9. Extras and Hybrids

Extras

One of the most prevalent extras offered on stage pianos is an effects section. The extent to which these are outfitted depends on the price of the instrument. Simpler devices usually have just a handful of non-programmable standards like hall and chorus which cannot be used in parallel. In contrast, top models often have a freely programmable effects section in which you can even assign your own individual sounds.

Sometimes a master equalizer is included or a feature that digitally emulates a Leslie Cabinet. The requirements in this area depend on the musician. If you’re just going to use your stage piano to play electric or acoustic piano music then you’ll most likely be fine with just chorus and reverb. But if you want to reproduce synthesized sounds or even use arrangements completely made with MIDI you’ll probably want a more sophisticated effects section.

Speaking of MIDI arrangements, some stage pianos have MIDI file players built in and can also transmit audio data. These instruments can save solo performers a lot of additional, and expensive, equipment. Some pianos also allow you to record one or two songs to the internal memory and others come with integrated rhythm machines.

Hybrids

Nowadays you can find workstation synthesizers with 88 weighted keys, the number usually only found on stage pianos. More and more value is being placed on these instruments being able to produce high quality piano music in addition to their normal functions. Keyboardists which want a great piano sound as well as flexible sound design capabilities should consider one of the devices in this category and compare them to standard stage pianos. Unfortunately these instruments are usually much more expensive than their dedicated piano counterparts.

Workstation synthesizers with a large, weighted keyboard often meet all the requirements of a stage piano.

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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