“Keys” is usually a term to denote the difference between an acoustic piano and a digital piano. For those who are new to keyboard technology, a digital piano is very different from the electric pianos of old. (Old being 20 years or even less!) In the world of computer technology, anything more than a few years old is prehistoric for the most part, unless you have the ability to upgrade the device’s technology provided you have the memory space.
When preparing for shows or other orchestral events where the digital keyboard is the tool for sound which is not necessarily piano, time is required to review the keyboard book or books and adequately assess which instrumentation is needed. What?? You mean I’m not just playing the piano and making piano sounds? The simple answer to the question is No!
This is where the fun begins! As a result of my studies on keyboard technology, I am able to produce numerous instrumental sounds and sound effects. How is this possible? A Clavinova has thousands of sounds on it. Many of those sounds were recorded by the original instruments in a professional recording studio and digitized or compressed into sound bites designed to sound like the instrument itself. This means the piano has the ability to sound like a human voice, clarinet, drums or even rain and thunder! These are just a few examples. Remember, there are thousands of sounds!
The instrumental changes may range from piano, vocal ‘ahhs’ electric keyboard, harp, harpsichord, organ, dulcimer, honky tonk piano, strings and celeste, as well as Chimes and layered sounds. Some of the abilities the Clavinova has includes splitting the keyboard, and layering sounds. I can have three different instrumental sounds going on at the same time with the push of a couple buttons. All of this is done when determining which sounds are needed. After selecting the sounds, I commit them to memory and assign a numbered button to them.
Programming the sounds to occur in a certain order is the next step. I have programmed the keyboard to change instruments with the left foot pedal, normally used for softer playing on the piano. This is all done on the main screen of the instrument. I save it to memory and give it a name or number.
As a result of the many shows and orchestral events for which I have programmed Clavinovas, I also spend time composing my own pieces. Some are simply piano, some are orchestral and some are light-hearted pieces that I've even used as background music for real estate agents selling homes. The sky is the limit!
I am a classically trained pianist, however working with digital pianos has opened up a whole new avenue of creation for me and I love it. While technology can be daunting at first, it is also the future and I have embraced it willingly. The rewards have been exciting and great fun. I highly encourage others to explore digital keyboards with an open and creative mind for themselves as well as their students.
A big thank you goes to Kathi Kretzer who first introduced me to a keyboard (back when I didn’t even know how to turn one on), and Susan Ogilvy who runs the Keyboard Technology Seminar in Oklahoma, that I have attended for three consecutive summer sessions. She and fellow teacher Dellana Cook are some of the finest teachers and leaders of keyboard technology.