"Keyboarding"-We Struck a Chord!

by Terry Wilhite

Our March article about synthesizer keyboards (page 14) struck a resounding chord with our readers. In fact, it set a record for responses and requests for follow up. Let's take a look at some of those emails and I'll share with everybody additional thoughts concerning keyboarding.

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Q: A pastor in North Dakota writes, " a few years ago our church purchased a keyboard but we have not found it to be user friendly. I know it has unbelievable capabilities but no one has been able to decipher the commands. It has been frustrating. Any suggestions?"

A: Perhaps a dealer for that brand could point you to someone who owns a keyboard like yours. However, your situation points to a deeper issue, in my opinion. Often a great keyboard with "unbelievable capabilities," is purchased with good intent, but for the wrong place on the church campus. For example, a synthesizer "workstation" which is meant for MIDI recording (sequencing) is placed in a church sanctuary. Layering (combining) and even accessing sounds quickly aren't easy "live" features on this type of keyboard. The Yamaha Tyros and PSR-2100 that I mentioned and use are built to quickly combine sounds, and actually have a "registration" feature that allows me to build "pre-sets" for the worship service, much like an organist would do. In fact, this keyboard has an organ-like touch. If I needed the touch and feel of a piano, my choice would be neither of these keyboards, but a "weighted-action" stage piano or keyboard that offered all 88 keys.

When purchasing a keyboard, please be sure to tell your dealer where the keyboard will be used and how. That "workstation" I mentioned, by the way, would probably make a nice addition to the worship leader's office to record and tweak MIDI files which, with other equipment, could be captured digitally, recorded to CD, and used as audio soundtracks for a soloist or the choir. Higher-end keyboards often have onboard sequencers (recorders). It matters not how many "unbelievable capabilities" a keyboard has if they're not useable when and where we need them. All keyboards have learning curves, but it should not require a programming degree to use one.


Q: A pastor from West Virginia asks, "Do you have any recommendations for where we could start with lower priced keyboards which we could use to provide accompaniment to standard hymns? And what are the best sources for the MIDI tracks?"

A: It is possible to procure an auto-accompaniment keyboard for as low as $250. Because I am most familiar with Yamaha, I can tell you that a DGX-300, for example, has great sounds and styles (such as country, pop, etc.). But it can't layer; has only two style "variations" (different combinations of instruments and a slightly different drum part per variation); and has only one "intro" and "ending" for each style. But these keyboards do have their place.

When you do your own research, what are some of the "key" things you should ask about these economical keyboards? Are there MIDI connections on the back? (These are needed if the keyboard is going to be connected to a computer or to another MIDI instrument.) Does the keyboard have a disk or media drive? Is the keyboard "velocity sensitive" (will it respond volume-wise to the force of striking a key, like a piano)? Are there outputs to run the keyboard to a sound system? Many have only a headphone jack. How is the sound quality? The more RAM that is used for sound "sampling," the better the sound quality will be. Do a side-to-side comparison of several different models.

Sometimes appearance is critical. Although I would try to persuade you not to "judge a keyboard by its cover," if it must look like a piano, I'd personally check into a keyboard with a "piano look," such as a Clavinova.

As for sources of MIDI files, the best I've found is www.musicmansion.com, which offers MIDI files for every major denominational hymnal and praise and worship chorus book. Integrity Music at www.integritymusic.com also has some MIDI selections. Of course, the beauty of an auto-accompaniment keyboard is that you can easily create your own MIDI files. Find information about the keyboards I mentioned at www.yamaha.com/worshipforum.

I am a big believer in both seeing and playing a keyboard at a local dealer. Clearly define what you need before you go, do your research, stay the course, and require good dealer training. To aid you further, look for my archived article, "Terry's Top 10 Tips For Choosing a Keyboard" at www.terrywilhite.com<![if !supportNestedAnchors]><![endif]>.

Terry Wilhite is a music and multimedia specialist. Send your questions to writeme@terrywilhite.com.

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