4. Keyboard

Typically the keyboard of a stage piano has 88 keys, seeking to emulate the feel of a standard piano. To accomplish this the keys are not only weighted, the manufacturers also go to great lengths to reproduce the hammer mechanics of acoustic models as accurately as possible.

The feel of a keyboard is a matter of preference though, for this reason, whenever possible, you should take the opportunity to test a few different examples before buying. Generally those coming from a classical piano background prefer a keyboard with more resistance, while digital keyboard players feel more comfortable on ‘’lighter’’ keys. It is best to just give it a try and see what you like.

If an 88 key version is to heavy then there are stage pianos with 76 lightly weighted keys like the Kurzweil SP4.

88 keyed models make up the majority but there are also models with 73 or 76 keys, from Clavia and Kurzweil for example. Both of these variations were even offered on the forefather of stage pianos, the Fender Rhodes MK 1. The decision to use one of those variations usually comes down to the weight and with that the transportability. Some players also don’t need the lowest octave. For those who want to work with key switches on stage (switching or varying the sounds based on the area being played), a 88 key piano offers much more flexibility.

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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