Let It Glide: Keith Groover couldn’t find the instrument he wanted, so he invented it

  • By cvbizz
  • July 30, 2020
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The video that Upstate musician and teacher Keith Groover created to show off his new invention, The Glide, is both beautiful and startling.

In the clip, Groover, accompanied by pianist Cindi Swicegood, performs Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” a beautiful piece of music that typically features a vocalist or violinist handling the peaks and valleys of the melody line. In this case, Groover uses the instrument he created.

Holding two small boxes in each hand, Groover plays the melody of “Vocalise,” controlling the vibrato and pitch of the sound with his hand movements. A quick shake of his left hand makes the sound fluctuate like a human voice, and the notes change as he reaches his arms out and pulls them back in. It sounds somewhat like a theremin (the eerie instrument you hear on The Beach Boys classic “Good Vibrations”) and a violin all at once.

The Glide, named for how smoothly it can transition between notes and even octaves, is the result of years of work by Groover, who designed, built and coded the electronic device largely on his own.

“To me, it felt like the more you can glide or slide up a note on an instrument, the more difficult the instrument is to learn.”

As a guitarist for the Upstate guitar-and-cello duo Wirewood, Groover has long been a tinkerer, working on his own instruments. The Glide was born out of that tinkering and a concept for an affordable instrument that is as expressive as the human voice but not as daunting to learn how to play.

Keith Groover
Keith Groover. Photo by Mason Bayne.

“The big thing about playing melody on a lot of instruments, like guitar, is that you play a note, but you can’t change it like the human voice changes a note.  To me, it felt like the more you can glide or slide up a note on an instrument, the more difficult that instrument is to learn. You can do that with the violin, but it’s pretty hard to play. You can do that with the theremin, but it is really hard to play.”

Groover eventually built two small, connected pieces, one called a “traffic light” because there are three lighted buttons on the front and another called the “coffin” because of its distinct boxy shape.  To choose tones and choose the octave, there are two buttons on one controller, three buttons on the other controller, and a small joystick. This adds up to 48 different notes instantly accessible at any time. The notes are immediate and responsive down to the millisecond, but The Glide is a musical instrument, not a computer interface, so the sound is completely controlled by the user.

“I tell people that it’s an electronic musical instrument that is designed to be pretty easy to play and designed to be very expressive,” Groover says.

Groover’s theory is that making The Glide easy to use will keep musicians from getting frustrated like they would with more traditional instruments.

“The guiding principle over all of this is accessibility,” he says, “because with a lot of musical instruments there are just so many barriers in the way. For example, if you want to play the violin, you need to start when you’re a little kid, and it’s going to sound like garbage for like three years and then maybe you’ll be able to start making some music. And that just starts filtering people out; a lot of people don’t want to spend three years sounding like garbage.”

“I tell people that it’s an electronic musical instrument that is designed to be pretty easy to play and designed to be very expressive,” Groover says.

And the prices of these instruments are especially steep given the lengthy learning curve.

“Cost is an issue,” he says. “Pianos are expensive; violins are expensive; brass instruments are expensive. And once you buy them, you need to hire a teacher to guide you through it in order to get good at what you’re doing. So I wanted to go the other way around and create something that uses natural motions and is significantly more accessible.”

Now that Groover has spent a few years on development, design and building prototypes, he’s brought The Glide to the marketplace. His first batch has sold out, and he’s working on creating greater awareness of the instrument.

“I’m just in the beginning stages of marketing it,” he says. “What I’m planning on doing now is making a video featuring some people playing it, and I’ve been working on some literature for tutorial stuff. And then I’m also going to be sending out promotional versions of it. The crazy thing is, we haven’t really had a brand-new successful musical instrument in a really long time, so my whole approach has been to start small, and hopefully this little seed will take off and show what some of the possibilities are with the instrument.”

 

The post Let It Glide: Keith Groover couldn’t find the instrument he wanted, so he invented it appeared first on GREENVILLE JOURNAL.

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