Prototype #1

Design started:

  • February 2019

Build completed:

  • March 2019


  • March 2019

Goals of this project:

  • Experiment with generalized isomorphic keyboard layouts.

  • Learn Arduino programming.

  • Learn how MIDI works at a technical level.

What was learned from this prototype:

  • Isomorphic keyboards are far easier (for me) to learn and play well quickly vs. a traditional piano keyboard.

  • Constraining keys to rows of octaves looks cool, but makes chords very difficult to play at the edges of the key range.

  • Attempting to seal-in paint with a layer of epoxy resin is messy, and nearly impossible to apply evenly.

  • Building this was so amazingly fun that I think I have found a new long term hobby.


Work on this project started after I made a serious attempt at learning how to play the piano in January of 2019. I bought a weighted 88-key digital piano, a year's worth of online lessons, and marked 20 minutes off my calendar every day for the rest of the year. I was learning things about music theory that my 8 years of grade school orchestra never taught me, but progress with the instrument was very slow going, and after a few weeks I was already having a hard time maintaining interest in practice. I bought a 25-key MIDI keyboard to work on scales while watching television, and resigned myself to the grind.

Around this time I happened upon a YouTube video of a Janko keyboard being played, and decided that I would try designing and 3D printing replacement keys for my MIDI keyboard in a single row Janko layout (white and black keys from F-B inverted). Retrofitting an existing design didn't go very well, and after enough damage was done, I began searching for other options.

In the process of diving down the rabbit hole into generalized keyboard layouts, I had also discovered both the Axis-49 from C-Thru Music, and multiple forum posts from owners modifying it for the (arguably?) superior Wicki-Hayden note layout. I had some experience building arcade sticks, and decided that I would try wiring arcade buttons to a gutted USB keyboard controller for use with Wispow FreePiano which allows key remapping via script. While researching, I found forum post after post regarding Arduino's MIDIUSB library, and moved development to that instead, as a generic MIDI device would provide far more options for use.

I spent a week long vacation in March 2019 working 14 hours a day to build and program what would end up as the Melodicade Prototype #1, and immediately built another to allow for two handed play. So many lessons were learned in the process of creation, and I had so many ideas for ways to do things better, that both devices were destroyed to harvest their buttons within a month.