Swiss firm Dodeka is one of the startups exploring music edtech with a mixture of hardware and software. And in this case, with a new form of music notation too.
Founded by father-and-son team Jacques-Daniel Rochat and Josua Rochat, the company started with the idea of making it easier to learn music through notation that uses a four-line stave, the chromatic scale of 12 notes, and no flat or sharp signs.
“The motivation was to find a more intuitive and easier way to play music, and to make it more accessible to everyone,” Josua tells Music Ally. “We are not trying to change the current system of music notation. We are just trying to offer an alternative that is easier for people.”
On the back of this notation, the Rochats created a physical piano keyboard using the chromatic configuration and a linear layout – no black keys above white keys here – launching a Kickstarter campaign in late 2016 to raise 55k Swiss Francs (around $56.5k) for the first run.
The campaign reached 48% of its goal before being cancelled, with the founders determined to learn from the experience to continue developing its product with yet-to-be-found investors.
“With the notation and having the same pattern on the keyboard, we have a direct relationship with what you will read and what you will play,” says Josua. “A lot of people think Dodeka is a new keyboard, but it’s not. It’s really a notation with an optimised instrument. They work together.”
He adds that the Kickstarter campaign probably came too early in Dodeka’s development, although the fact that it raised nearly half its target provided the Rochats with encouragement that they were on to something.
“To manufacture and sell a new keyboard requires a lot of capital, so after the Kickstarter we realised we needed external investment. But when you’re looking for investment, you need to show that you have a proven concept that has traction in the market,” says Josua.
The Kickstarter provided some of that, but Dodeka realised it needed more to attract investors. The company has been working on a virtual version of its keyboard, delivered as an iPad app, which will be released at the start of September.
“It’s a first experience for consumers about what they can do with Dodeka, and a way to launch our idea into the world and see the reaction,” says Josua. “It’s basic, but it gives you a very good sense of the potential of Dodeka.”
The company is also working on a prototype for a MIDI controller – a smaller version of the Dodeka keyboard for use in studio setups – which has potential for partnerships with other manufacturers.
Josua says he is also thinking hard about how to approach the area of sheet-music licensing – and given the nature of Dodeka – the task of translating songs into its notation system.
“At the moment, what’s important for us is not really to have a lot of sheet-music or [licensing] partners. It’s to develop the capabilities of translating one sheet-music [format] into another,” he says.
“We are quite early in that process, so it’s more about having the capabilities of translating than having the material. But in time we will hopefully have the most relevant sheet-music available.”
“Our target market are not the musicians: they have learned music theory already! We are more trying to target the beginners, and having some modern sheet-music may make this more exciting for them. We want to have an instrument that they don’t want to give up!”