll buy them all, but for us a mortals we need solutions which are affordable and work with our lives.

    So yes, this is worth investigating.

    1. Thanks for your input! The LEDs of the LinnStrument are RGB leds, not screens with pixels, so there’s no way to actually change the shape that is lit dynamically. We can’t really change that since one of the reasons the LinnStrument is so nice to play, is the silicon overlay that took Roger a long time to fine-tune in terms of feel and resistance. Otherwise, it would indeed be awesome to be able to display the actual letters on the keys.

      1. Couldn’t the overlay just have a mask for the letter printed on/embedded in it? I mean essentially block the light. Sure they would be there in “music mode” too, but that wouldn’t be too much of a problem would it?

      2. You could find a non-intrusive colored font that would show up well when the buttons were of a certain color but which would not be as prominent when it was other colors. I have blue Arabic characters on my keyboard, and my Saitek Cyborg keyboard can change colors. I notice that when it’s on certain colors I can barely see the letters.

        Incidentally I notice that in “typing” mode there are many unused keys. These could become function keys. Just leave space around the typing keyboard to make it less confusing. Again, the Saitek Cyborg allows you to easily change the color of certain sets of keys, like those used in games, for quicker visual navigation of the keyboard.

    1. It could, it’s an interesting idea. I’ll have to prototype it to see if it works nicely 🙂
      One downside, I can see though is that will introduce a delay for letters to appear, so I suspect it will not feel that nice in practice.

    2. Very good idea actually!
      You could of course take it even further; press once for just a regular character, press the button twice fast for a single big letter, press and hold for caps lock and press and hold long for bold text. And so on. I would guess Geert could do it in a few hours.

      And regarding the letter typing on the keys:
      the fastest writers use a keybord without letters anyway, like this one:

      You’ll get used to it!

        1. I do like the overall idea and I think it more than deserves being explored in detail.

          Yet I find that memory muscle is strong for both types of keyboard when working with a DAW, as I am personally aiming for as much per knob function as I can yet. I’ve often have moved qwerty and music keys around, and I find myself reaching for the wrong thing at the wrong time, or thin air – I’d like to know if this system would help, or hinder the process.

          It may be over simplifying this solution but have you thought about a keyboard slider draw under the table?

        2. The big difference here for the type of person that can get down with the Das is the layout of the keys: the Das uses a standard QWERTY layout. The Linnstrument would turn it into a fixed grid where Y, H and B are right on top of each other—Das users would flail (if not self implode).

      1. Ugh, no. If I type L followed quickly by another L, like in the word followed, I want it to spit out LL. Otherwise typing means hit L…wait… hit L. I’d never use it twice.

        Long press is a possible extension point though. iOS and Android use it to good effect.

        And of course, L+up stroke could be neat for caps. Shift works pretty well though.

    1. That would be ideal but probably quite expensive to make and sell. I’ve tried using permanent markers on the current LinnStrument sheet and nothing seems to stick. It would probably require some special process.

  2. I think this is very useful. Too often the computer keyboard just takes up space where you could have your controller right in front of you. A lot of time I wish my MIDI controller had a QWERTY keyboard. Its funny how something so simple makes me wan to buy a LinnStrument right away. Got to get a few more hardware synth them I will save and buy one for sure. 🙂

    1. Thanks! I was very excited also when I came up with the idea, way more than I should really, given how commonplace a keyboard is. However finding a solution for an itch that’s scratching so often, is really exciting 🙂

  3. I would love that!

    Is it possible to segment the surface of the Linnstrument? So that you could have the keyboard aligned close to the left or right, and use the leftover space on whichever side as a trackpad-like area?

    1. Thanks for your input! I’ve experimented with mouse/trackpad control and it doesn’t work very well since the LinnStrument hardware was not designed to slide across the rows vertically, only across the columns horizontally. So there are gaps between the rows that make the vertical tracking quite jumpy. If I make this into a product, you’ll be able to completely lay out the keyboard the way you see fit with an GUI editor and key/macro configuration.

  4. Great idea- Looks great, but the linstrument is still too expensive, and I think its future may be limited a wave of 3D (pressure sensitive touch screens) that will soon be upon us (staring with the iPhone 6s now) which will have the advantage of being bale to show the keyboard on the screen (+ any other hot keys or layouts you want). I am pretty sure that this (with capacitive force feedback which is also nearly with us so it ‘feels ‘ like a button or knob) will dominate soon…..

    Until then, I would buy a ‘linnstrument’ type controller (I already have a push) for about £300 quid, and would certainly be more interested if it could double as a computer keyboard!

    1. You know, I think I may have realized in a moment of clarity here thinking of all my projects and gears and rugs and wants and bands etc, I bet I am well enough for all of them with my current gear, and I should really just save for one of these new super controllers, the Linn or Roli or one of those xy-per-key sensor kits to find a new music mode entirely instead of trying to piece and patch together pieces of existing sounds and ideas, like the modern and vintage bread and butter sounds. It may just make life more worth it to at least be on the cutting edge trying it all. In 20 years are we gonna look back and admire what we played that was traditional mastery, or are we going to remember our couple real moments and times of ingenuity, when we felt something new mysterious exciting places never explored yet? You know, how many chill wave or funk it thrash or rock masterpieces or whatever can you hear before you’re not satisfied with just that any more?

    2. We’re still very far away from that, force touch can only sense three independent touches and it’s missing from the iPad Pro. Also, you really need a bigger surface to play comfortably with two hands. Glass is also really not very nice to play on since you miss any kind of resistance or feel that reinforces your expression. Finally, you also need very fast touch detection and even the iPad’s touch latency is still too slow to really feel expressive with. All that considered, LinnStrument is a really great deal for the price.

  5. Cool hack!

    For the sort of ‘short text string’ use cases presented in the video like naming stuff and URLs: awesomeness. For longer typing sessions, particularly for those who touch type where relative position really matters, it would be hard to adapt. That said, phones have certainly shown that people are adaptable to keyboard layouts and typing! I send longish emails with my thumbs pretty regularly.

    Instead of, or in addition to, recreating a labelless, slightly off-kilter QWERTY keyboard, what about a straight alpha entry keyboard? Particularly with 25 columns (sorry, q), alpha seems an obvious choice. Not amazing for typing long strings but you might be surprised at how intuitive this becomes. Plus, it has the benefit of not requiring an overlay.

    As a supporting anecdote… I used to own a General Music synth that allowed you to enter text characters to name patches or search for stuff by using the white keys on the keyboard. After using it just a few times it became incredibly intuitive and instinctive; I just new that F3 was L (or whatever, it’s been a while) and could quickly find N by going over two keys. Usually. Without being able to see character names on the keyboard there were of course errors—one huge help in their design that made it all work was that the lowest C# was a backspace—very very easy to find and hit. Required no thinking. Other black keys in the first octave were modifiers like CAPS or numbers. I sold the keyboard over a decade ago and still pine for this feature!

    With 25X8 keys, you could do something like a row of lowercase, a row of caps, a row of numbers+symbols (and the poor Qs). Bottom left as backspace, bottom center 10 as spacebar (no thinking) and bottom right 3X2 as directional arrows+pageup/down (like many pc keyboards).

    Full disclosure: not a Linnstrument owner and, sadly, no immediate plans to be one.

    1. Thanks a lot for your very useful input! Great ideas in here. If this gets turned into a product, it will have a full GUI editor to build and customize layouts, with macro capabilities. What you describe could then just be one of the possible configurations, and an interesting one at that!

  6. I think you might help an odd market of people: me. I can type quickly, even with my right hand acting oddly I can cross 120 WPM. So being able to do that, it might help me with coordination of the controller. I’m already looking for something with more “feel” and less “think,” and have resigned to the idea of $2,000 or so to do it. I like the idea of the new Seaboard RISE, but I’m also NOT an accomplished pianist by any stretch of the imagination. However, I can type rather well.

    Just a thought.

    1. Interesting way of thinking of this. I’m quite a good typist also and also not very good at the piano keyboard. LinnStrument and Eigenharp have been a better fit for me than the Continuum and Seaboard. Maybe there’s indeed a parallel there!

  7. good idea. haven’t watched video yet, are you using app to translate or did you code it?

    this is why i use max/msp and try to map out keyboard shortcuts and trackpad to perform actions. the problem with software imo isn’t so much mouse and keyboard, but bad gui design that hides too much of what you want to do under hierarchal menus, without giving you ‘random access’. no one playing quake complains about keyboard and mouse. 😉

    i also like jjos mpc where you can map interface to midi control and then i can use computer keyboard and mouse to navigate mpc. would be pretty funny to use LinnStrument to navigate modern mpc. 😉

    1. It’s external software written in C++ running on a computer, LinnStrument sends serial data to it and that gets translated into virtual key presses. The GUI will be challenging indeed, but I’ve done something similar with my GameWAVE app for Leap Motion. I think I can come up with a good balance between power and usability for this.

  8. A good idea creates its market. First you need to decide if its a good idea? In my opinion – yes. Then polish it and give it a nice name and fqncy software and it will create the market 🙂

  9. Geert, I like the idea. Like everyone I know, I want my mixer, my controller, my keyboard instrument, and my computer keyboard all front and centre at the same time. Maybe you don’t have to worry about an overlay and just skip this step. I’m not a programmer, but would it be easier to have a semi-transparent keyboard that pops up on my monitor when I switch my Linnstrument over to function as a computer keyboard? Perhaps the LEDs light up the rows that are active. Different color LEDs to assist in distinguishing say vowels or rows etc, with corresponding colors and letters on the computer monitor? So my feedback, since I’m not great at typing, would come from the monitor and a few key colors to help me get my bearings. Just an idea.

  10. I’m sorry to be negative, but I have to be honest: it’s a neat idea but I don’t think you’ll ever recoup the development costs.

    There are several very thin, somewhat flexible typing keyboards on the market (i.e., MS Surface, or the upcoming iPad Pro, and others, I think). I think I’d prefer some clever, fast way to deploy / stow a keyboard like that on top of the Linnstrument grid.

    Again, I apologize for my negativity. This is just my opinion, and I’m by no means always correct. I just think there is other stuff you could attack that would be more worthwhile and profitable.

    (BTW, I have a busy life and you guys never hear from me, but I still LOVE my Linnstrument)

  11. I’m actually working on a Windows port.
    My idea for marking the keys with letters is to put white symbols under the rubber surface. But I haven’t tried that out so far.

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