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Thomann's Cool Online Guides: Digital Pianos

7. Technical Terms

DigitalAll digital equipment, formats and systems represent audio in numerical code or form. Digital information is a precise way of expressing any of information that can be quantified in some way.
Digital
pianos are electronic devices, and there are a few technical aspects to consider when choosing your instrument:

Polyphony

This term describes the number of notes that can sound simultaneously. Like computers, electronic instruments are limited by the capabilities of the chips inside them, and the more sound you want to make, the more data the processor has to handle. Your piano will likely be described as having 32-note, 64-note or even 128-note
PolyphonyIn music technology, this term describes the number of notes an instrument is capable of playing simultaneously.
polyphony
. You might feel that you can only ever play ten notes at a time (unless you are Jerry Lee Lewis, who used his feet to play as well!), but remember that in the electronic world, a sustained note counts as a note even after you’ve
Hit1) A successful recording. 2) A single sampled percussive sound, as opposed to a loop.
hit
it. Greater
PolyphonyIn music technology, this term describes the number of notes an instrument is capable of playing simultaneously.
polyphony
allows the
DigitalAll digital equipment, formats and systems represent audio in numerical code or form. Digital information is a precise way of expressing any of information that can be quantified in some way.
digital
piano to ring and
SustainA general term with various specific meanings in music/audio production: 1) In general terms, how well an instrument's sound persists once played. 2) The third part of the ADSR envelope used by many synthesisers, Sustain ('S') determines to what volume a note decays after it is triggered, but before the key is released. (Decay 'D' controls how fast this happens) 3) The piano pedal which removes the dampers from the strings, so that notes will continue to sound even after the keys have been released. This is implemented in MIDI as a specific message with 2 possible values: 127 (pedal down) and 1 (pedal up).
sustain
like a real piano. Watch out for models that use stereo
Sample1) In digital audio, a sample is numerical representation of amplitude at a single point in time. Thousands of samples are taken every second, corresponding to the sample rate, and stored as binary numbers. The analogue waveform is recreated by passing the samples back through a digital-to-analogue (D/A) converter. 2) A digital recording of an instrument sound, percussive hit, loop or sound effect, used in music production.
samples
– the quoted
PolyphonyIn music technology, this term describes the number of notes an instrument is capable of playing simultaneously.
polyphony
may need to be halved in reality as two ‘voices’ are taken up for each note played.

MIDI

The Musical Instrument
DigitalAll digital equipment, formats and systems represent audio in numerical code or form. Digital information is a precise way of expressing any of information that can be quantified in some way.
Digital
InterfaceA device enabling the connection of two or more devices, or types of devices. Examples include MIDI interfaces, for connecting MIDI equipment to a computer, and audio interfaces.
Interface
(MIDI) is dealt with in more depth in our Portable Keyboards Online Advisor. It is a system that allows you to connect two or more electronic musical instruments together and control them from a single keyboard or a computer. Many
DigitalAll digital equipment, formats and systems represent audio in numerical code or form. Digital information is a precise way of expressing any of information that can be quantified in some way.
digital
pianos have
MIDIMIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a control language that enables electronic instruments to communicate with each other. In days gone by, if you wanted to play a sound from a given synthesiser, you had to physically play that specific synth’s keyboard - this resulted in performers being surrounded by huge arrays of keyboards.
MIDI
connections, which are useful if you are working with more than one keyboard, want to use sequencing or scoring software on a computer, or download new sounds.

Sequencer

A technical term for a function that allows you to create an automated
AccompanimentLiterally, playing along with other musicians who are playing a melody or lead line. Accompanists play chords or counter melodies that should enhance and complement the lead line. Also refers to the written parts for accompanists.
accompaniment
to your playing. You play in a sequence of notes, and the
SequencerOriginally a hardware device but now almost always a software program, a sequencer stores and plays back musical performances, usually via MIDI. Early hardware sequencers used an array of sliders or switches to represent short sequences of notes; modern sequencing allows multi-track recording/playback via MIDI, combined with sophisticated editing features. Starting in the mid-nineties, sequencing software began to include hard disk recording functions and vice versa; almost all the leading music software packages now incorporate both functions, albeit with differences of emphasis.
sequencer
plays it back while you play another part. For composition or home use, a
SequencerOriginally a hardware device but now almost always a software program, a sequencer stores and plays back musical performances, usually via MIDI. Early hardware sequencers used an array of sliders or switches to represent short sequences of notes; modern sequencing allows multi-track recording/playback via MIDI, combined with sophisticated editing features. Starting in the mid-nineties, sequencing software began to include hard disk recording functions and vice versa; almost all the leading music software packages now incorporate both functions, albeit with differences of emphasis.
sequencer
can be useful and fun. Some
DigitalAll digital equipment, formats and systems represent audio in numerical code or form. Digital information is a precise way of expressing any of information that can be quantified in some way.
digital
pianos have built-in sequencers and drum machines so you can create complete rhythm parts for yourself – these are often referred to as ‘rhythm pianos’.

Korg C-720 RW

Transposition

Some might call it cheating, but most
DigitalAll digital equipment, formats and systems represent audio in numerical code or form. Digital information is a precise way of expressing any of information that can be quantified in some way.
digital
pianos allow you to change the
KeyAn additional input on a dynamics processor such as a compressor or noise gate, enabling the dynamics of one signal to control the level of another. This can be used for many functions, including ducking (compressing a music signal when a DJ or announcer speaks), synchronised gating, and (in conjunction with an equaliser) de-essing.
key
of your keyboard electronically, making it easier to play in unusual
KeyAn additional input on a dynamics processor such as a compressor or noise gate, enabling the dynamics of one signal to control the level of another. This can be used for many functions, including ducking (compressing a music signal when a DJ or announcer speaks), synchronised gating, and (in conjunction with an equaliser) de-essing.
key
signatures. Beware of this facility when playing live however - unless it’s quick and easy to switch between tunings, you can get badly caught out, especially if you’ve been playing a different keyboard for a few numbers, and then
ReturnA 'return' is a desk input that brings back audio originally output for processing. There are two common types: the insert, where the whole channel signal is interrupted and sent directly out to a compressor or similar processor and then returned back to the channel, usually before the EQ stage; and the auxiliary send and return where only part of the signal is sent for processing and the return mixed together with the original signal.
return
to a piano you have forgotten to retune...

Controls

Consider the way the controls are laid out when you’re choosing your
DigitalAll digital equipment, formats and systems represent audio in numerical code or form. Digital information is a precise way of expressing any of information that can be quantified in some way.
digital
piano. Is it easy to adjust the
Volume1) In audio and music, the loudness or amplitude of a signal. 2) In computing, a fixed amount of storage space, addressed as a single entity ('C:', 'D:' etc). A physical drive may contain more than one volume, but a single volume may also span more than one drive!
volume
and the tone while you’re playing? Is it easy to switch between sounds? If there are
EffectsGeneral term applied to audio processors for dynamics, time, ambience and equalisation whether in the form of 19" rack units, guitar floor pedals, or software plug-ins.
effects
and other functions built-in, is there one button per function, or even a touch-screen, or are the parameters buried in
Layer1) In synthesis and sound design, sounds are often created from two or more basic waveforms or samples layered together. 2) In computing, most operating systems and other software are written in layers, from the lowest level dealing with basic processing functions which is addressed by higher-level layers with specific functions such as sound and graphics.
layers
of menus on a tiny
LCDLiquid Crystal Display: a type of electronic display consisting of an array of pixels or pre-defined graphical elements, usually arranged in front of a light source (backlit). Monochrome LCD displays are used in many devices including digital watches and pocket calculators; colour LCD displays are the most popular form of flat panel computer/video screen.
LCD
screen? Your piano is effectively a computer, designed by electronics specialists, and they can occasionally forget that musicians are not interested in reprogramming systems! Make sure you can do what you want to do, when you want to do it.

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