This digital piano has some very clever controlsJan 27, 2022
So I have
piano. Or keyboard. Or whatever, let's not get hung up on the nomenclature. I've had it for about 5 years. I'm not a professional pianist, but I do enjoy tickling those synthetic ivories from time to time, enough to bother me with a keyboard without weighted keys. But there was also no point spending a lot of money on
something ultra-fancy because my level of
pianoproficiency would waste that instrument. So I have
this. Wait, I just have to rip it off. ♫ Windows XP startup sound ♫ That's right, it's still No Effort in November, and this piano is going to teach us a thing or two about user interfaces.
And then we'll talk about other things. Being the most basic model in Yamaha's Arius line, this model is pretty basic. I mean, it even has a manual transmission, as you can tell by the presence of the clutch pedal. It was a joke. Those are just normal piano pedals. Except of course they're not real, they're just switches. But they are not binary inputs either. And also this piano handles the sustain pedal in a shockingly incorrect way that I'll show you in a moment. But still, like most keyboards, this device offers a considerable degree of customization with things like key sensitivity, a host of reverb options (which are always on by default), different voices for you to play. you can pretend that you are an organist or a harpsichordist or annoy. your friends like this. ♫ Marimba iPhone Ringtone ♫ That voice is a vibraphone and not a marimba, but who's counting?
Oh, it also offers a built-in metronome and a few other things. It's a pretty well-rounded instrument if you're on the cheaper side. Look at the
controlsthough... Hello! I've already edited the video, and while I thought this would be the case, I just want to make sure you know... Yes, I'm aware that you can't see the keyboard from where the camera is. but… remember what month it is. So. Just keep that in mind. Look at the
controlsthough, and you'll see that there are basically none. That's one of the concessions you make when you buy a cheap one.
Here you have a power button and a volume rocker, even a real potentiometer! But, uh... that's it. There you have a single button called Grand Piano Function. I'm glad I can at least do that. And, well, now we run out of buttons. That doesn't seem like enough. Apparently this thing has a bluetooth radio because of course it does and there's an app you can download for your phone to control things because of course there is but all I can say is "disgusting". Oh, but it has a built-in key cover! Fancy! I was stumped as to how the heck I was supposed to control this to change the settings, but after looking at it for a moment I thought "oh".
That's right, there are another 88 full buttons sitting here! They're just piano-ey. Yamaha designed this thing pretty
cleverly, much like a computer keyboard and this button here is your modifier key. Like Alt. Or Control. Or Command. Or windows. Or... Function. Press it once and it will revert. Someone got mad at me for saying reverse, so I said it again! Be careful what you wish for - it will revert to a standard piano whatever function it was in. Or at least a facsimile of a standard piano. But if you hold down the button and then press one of the keys, well, now you've done who knows what.
How a sample song started. ♫ The Entertainer starts playing ♫ Oh good. You can't have a piano that the Entertainer can't play. Marginal note. I think Scott Joplin gets a bad or maybe incomplete reputation for being "the ragtime guy." Yes, ragtime as a genre has a
veryparticular sound, but it doesn't help that about the only three pieces anyone listens to are The Entertainer, Maple Leaf Rag, and
sometimes The Easy Winners. Maybe Pine Apple Rag too. Basically e
verything that was in The Sting. It also doesn't help that people like to play these pieces ridiculously fast because, well, ♫ Maple Leaf Rag played ridiculously fast ♫ I mean it's a lot of fun.
But have you ever listened to the second section of Solace? ♫ I bet you didn't expect a piano recital now, did you? Or the Magnetic Rag (a personal favorite of mine?) ♫ Appreciation for ragtime and indeed Joplin seems to come in waves and, well, maybe we're overdue for another one. Anyway, Yamaha gives you a cheat sheet so you don't have to memorize all this. However, they're grouped together to help make this a bit more obvious, and have placed the functions most likely to be used at the bottom (voice selection) and near middle C (the metronome). However, using the metronome is probably the clunkiest experience in this scheme, as you input your desired beats per minute with these keys.
You can then have it read you the set speed. Pretty. You can then turn it on or off and also adjust the beats per bar and volume. [One. Two. Oh. One hundred twenty. In. ] It works, but honestly, it's better to use an external metronome. This probably isn't the only keyboard out there that uses its keys this way, but it delights me nonetheless. Because it's a very meta version of a user interface. Every piano, from the days when we called it a pianoforte (or fortepiano if you prefer that order) has some version of this keyboard. And what are the keys themselves but a user interface?
Even an acoustic string, mallet, and damper instrument has a user interface, and the keyboard (and pedals) is that. Using a simple modifier button to turn that centuries old layout into a parameter setting tool for the
digitalcopy the layout came from is just... I don't know exactly, but wow! Outside of the user interface, the evolution of digital pianos like this is just a fascinatingly bizarre combination of new technology built into and around a very old interface, but the goal of each new development is to make it feel like it behaves exactly as the acoustic version. emulates It's like engineering specifically for nostalgia: every step forward is at the same time a step back and I love it.
Me - Just think about what this thing is actually doing. In short, this is a really weird machine that calls up a pre-recorded sound sample from a real piano that produces a single note the moment you press any of these buttons. They happen to be shaped like piano keys. It then plays that sample through a pair of speakers. That's really silly when you think about it, isn't it? But, if you press the buttons in the correct order… you get music. But then again, I guess that's exactly what happens with a real piano. Anyway, if you can't tell, overthinking this makes my brain hurt.
I mean, it's just a skeuomorphic nightmare. So let's talk about some of the things we've done to make fake pianos better. The first digital keyboards were basically superior sound sampler call machines and not much else. In fact, it may not have even been a sound sample or even digital, it could have been synthesized. But that's a horrible substitute for a real piano, especially if the keyboard doesn't have some kind of force sensing. Early ones didn't, so each note sounded the same volume with each press. Now this is not to say that early piano replacements weren't great in their own way.
Electronic pianos certainly have their place and have brought interesting new sounds to the world of music. And let's not forget the electric piano above, although it's a different beast entirely. And there are so many other weird concepts, like the mellotron, which is a superior analog sample caller but then again, a different beast. I'm just talking about the ongoing work to faithfully imitate a real piano in both sound and function. To that end, we quickly developed keys that could determine how hard they were pressed using velocity detection (basically, each key has two switches at two different depths and just determines how fast the key was moved between those two positions to figure out how hard). you pressed it).
That was combined with new software that would alter the volume of the sample played based on that. This allowed the performer a degree of expressiveness similar to the previous one and returned the forte to the piano. But that's not great either. Simply playing the same sample at different volumes isn't really a good approximation of what a real piano sounds like. On a real piano, the key pushes a mallet against the strings, and the force of that strike changes not only the volume but also the timbre. Softly played notes are smoother and not as bright as snapping keys.
So, to add realism, digital pianos and keyboards began to include multiple sound samples of each note, recorded at different volumes on a real piano, allowing that timbre difference to be approximated. How hard you press the key now determines not only how hard to play a sample ♫ but also which specific sample among a set ♫! must be played for that note. And how to stop playing the note? Most piano keys lift a damper off the strings when you press them and replace the damper when released. That's why a note continues as long as you hold the key down, but stops when you release it.
This piano does a simple and fast fade out of the sample when the key is lifted, which is honestly close enough. However, the sustain pedal (the one on the right) allows the player a very important technique. On a real piano, this pedal lifts all the dampers on the strings, which means that each note will continue for as long as the pedal is depressed. The sustain pedal on this digital piano isn't just an on/off switch and mimics partial pedaling, where the dampers rest lightly on the strings, muting them a bit, but not completely. This may not seem very important, but believe me, it is.
Oh, and speaking of the pedals, I said before that this piano has a bad sustain pedal. That's how. If I were to play a strong chord with the pedal down, then play the same chord again quietly but keeping the keys down with my fingers, releasing the pedal shouldn't do anything because I'm keeping those virtual dampers off the strings. with my fingers And yet... Can you hear that? That's too bad, and I can't believe Yamaha screwed up here. Although, to be fair, they've only been making pianos since 1900. It seems the logic in the piano reset the sustain state of the keys on the second press and damped the first loud sample that started on the first keypress when I released the pedal but again, that's very wrong and not how it should work at all.
Although, to be fair, I actually discovered it recently, so it's not that bad. Strangely though, this was handled correctly with the middle pedal. Which is great because nobody uses that one! Also, many pianos don't even have it, and when they do, there's no set rule as to what exactly it does. Here it is implemented as is usually the case in grand pianos. Called a sostenuto pedal, this pedal will lock out any damper that is raised at the moment the pedal is pressed, but leave the rest alone. This is how it sounds in practice. I hope you understand what's going on here...it's not very easy to describe in words and if you're not familiar with pianos this can be disconcerting, but in any case if I do the same thing as before and then lift the pedal, now it is correct. let the original loud sample continue until you actually release the keys.
I'm thinking if they got the middle pedal right, someone forgot to put a line of code somewhere for the other one. Oh, and the pedal on the left is known as a corda, or soft pedal. Simply put, it makes the piano a bit quieter while it's pressed down. A bit like this. Granted, that's about as far as this particular piano goes when it comes to sound reproduction, but of course there's also the fact that these keys are weighted to mimic the feel of real piano keys. . They even have increasing weight towards the left side of the keyboard, just like bass notes on a real piano, because the big hammer slows the key down.
But this is actually a pretty basic key weighting system as things go. It only gets more complex from here, and some digital pianos go so far as to implement real piano actions where a real keyboard moves real hammers that hit force sensors, so it's basically a real piano, except the strings they have been replaced with sensors and a computer. Remember how I said that digital pianos are a fascinatingly strange combination of old and new technology? Yes, those so-called hybrid pianos are the epitome of that sentiment. Then, of course, there is polyphony. That word means a lot of different things depending on the context, and it's confusing, so I won't touch it.
In closing, I want to talk about some of the other amazing things that people like Yamaha are putting into their high-end digital pianos. Real pianos are much moreacoustically complicated than a mix of sound samples played in the correct order. One of the most basic things this keyboard is missing is friendly vibrations. With the sustain pedal depressed and all strings free to vibrate, playing any note will induce some vibrations in those other strings, particularly those with harmonic frequencies shared with the original note. This adds a richness to notes played with the sustain pedal that this piano doesn't reproduce, at least I don't notice it, but others do.
As the price of digital pianos increases these days, you don't just get the niceties like real wooden keys and real piano actions if you want it, oh but wait if you're buying one of these "grand pianos" digital... just don't. I don't understand how people find this awesome and not objectively silly. But anyway, exaggerated cases aside, new software modeling allows these instruments to not only take into account the sympathetic vibrations of other strings, but also the acoustic profile of the piano's soundboard and wooden body. Combined with better and more powerful audio systems, we are at a point where digital pianos are very close to their acoustic counterparts.
There are still reasons to own an acoustic piano, to be clear, but there are plenty of great benefits to these too. Perhaps chief among them is that they don't weigh hundreds of pounds. How nice. It's also very important to me that they stay in tune. Oh, but on that note, I recently discovered that this piano allows you to play two voices at once. One of my complaints is that it's not a very bright sounding piano with its lead voice, and the brighter piano voice it offers doesn't sound all that real to me. Well, in a happy accident, if you select both piano voices, it raises the brilliant piano an octave and produces a surprisingly pleasing change in sound.
Also, if you adjust that second voice to the original octave, you'll end up sounding out of tune. It's not quite honky-tonk, but more of a lounge sound, which I personally find great for ragtime. I hope you've enjoyed this improvised look into the world of digital pianos. It's by no means complete, and there are plenty of rabbit holes you can fall down if you want, so I'm sorry if I sent you down one of those. But for now, as Mozart would say, all of them.
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