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The Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeee (or samchillian, for short) is a type of electronic keyboard instrument invented by Leon Gruenbaum, that uses keys to trigger melodic intervals aka changes of pitch rather than the traditional fixed pitches.

The Samchillian is listed as a "non-traditional" MIDI interface according to the MIDI Manufacturers Association. According to this source, patent #5,565,641 is applicable to the device.


Synthesizers and midi instruments are commonly controlled with a piano-style keyboard, where each key triggers a specific pitch and are arranged in a low to high, left right configuration, where the 12 pitches of the equal tempered chromatic scale occur in succession with natural notes lying closer to the player, and accidentals aka flats and sharps staggered slightly forward and away from the player. Traditionally, keys triggering natural notes are colored white, and the keys triggering accidentals are colored black. (Notable exceptions are 1960s electronic organ designs such as the Vox Continental, which inverts the colors of the keys, and some accordions, where the accidental keys may be colored the same way as the body, a swirly dark red, for example.)

The samchillian, being interval based in all twelve keys, doesn’t require a natural/accidental visual delineation. Its particular innovation is that a scalar interval is adhered to while using the same key. The samchillian compensates for narrowing or widening of that interval, aka minor or Major 2nds, 3rds, 6ths, and 7ths – as well as flat 5ths or augmented 4ths. For example, the key for ascending 2nds in a diatonic major scale will compensate for distances of half or whole steps. So, in C Major, this key depression will go up a whole step from C to D, D to E, F to G, G to A, A to B, and a half step up from E to F, and B to C. The ascending 5ths key will go up a perfect 5th until it reaches B, where it will go up a flat 5th to the diatonically correct F natural. Similarly, the descending 4ths key will go from B down a diatonically correct 4th to F natural. (Of course, there are non-diatonic keys available for chromatic half, whole, and minor 3rd steps in either direction.)

Once a scale has been set, it is possible to play melodic sequences without altering fingering to compensate for half-step, whole-step alternation in a given scale or mode, and the spatial elements of physically moving low to high on an instrument are largely eliminated. This initially provides a notion of easy virtuosity on a samchillian, although eventually, players will realize that maximum benefit from the instrument will only be gained by memorizing and being able to use the interval keys to execute more specific musical intentions.

The Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeee gives built-in access to non-diatonic scales as well. Chromatic, pentatonic, a scale named “Hebrew,” and microtonal scales are part of the basic samchillian set up, but it is also possible to create your own scales within the software. The single key directional interval function applies in these as well.


In the late 1980s, keyboardist and woodwind player Leon Gruenbaum had the idea to invent a musical keyboard based on musical intervals, in contrast to the traditional fixed pitch keyboard, where a key activates one specific note. Initially, the idea came from thinking about the shape and melodic contours of modern bebop, and wanting an instrument that could more immediately access and focus on those kinds of melodic sequences, and melodic sequences in general. He names this instrument the Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeee. Samchillian for short.

Originally, Gruenbaum planned to trigger the samchillian via a traditional piano style keyboard, but with remapped functions, but later decided for functional and aesthetic reasons, to switch to an ergonomic keyboard made by Kinesis. Some touch sensitivity was sacrificed, but spatial access to intervals was greatly reduced. Via MIDI, the samchillian has been able to control any number of digital sound sources, but also analog sources such as acoustic player pianos.

The key/interval assignments were decided on after Gruenbaum studied the alternate keyboard layout concepts of August Dvorak.

There are hardware and “at home” software versions of the samchillian. The hardware unit features indicator lights based on the last 3 digits in binary of the MIDI note number, a knob that serves as a pitch wheel, the ability to plug in an expression pedal (controlling parameters of vibrato, wah, etc.,) and an 8-bit 11 kHz sine wave to allow the instrument to be used in a standalone mode without the need for an external sound source to be triggered.

Though it lends itself easily to monophonic playing, the samchillian is also capable of playing chords, and players such as Rodney Clarke use it to trigger pads and samples. Although frequently used as a single note soloing instrument, it has been used for chords, percussion, and bass lines in ensemble settings. The percussion and bass roles are often facilitated by the serial mode feature. Serial mode as described in an article by Gruenbaum is an “interesting feature...(as is used in 12-tone music), in which notes are manually “recorded” and not allowed to repeat, and then can be played back backwards, forwards, by 2’s or 3’s etc.”[1]

In 2011, Gruenbaum, earned third prize in the third annual international Margaret Guthman Musical Instrument Competition for the Samchillian tip tip tip cheeepeeeee. The organizer of this competition stated that "Some instruments – controllers – have this short or sometimes long learning curve, but once you get to a certain point, you know it, and that’s what it can do. And you cannot get better at it. I think the Samchillian is really an instrument with a learning curve that’s very long, and just like other acoustic instruments, violin, piano, there’s a wide range of technique. And this guy was really a virtuoso with this instrument. He was able to play chords, all kinds of arpeggiators. What I liked about it is it’s an instrument more than a controller. There’s always more to learn about how to become better with it. And I think that’s valuable."[2]

Leon Gruenbaum’s Samchillian performance and recording with Vernon Reid and others[edit]

Shortly after creating the samchillian, Gruenbaum met the guitarist Vernon Reid of Living Colour/Ronald Shannon Jackson And The Decoding Society fame, and began gigging in earnest on the new instrument, playing it with Reid’s Masques around New York and in European jazz festivals.

“...and our keyboard player, Leon Gruenbaum. (Leon’s) a nut, he’s sort of like Zawinul on amphetamines (laughter), he’s like out of his mind. And he’s invented this keyboard that he calls a Samchillian Tip Tip Tip CheeePeeeee, which is great because he has perfect pitch, so he developed a MIDI keyboard that’s really based on relative pitches, and it’s pretty astounding. Leon, he’s an astounding player, he plays everything from Bebop to barrelhouse and then plays this kind of sci-fi crap too. And what I like about him is that he basically invented this whole other way of improvising as a keyboard player that’s pretty astounding. Keyboard Magazine has gotten in touch with him and only now that people are really starting to even get a sense of what he’s laying down. So it’s been my great pleasure to work with him, really, on a lot of my different projects. He’s phenomenal to me.” - Vernon Reid.[3]

Currently, Leon continues to play with Vernon Reid, James Blood Ulmer, and leads his own band Genes and Machines with an album scheduled for release in 2011.

Samchillian Players[edit]

There are a growing number of performing Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeee players, primarily concentrated in the New York/New Jersey area. Among them are jazz organist Brian Charette, Rodney Clarke, Adrian Romero, and Vernon Reid. Adrian Romero has recorded a number of pieces on the samchillian, for his solo vocal records, under his instrumental electronic cut-up moniker Radiomen Roar, (notably the track Son Of Samchillian,) and with the band Ünderbelly formed with ex-Blue Öyster Cult drummer Albert Bouchard. In 2010, Charette, Clarke, and Romero performed together with Leon Gruenbaum and percussionist Shawn Banks, improvising an entire performance where all bass lines, chords, loops, samples, and solos were played on samchillians, ("4 Samchillian Jam.") Gruenbaum, Charette, and Clarke use split ergonomic keyboards manufactured by Kinesis, while Romero uses an old Mac G3 remote keyboard.

Samchillian Tip Tip Tip CheeePeeeee discography[edit]

Leon Gruenbaum[edit]

Adrian Romero[edit]



  1. ^ Gruenbaum, Leon. "The Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeee: A Relativistic Keyboard Instrument". 
  2. ^ Kirn, Peter. "What makes a truly new instrument?". Create Digital Music. Retrieved 2011-02-05. 
  3. ^ Friend, Musician's. "A conversation with Vernon Reid". 
  4. ^ Leon Gruenbaum, "The Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeee: A Relativistic Keyboard Instrument", Leon Gruenbaum, 2006
  5. ^ Georgia Tech, Guthman Prize Winners [1],
  6. ^ Peter Kirn, Digital Music|accessdate=5/2/2011 "What Makes a Truly New Instrument? Human Gestures Power Winners of Guthman Competition", Create Digital Music, 2011
  7. ^ Musician’s Friend, "A conversation with Vernon Reid", Musician’s Friend, 2006

External links[edit]