Harmonica-inspired digital musical instrument design based on an existing gestural performance repertoire



John Sullivan

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Julian Vogels

Publication or Conference Title:

M.A. Thesis, McGill University


This thesis contributes to the field of electronic musical instrument (EMI) design, with a strong focus on harmonica-type gestural controllers. Harmonicas are arguably the bestselling instruments in the world, coupled with a huge community of musicians. Thus, it is surprising that little academic material about harmonica performance gestures and harmonica-related EMI design exists, as the Richter-tuned harmonica exhibits a unique set of musical techniques for sound modification.

In spite the few academic works, several patents have been filed related to harmonica-related EMI design. These are presented and compared in a patent review. The devices display many common aspects that presumably stand in relation with different harmonica types. The application of the note-bending technique on the devices is especially investigated.

In order to draw further conclusions about instrument interaction, a motion capture study of harmonica performance gestures was carried out, including a qualitative evaluation of two harmonica-related EMIs.

Finally, the findings are considered in an instrument augmentation prototype implementation based on an existing harmonica-related digital musical instrument (DMI). A sensor system adapted to the playing technique is proposed, along with tailored mapping strategies.

Publication Details:

Masters Thesis
Montreal, Canada

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