7. The Piano As A Master Keyboard
More than anything the benefit of higher end stage pianos is that they allow, thanks to an integrated master keyboard function, for the distribution of sounds across the keyboard (e.g. bass on one end, piano on the other) in addition to acting as a control center for the entire keyboard set-up. One of the most important functions is the division of the keyboard into different zones (usually four for stage pianos), assignment of individual MIDI channels, and program/bank change commands to these zones as well as their independent transposition. These settings can usually be saved under ‘setup’ on the internal memory.
Why this is important can be seen with a simple example. Let’s say our set/up has a synthesizer module and a stage piano connected by MIDI.
For song A we need a string sound from the synthesizer and an e-piano sound from the stage piano. So we program the lower half of the keyboard to control the synth and the upper half to control the piano. In addition we assign a program-change-protocol so that the sounds are correct in each zone and we move the lower zone two octaves up because it needs to be a softer sound and not to heavy in bass.
For song B we need an acoustic piano sound from the stage piano and a synth bass from the synthesizer module, we can program this in and with the press of a button can program both devices at the same time. An enormous time saver allowing for problem free stage performances.
If you expect to use your stage piano as a master keyboard you should be thoroughly informed before purchasing, because models differ considerably in this respect.
- What is meant by polyphony or polyphonics?
- What is MIDI?
- What should I look for in the controls?
- What is arranger?
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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