Persona Digital Persona Digital



Electronic Keyboard Multi-Instrument Controller

Synthesizers introduced new possibilities for the keyboard. In the early days of synthesis, the highest priority for a musician was to control the pitch of an oscillator. Pitch control could be achieved in a variety of ways. Guitar, wind, and drum controllers were invented. Experimental musicians invented motion-detector midi-controllers so that movement was translated into pitch information.Analog oscillators tended to drift out of tune, however, and digital oscillators soon replaced them with more stable and precise frequencies.

The electronic version of the piano keyboard is now the master music controller. Each key turns on synthesizer and recorded sounds at the right pitch.

Musicians wanted more expressive control over the sound so that more functions were built into keyboards that made them touch responsive and extended their abilities well beyond grand pianos. The development of MIDI provided electronic keyboards with great expressive power. MIDI specs included a midi value for pitch determination with room for fine adjustments of pitch frequencies. The tuning of an electronic keyboard can now be changed with the push of a button. New and exotic instruments can be created in a matter of minutes rather than centuries. MIDI offers 128 additional controller numbers that can be assigned to controllers that provide real time expression of nuanced sound production.

Keys became velocity sensitive and responded to aftertouch pressure. The " feel" and the "action" of keyboards were adjusted to suit different players preferences. Velocity sensitivity means that the speed of pressing a key changes the signal sent so that the attack, timbre and volume properties of the sound can be controlled Aftertouch means pressing the keys down as the note is sustained to activate programmed controllers such as vibrato. Polyphonic aftertouch permits each key to send MIDI values to control the expression of one note at a time.

Weighted keyboards simulate the feel of a piano keyboard that has more resistance since a piano key press activates a mechanical device with inertia. These weighted keyboards appeal to experienced pianists who want to simulate the feel of playing a real piano. When you are using the keyboard to simulate the playing of different instruments, a weighted keyboard is not desirable.

MIDI Expression Controllers

Electronic keyboards can have a range of expression devices such as modulation wheels, pitch bend wheels, sustain pedals, pitch sliders, buttons, knobs, faders, foot switches, ribbon controllers that modify performance in real time and are stored through MIDI connections as digital data in sequencers. Most keyboards have a pitch bend wheel or joy stick that produce pitch changes such as a violin's portamento, or as a stepwise progression.

A live performer may be very busy using key press velocity as the main controller, a pitch bend wheel, another wheel for vibrato, an expression pedal for volume and a pedal switch to change programs. In the studio, a keyboard performance can be recorded in a midi editor and then modified using a variety of powerful editing tools. I often use the piano roll display with controller information in tracks below the note information. When I receive a MIDI performance score to create a new arrangement, I erase all the controller information in the score, so that I can assign new voices with their own expression characteristics. I later add expression either by drawing or writing controller information into the score or by using the keyboard to record expression as the notes playback.

Note Entering

Music software permits the development of scores for printing or playing. One option is to enter notes on a score sheet using a mouse. This is a little tedious and requires constant changes to mouse click meaning.  The keyboard is a more facile note entry device. You can press a key and it shows up on the stave. Or you can play spontaneously, recording all the key presses for later editing. The data is entered into a midi file that can be edited, copied, printed as a music score and played with different instruments.

Keyboard Plays All instruments

I was lucky enough to sample play most of the instruments in an orchestra when I was young. My main skills developed on the piano and trumpet. I was delighted when I could play an organ, a trombone, tuba and for several years I owned and played a flute, clarinet, alto sax and tenor saxes. I just got passed the squeek stage on the violin and viola when I started to play the guitar. If I had to perform these instruments today, I am sure I could quickly send an audience running for cover --- unless I played them on a keyboard that sends MIDI messages to one of my magnificent sound modules that houses entire orchestras.

There are limitations, however, when you play instruments such as the violin on a keyboard.. there is no hope of matching the solo performance of a violin virtuoso, but well selected, brief passages are possible. The saxophone is hard to play well on the keyboard and I tend to replace the sax with trumpet, flugelhorn, flute and organ occasionally. I have a large selection of pianos, rhodes type electric pianos, a great variety of synthesizers pianos, vibraphones, marimbas, and kalimbas - all easy to play on a velocity sensitive keyboard. I also have; selections of organs of all ages and types. I can simulate a large cathedral pipe organ with two keyboards. Drum kits with a great variety of percussion sounds are available, as are collections of exotic percussion instruments from around the world.

The advantage of knowing about a range of instruments is that you can compose and arrange pieces that employ many different musicians. You can understand the range of each instrument, the difficulties the instrument poses, and the timbres that the instrument can provide. This familiarity is essential if you want to program a synthesizer to simulate an instrument.

See Piano Notes