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
Keys became velocity sensitive and responded to after touch 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 After touch means pressing the keys down as the
note is sustained to activate programmed controllers such as vibrato. Polyphonic
after touch 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.
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
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