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About this blog

Lessons for Linnstrument

Entries in this blog


The Journey thus far

I've taken a few days off from practice to deal with various other matters.  It's a very strange process indeed when you are your own teacher on an instrument with no set rules.


Trying to balance possibilities of techniques with limited time to devote to developing muscle memory along the way is quite the challenge. Scales for both hands combined (in variation of fingering) Scales for left and right hand with great variance.  Having thumbs to target notes is an odd development for a guitarist.  Everyday I set aside time for scales. Time for the left and time for the right. playing out the various positions in one, two and three (even four) octave runs.  There is little joy for me executing a simple scale nut it's a matter of building foundations for future playing.  I've spent no time playing the guitar or other instruments since acquiring the Linn.  It's that addictive.


I had purchased the upgrade to Guitar Pro 6 as it has settings that allow for eight strings. I thought that having gp6 might be useful writing my own exercise regiments and other things.  I was wrong.  Firstly Even though I can set up the linn for channel per row (as midi guitars are set up) GP6 refuses to accept 8string channel input. So It's back to number pad and cursor buttons in order to input tab scores.  Secondly GP6 refuses to convert piano scores into tablature.  GP6 has turned out to be a huge waste of time and effort and money in regards to developing exercise material.  BIAB has limited fretboard arrangement.  I'm left with.... Standard Notation for practice material.  Yes I can read notation but I'm slow as molasses in winter at it.  I haven't had to read notation in a good 15 years or more.


Oddly I've disabled some of the Instrument feature for now.  I'm more about developing a organ/piano type of approach to the instrument. Without bend / slide and pressure sensitivity (yes velocity works without afterpressure pressure sensitivity) It becomes a more stable more uniformed control It also is much more the feel and expression one might attain on an actual piano (sort of).  


In regards to finding material other then scales.  I've dabbled slightly in jazz standards but admit I've got a long way to go. It's all about developing the muscle memory first.  I've got a certain disdain for classical music that can't be wiped from my soul.  Nonetheless the Bach preludes are proving themselves to be quite handy.


When I first saw an image of starr labs z-board (same concept although it came out in 1990) my heart was aflutter.  I'd dream of playing it night and day knowing I could never afford the $6000 price tag. Oddly the z-board still has more features then the linnstrument. .And I believe it to be easier to play due to the smaller "keys".  I'm finding that new frontiers (at least for me) take a lot of time to get there.


I've had a day (a full one at that) to play with this magical device, And yes it's lived up to all my expectations.  Now if I can simply stop playing it to actually finish this review.


At $1499 US (current retailers price) This is by no means cheap.  Still when one considers all the features the alternative midi controller has to offer it's hard to resist.  I purchased mine through Ebay from Perfect Circuit. 


In The Box

  • The Linnstrument 
  • One 10ft USB cable
  • The case.
  • Strap buttons
  • A nice letter from Roger Linn.  


Registration is online (via email using the units serial number) as is the manual and the firmware updater. 



Dimensions: 22.4" (570 mm) x 8.22" (209 mm) x 1" (25.4 mm)


Weighing in at 5lbs (2.26799) With a metal top, aluminium chassis and cherry wood sides. It's a very solid feel whether you are resting the linnstrument on a keyboard stand or using the straps and playing it in "the guitar position"


The inputs and outputs are along the right side of the instrument. Power Input jack, Midi I/O USB and TRS.  A separate power supply is not provided.  As RL states on his website:


Because LinnStrument is nearly always USB bus-powered, even from any Lightning iPad or iPhone, and when using the MIDI jacks any USB power adaptor can be used. For those rare cases where a power supply might be preferred, we sell a power supply separately. Or any power supply can be used that has a standard 5.5mm outside diameter / 2.1mm inside diameter round connector, 7.5 to 12 volts, either AC, DC center-positive or DC center-negative.


Here's my experience.  Though the unit does have a low power setting which lowers the light output. When using the usb power supply from the usb with high power sometimes the unit "falls asleep" The lights still work but the signal stops.  Fortunately I've kept every power supply I've ever received and the power supply for my ztar works just fine.  This may have nothing to do with the linnstrument itself. I have an aging Windows Vista computer which has had intermittent issues with power being supplied via usb on other devices.  I'm really glad that they did include the power supply input.


In regards to the TRS it serves as both a sustain and a volume pedal port.  So if you want to use both in a footswitch you need a Y cable.  I have such a Y cable somewhere in a dark corner tangled amongst my other unused cables in a milk crate.  I'm just to lazy for all that digging. And it's too damn fun to play for me too walk away.  On the top panel there are SWITCH 1 AND SWITCH 2. Which can serve as sustain buttons along with other functions.


Along the left side of the unit are 8 rubberized buttons for accessing feature.


The Playing Surface

From RLD website


Playing Surface: 476 mm (18.75") x 153 mm (6"), Translucent silicone rubber (2mm thick)

 > 200 note pads arranged as 8 rows of 25 columns, spaced 19 mm apart

 > Each note pad is 17 mm square with 2 mm of space between pads


Thank god it's not glass. To describe the "keys" as pads seems a misnomer. Tiles would be a more accurate description. Rubberized tiles but tiles nonetheless. The surface has a porous feel to it. Meaning it grips your finger. You can still slide to your hearts content but that solid feel means you won't have notes slipping away from you.   Part of me wishes the tiles were smaller, the other part is glad they arent (when it comes to the expressive powers) It's a solid feeling surface with some resistance to it. Which means there is a physical feedback "feel" as you hammer on to the tiles with your finger.  It's still a short throw.  While I could spend days explaining the settings (which are actually quite easy to understand and program)   I'd rather focus on the playing experience with a few other nuggets thrown in for good measure.  All I have to say is... It's a joy to play the surface of this controller with it's 5 way expression control. Left/right pitch shift up/down modulation (Or other) Pressure. It's important to note Velocity (which is the initial attack of the note and Pressure which is the subsequent pressure applied to the note after the attack are separate.  This is true after-pressure and when using Note per channel it becomes fully independent polyphonic after pressure.  Also as the left/right  and front/back (or up/down if the instrument is in a standing position) react independently per note. I can't sing the praises loud enough in regards to expressive playing attainable via the Linnstrument


Experiences / Testing

Computer Setup is a snap. Plugged the usb in.  Windows installed the drivers and all my hosts/daws immediately recognized the linnstrument as a midi device.  Open the host find the midi settings and off to the races we go.  I tested it in several daws including Studio 1, Samplitude, Mixcraft, RealBand but mostly in my tried and true https://www.cantabilesoftware.com/ 


It's important to note if you are going to use "note per channel" or row per channel it's best to set your midi channel input to Omni. Note per channel works like it reads. Each note is assigned it's own channel as you play it.  This is how polyphonic aftertouch is achieved even on instruments (virtual or hardware) which may not be able to attain the independent aftertouch. By default the linnstrument is setup in this manner.  However you can specify one or more channels per split via the per-split settings button on the top left of the unit.


So I'm all set and ready to go. I find a nice string patch in my KLC M1 and it's off to the races.  Amazing and weird. It sounds like one of the notes is out of tune... How could this be?  Well I wasn't targeting the tile center enough and the bend/slide as well as the modulation were being excited.  A quick adjustment of my technique and a review of the pitch / timbre controls via the Per-Split was all that was required.   It should be noted that Velocity and Pressure settings are available via the global settings.  I for myself am finding that high sensitivity (light touch) and medium pressure are working out to be the best for me. YMMV  Something odd was happening for a combi patch I couldn't put my finger on. (well actually putting my finger on was the problem) Pressure is assigned to CC 74 which was designated for cutoff in the M1  A simple adjustment to the pressure sensitivity or simply using a different setting for cutoff.


How does it sound? Amazing. Breathtaking, Humbling and Addictive. If you can appreciate the value of a high priced fully realized keybed/keyboard over a cheap walmart thowaway keybed then you'll appriciate what the linnstrument brings to the table. Only more so. It's truely addicting. I look at the screen, see myself typing then look back at the board and want to stop typing immediately and play. The Linnstrument is exerting mind control over me.


Even before I acquired it I'd already made up my mind that F# was not going to be my lowest note.



C was (and is now) the lowest note on my Linnstrument.  I wanted the full five octaves to start on C.  This was amazingly easy to setup using the Octave/Transpose settings.  While the lowest row also has the power to operate as a sequencer control It's not something I see myself using for the time being.


Playing the Linnstrument

There are no how to play the linnstrument books video's or other sources. We linnstrumentalists are left to our own devices. Fortunately for many of us we come from a multi-instrumentalist background playing guitar/keys is a real plus.  It is an embarrassment of riches. one need look no further than a primary chord.  A primary chord (major/minor/diminished) consists of three notes. C Major for example C-E-G.  On a linnstrument there are three basic shapes for each primary chord type.  Once you have the "shape" down you can transpose the same shape. It's important to note that more then one note can be played per row (string) on a linnstrument. 

Here we can see Cmajor (C-E-G) laid out in "Shape1" as I like to call it.



Shape 2



Shape 3



Whats not specified is which fingers to use.  Take Shape one...with the right hand you could use... Thumb, Index, Ring. or Thumb, Middle Pinky, or Index, Middle, Pinky or Index ring pinky or if you like to stretch middle ring pinky.  Using your left hand or combinations of both to produce the same "Shape1" of a primary major chord produces more options.  The perplexities / fingering options only increase as you expand to larger chord voicings.  As for melody (scales etc) There are more options then hours in a day to explain..


As a guitarist I found the left hand fingering to be what they are when playing a linnstrument in the desktop position. Upside down and backwards.  I'm adapting much better then I originally expected. It's still practice. As a tapper and even more so a ztarist tapper the right hand has adapted amazingly well to this new approach.


For years now I've been a ztar evangelist. I have two and they've allowed me to play in ways I could only dream about before acquiring them. I loved my ztars,  They are going to be collecting a lot of dust from here on out.  My guitars may as well. I've become a linnstrument evangelist overnight. 








When I made the decision to purchase a linnstrument I knew I'd have challenges before me.  First arranging the money, then coping with the wait (it will be close to two weeks from decision till delivery.  Setting up my studio to accommodate the linnstrument and still having access to all the other physical objects required.  I've decided to make the most of this waiting period by practicing concepts before it arrives, printing out an image and securing the image to a sturdy folding table.



Now for the challenges 

For a guitarist,,,,,,Everything is upside down and backwards when playing the linnstrument as a desktop instrument!!!!linn1.thumb.jpg.1ae7d16b3d2a917cae7f28e2


Not only that.the lowest note is... F#  So as soon as the linnstrument arrives I'm transposing it to C.  There are numerous reasons for this.  Including when instruments are sampled they rarely are to the full range of the instrument.  Rather plugin makers often sample a few (or sometimes only one) keys and then shelf the octaves above and below. Each octave downward gets continually grainy sounding due to the artificial transposition of the note.  The breaking point is always...C  As well If you have spent much time transcribing piano C is usually the lowest note played on the piano for a song.


Which introduces a new challenge... I should have printed out a mock up of the linnstrument with the proper tuning I'll be using.  It would have made the transition from mock up to usage easier.


Here's where things get interesting.  There are no "How to play the linnstrument books or videos or online lessons.  I'll be the first.  For us linnstrumentalists on the bleeding edge of a new frontier.  We are left with watching videos to try and grasp at concepts or to our own devices.  A simple example... Scales. With one hand you can play 4 finger scales, three finger scales, and two finger scales ...oh yeah you can also play five finger(thumb) scales.  That's one hand... You can also play all the above mentioned with the other.  With two hands combined you can also play scales.  I did some demos of playing 1+2 and 2+2 approaches for the ztar here -



And Here -



Here's another interesting facet about playing the linnstrument.  Each one hand primary (three notes only) chord has three different shapes. Three for major, three for minor and three for diminished.  Once you master those three "Shapes" you can transpose them to anything.  Which is fine but as you expand your chords more options become available as to what finger does what.



A Linnstrument can play up to three notes per string simultaneously.


I as a musician am not a natural. People often compliment me for my graceful performances as if they are too magical to be anything but natural.  Even the gift of self discipline isn't a gift.  I have to work to make it a reality.