3. Construction

Stage pianos are often very different from digital pianos meant for at home use. They don’t need to look good in a living room, with a walnut veneer and detailing on the base, firstly because this would look rather silly if they weren’t being used for a gala and secondly because after two or three times being packed into the tour truck there wouldn’t be much left to look at. Rather stage pianos have a simple but robust design, with switches, buttons, and a display that are easy to use in the dark.

Stage Piano - Korg SP280

An important feature for home pianos is the pedals (sustain, damper, and sometimes sostenutu) which are often solidly attached or built in to the rest of the piano frame. Stage pianos on the other hand have the pedals positioned separately at your feet. Some stage pianos don’t even come with pedals, so you’ll need to purchase them separately if this is the case, more about this can be found in the section on controllers. While home pianos often come with a stable and fitting stand, which is attached with screws to the keyboard portion, stage pianos do not. The reason for this might be obvious: Such a construction would not be suitable to a live setting because it would be time consuming, bulky, and prone to damage on stage. Stage pianos are often placed on keyboard stands instead. Which, so long as they are rated for the weight, are plenty solid. If you lightly bump the piano and the stand wobbles or shakes then it is definitely not robust enough!

Stage pianos can further be differentiated from home pianos by the sounds and features offered. For example, home pianos are almost always equipped with built in speakers and an amplifier, something often missing from stage pianos. The reason is that you’ll already find these things in any standard stage set up and they’ll be optimized for playing to large groups of the public in addition to being connected to the central mixer for the venue. So if you want to play your stage piano at home you’ll either need a small amp, a connection to a HiFi system, or headphones. Alternatively you can look for a hybrid solution. There are some pianos which dare to attempt the balancing act between stage and home use. And on some occasions, in small clubs or at exhibition openings, built in speakers are quite sufficient.

Home Piano - Thomann DP95

What is meant by polyphony or polyphonics?

The term polyphony refers to how many tones can be heard simultaneously. The technical capabilities of an electronic instrument is, as with a computer, limited by the capacity of its built in chip(s). The more tones an instrument should control, the more data the processor needs to be able to…well…process.

If you check the technical specifications of a digital piano you will see polyphonic specifications of 32, 64, 128 or even 258 notes. Your first reaction may be to think that you would never play more than 10 or so notes at once (unless you’re Jerry Lewis who also played with his feet). But you need to be conscious of the fact that you’re in the digital world now and that every note received, from a pedal for example, must be counted in terms of the polyphony. For digital pianos with stereo samples you’ll need to pay attention to the fact that the polyphonic value given is halved, as there are two ‘’voices’’ for each sound or sample. The higher the polyphonic value, the more closely the sound will resemble a real piano because multiple resonations and overtones can be played concurrently.

What is MIDI?

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a data transfer protocol that allows digital information about pitch, tone length, and sound type to be communicated, recorded, or played back between individual instruments or between instruments and computers. More information about this subject can be found in our online guide for keyboards.

Many digital pianos have a MIDI-interface, generally an input and output, designated as MIDI-IN and MIDI-OUT. This allows you to access another keyboard or connect to a computer with a sequencing program. Notation programs also usually support MIDI protocols. Another option is to download songs with MIDI ports, especially onto devices which don’t have an USB port.

What should I look for in the controls?

When selecting a digital piano you should make sure that the knobs, sliders, panels and other controls are easy to reach while playing. Is it, for example, possible to switch easily between sound settings? Is it possible to select built-in effects and other functions with the press of a single button? Is there a touchscreen? Or are all parameters only selectable through a tiny LCD screen with cumbersome controls? An e-piano is essentially a computer developed by hardware and software specialists, and sometimes they just forget that a musician isn’t interested in reprogramming the entire system. So make sure the instrument will do what you want it to, and that you can ask it to do that on the fly!

What is arranger?

Arranger is a function which allows the player to be accompanied by (play along with) different styles from several instruments. This function can be found on most keyboards as well as digital pianos. At the push of a button an entire band or orchestra can be imitated according to the rhythms and styles of the player. For example, the player can make a cymbal rhythm in C major with an orchestra sound.

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