Chordophone - A max patch for Monome Grid


An ongoing exploration of stringed instruments

I primarily play banjo and guitar. While these two instruments share three of the same strings, they are radically different in terms of sound and consequently performance technique. My recent studies have led me to understand this is in large part due to the bridge construction and half-length string. The mass of the bridge creates a difference in sustain and timbre such that lead banjo is mostly played by arpeggiating chords or with tremolo picking while lead guitar can play more like a fiddle with long sustaining notes. Doc Watson even played electric guitar for a time and played fiddle tunes on his guitar.

The half-length string is even more interesting of an anomaly. While I am no expert, the most plausible explanation I have found is that the string length on a five string banjo had to be shorter because strings were made of gut at the time and tuning the string to G would break it if it was full-length. Whether or not this is true or half-true does not matter to me; the materials of the time shaped the design of the instruments and by extension the performance of the instrument.

This piece of information I think is very informative to modern music instrument designers. We can probably be broken into two groups: those chasing profits and those interested in pushing the artform forward. This forum is probably made up more of the latter.

One thing chordophones have not done successfully is to make the transition to controllers. Midi guitars are pretty terrible. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t know how to use an MPD. All of the expressiveness achieved through quick gestures, complex chords, or microtonal bends make these instruments either prone to latency from tracking or created out of weird buttons that resemble a drumitar.

While the guitar and by inclusion bass guitar are arguably the two most popular chordophones in modern music, they are both lute type chordophones. I believe the popularity of these instruments is the reason why they are being shoe-horned into an electronic instrument controller instead of pursuing a harp type chordophone or zither type chordophone. If we focus on the materials we have instead of focusing on cloning already existing designs, we may succeed where we have previously failed.

This is a max patch born out of this exploration. It splits a 16x8 grid into two 7x8 diatonic instruments with key selection controlled by the top row. It allows the user to store two different keys for recall during a performance. At the moment, one side will play single notes and the other side will play triads. However, my intention is to build out new functionality over time, but we’ll see how that goes. From a technical side, this is mostly a project exploring OOP modeling.


Max 7, Monome Grid or midiosc


Documentation can be found at


v1.0.0 - GitHub - SitStayCreate/MaxExternals: Max 7 mxj Externals and related max patches - grab the archive labeled Chordophone.


What a great read! Can’t wait to try this one out.

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