Read an Excerpt
Piano and Keyboard All-in-One For Dummies
By John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
John Wiley & SonsCopyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd
All rights reserved.
Choosing Sounds and Effects
In This Chapter
* Getting keyboard sound terminology straight and calling up sounds
* Understanding and recognizing various types of effects
* Identifying the basic parameters for each effect type
* Access the audio tracks at www.dummies.com/go/pianokeyboardaio/
This chapter aims to help you get a handle on how to get different sounds out of your keyboard. Have you ever watched a guitar player in concert step on some little box with his foot at different parts of the song? Or rock his foot forward and back on a pedal? He's using effects to enhance and change his sound, turning different ones on and off for each part of the song. You can do the same with a keyboard.
Effects add qualities to the sound that the basic tone production method doesn't include, so using them can change the character of any sound. Over time, well-established groups of effects have developed, most of which are explained in this chapter.
Your keyboard already has some effects configured with each sound, and you may or may not have much control over them. Working with the effects may be as simple as flipping an on/off switch or may go into greater detail. Developing the ability to hear and identify the various types of effects helps you recognize them being used in the music you listen to and reproduce those sounds for the songs you want to play.
A likely reason you've chosen to play an electronic keyboard is that it offers more than one sound. Having a variety of sound keeps you interested in playing longer. Can you imagine hearing Mozart played by Jimi Hendrix? Chuck Berry played with a flute? Nirvana played on a harpsichord? Having the right sounds for the type of music you like to play is essential. And that's why a keyboardist is the luckiest musician of all. Your keyboard can transform into any instrument you want at the push of a button. No other player has that power, so use it wisely!
First Things First: Understanding Some Important Terminology
One of the most confusing things about shopping for keyboards, talking about them with your friends, or just using them is the crazy array of names used to describe the choice of sounds available. Even the term sound may not be that simple. Is "a sound" the re-creation of a single known instrument such as the piano or a pipe organ? The combination of multiple instruments being played at the same time, such as a whole orchestra or a big-band sax section? Two instruments being played together such as a guitar and a flute or an electric piano and a bass guitar?
All these things are possible, but this variety means you need a name for the individual "thing" a keyboard can reproduce, the combination of multiple "things," and so on. To make matters worse, each company has its own name for each of these "things."
This section tries to clear up this confusion and introduce you to a few concepts about the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI for short), covered in greater detail in Book VI Chapter 3.
A sound by any other name: Recognizing the various terms
To keep things simple and clear, some refer to single "things" as sounds, and the combinations of "things" as multipart sounds. If only real life were so simple. Each manufacturer uses its own terms for these things, which creates a world of confusion. Take a look at Tables 1-1 and 1-2 to see what this means.
Table 1-1 shows a list of brand names and the name(s) they use for single sounds in their various keyboards.
What a crazy and confusing list of terms all meaning the same thing. Can't we all just get along?
If that wasn't confusing enough, some of these words have other meanings in music tech terms.
Tone can also mean the brightness or bassy quality of a sound. Many home stereos, guitar amplifiers, and other audio devices have a control for tone that doesn't change to another instrument sound; it affects the EQ (brightness and bass amount) of the device (more about EQ toward the end of this chapter).
Voice is sometimes used when describing how many notes you can play at the same time, which is called polyphony (which means "many voices"). A guitar is six-note polyphonic (it has six strings), and an acoustic piano is 88-note polyphonic. As a side note, many instruments can only play one note at a time (woodwinds, brass, the human voice, some analog synthesizers), and they're called monophonic. So a spec sheet for a keyboard may use the term 100-voice polyphony, meaning it can produce 100 notes at the same time.
Preset can also mean a memory location that can't be changed or overwritten. Products that use this term list a number of Preset and User locations to describe what can't and can be changed.
Moving on to the multipart sounds, Table 1-2 shows how different brands refer to these sounds in their keyboards.
Makes you wish you had a scorecard to follow, doesn't it?
MIDI: Defining GM/GM2
As you look at web pages, literature, keyboard manuals, and keyboard front panels and displays, you're going to come across General MIDI logos. General MIDI (GM) is a standard that defines a set of sounds, instrumental effects, and numerous standard features so MIDI-based music can be shared among various devices (keyboards, computers, web pages, and even cellphones) and always sound the same. GM defines a set of 128 sounds that cover the most basic and universal group of instruments. So when you select a sound in the GM bank or group of sounds, it will sound similar to that same sound in any other brand or type of keyboard you have.
MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, a technology standard developed in 1983 by a number of keyboard companies to allow keyboards to "talk" to each other — to trigger sounds from one keyboard (the master) and have other keyboards (the slave) sound at the same time. This setup enabled layering of sounds between different keyboards and brands for a fuller sound. It has evolved into a universally supported and wonderful capability to not only play keyboards connected together but also to connect keyboards to computers for recording, sound editing, musical notation, and other activities. (MIDI is covered in more detail in Book VI Chapter 3.)
General MIDI 2 (GM2) is an expanded set of sounds that adds more diversity and variety to the library, but the concept remains the same: guaranteed sound conformity so that songs and arrangements can be reproduced with consistency and accuracy no matter what the playback device.
These logos indicate that the product includes the complete General MIDI sound set and responds properly to sound selection commands via MIDI. Figure 1-1 shows an example of these logos.
Two other GM-like standards are brand specific. GS is a Roland standard that's similar to GM2, and XG is a Yamaha standard that goes even further than GM2. But the idea is the same (as far as sounds are concerned) — a pre-specified list of sounds that is always the same in products bearing the logo.
Knowing and Using Effects
Effects are used in electronic musical instruments, amplifiers, large sound systems in performance venues, and recording studios. Often, you don't think about them; they've become a natural part of the sound you associate with an instrument. Some are easy to identify because they add a signature color and quality to a sound, but others are seemingly invisible because they correct or enhance the basic tonal nature of a sound without adding anything noticeable.
Here are the most common groups of effects:
[check] Tonal correction: This effect is commonly called EQ for equalizer or equalization. It's like the basic treble and bass controls of a stereo but can be much fancier and more detailed.
[check] Volume control:Volume is often called gain in audio terms, but it means just what you think: the level of the sound. Effects such as a compressor, a limiter, and a preamp fall into this category.
[check] Modulation:Modulation is the broadest category of effects and the most obvious to hear. These effects add motion and color to your sound and can be subtle or wildly psychedelic. Popular effects include chorus, phase shifting, flanging, tremolo, and rotary speaker.
[check] Tonal coloration: This category is somewhat related to modulation but doesn't add motion. It just colors, or changes, the sound. Common candidates are distortion, amp models, and speaker simulators.
[check] Ambience: These effects simulate the characteristics of an environment such as a room, a large hall, a cathedral, or a canyon. Common effects are delay (distinct echoes) and reverb (a more indistinct wash of sound reflections).
Knowing these groupings, you can listen to a sound or a recording and start to define what you're hearing. If an acoustic piano sound seems to be very far away and has some subtle echoes, you should think reverb and perhaps some delay. When you hear a very "crunchy" clavinet (clav) sound with a thick, aggressive quality, you may rightfully assume it's being run through some distortion or perhaps an amp simulator (or a real guitar amp).
Meeting the Main Types of Effects
This book is about pianos and keyboards, not guitars or recording studios, so the following sections introduce you to only the most common effects you'll find and want to use in your instrument. This section covers onboard effects; you can buy additional boxes to run your keyboard through, but covering those would require a separate book.
Reverb adds space around your notes and can make your sound seem farther away, even dreamy. It's short for reverberation, which describes the continuation of sound in a particular space after the original sound is produced and stops or decays away. Reverb produces a kind of hazy or blurred type of echo that's very pleasing to the ear and gives a sense of the space you're playing in.
The character of a reverb is defined by several factors, including the following:
[check] The overall size of the space you produce the sound in
[check] The number of surfaces the sound can bounce off of (how enclosed is the room, how high is the ceiling, and so on)
[check] The material of the walls (wood, concrete, glass, or whatever), which affects how much sound they absorb and how distinct the repetitions/ reflections are
Put simply, various types of reverbs can make it sound like you're playing in all kinds of different spaces.
Keyboards typically give you a limited set of parameters you can use to adjust reverb. Here are the most common:
[check] Mix or wet/dry mix:Mix controls how much of your original, unaffected (dry) signal is passed on and how much of the reverberated (wet) signal is introduced. Often, just a little wet signal is good enough to produce a nice, not-too-sloppy sound. But sometimes a lot more of the wet signal is nice, giving your playing a spacious quality and majestic sound.
The more notes you play or the faster the tempo, the less reverb you want to use. This way, all your playing can be clearly heard without blurring together.
[check] Type:Type is an overall selection that sets the size of the space and other associated parameters, or even the method of producing the reflections. Common choices are room, hall, stage, cathedral, and so on. You may sometimes see plate or spring, which is a form of artificial reflection where a sound is played into a box that contains a metal plate or large spring, which vibrates from the incoming sound waves.
[check] Size: The size control defines the overall size of your chosen simulated space. So a small room may seem like a tiny hallway or closet, and a large room may be 10 feet by 20 feet or 40 feet by 40 feet. The idea of a small cathedral or canyon may seem funny, but remember that the type of room is defined not only by its floor space but also by characteristics like ceiling height and the materials the walls are made of.
[check] Reverb time: This control simulates how long the sound reflections take to die away or stop sounding. It's casually described as a length — a short reverb, a long reverb — and the reflections are sometimes called the reverb tail.
On many simple keyboards and digital pianos, mix and type may be your only control choices. More advanced reverbs that offer deeper programmability include parameters such as
[check] EQ: Shapes the tone of the sound a bit.
[check] Damping: Simulates how much of the sound is absorbed; higher values cause the reflections to come back darker or less bright.
[check] Pre-delay: Pushes back the whole reflective simulation, so your original dry sound can be heard before the reflections start. Adding some pre-delay (or raising its existing value) helps your sound be clearer and more distinct before being wrapped in the ambience of the effect.
Track 132 plays examples of various reverb types.
Delay (sometimes called echo) is an ambience effect, adding the impression of space around your notes. But it works differently from reverb in that the reflections are distinct, clear echoes or repeats of the incoming notes. You've probably seen a cartoon where the character yells into the Grand Canyon and his exact words come back a few moments later. That's delay. Used very subtly, it adds some ambience to your playing; brought up more in the mix it becomes a highly rhythmic counterpoint to play against.
The most common delay parameters your keyboard will let you adjust are
[check] Mix or wet/dry mix: Determines how much of your dry signal is passed on and how much the distinct echoes (wet sounds) are introduced.
[check] Delay time:Delay time controls the timing of the repetitions — specifically, the interval of time between the original signal and each repeat. It's usually represented in milliseconds but can be set to note values or even rhythmic figures in more advanced instruments.
[check] Feedback: This parameter manipulates how many distinct repetitions will sound. At most settings, these repetitions decay in volume with each occurrence, so they seem to fade out.
Be careful when adjusting this parameter! High feedback values can cause the repetitions to get louder and keep generating endlessly. Things can get very loud quickly and damage your speakers and/or hearing.
[check] Damping:Damping adjusts the brightness of each repetition to simulate the effect of sound absorption; each occurrence gets darker. Along with the level decay that may be built into feedback, damping helps keep your playing from sounding too cluttered.
Track 133 demonstrates delay.
Chorus, flanging, and phase shifting are modulation effects that produce a warm, swirling sort of thickened sound. Each one sounds different, but they're all closely related in concept and use.
Listen to Track 134 to hear flanging, chorus, and phase shifting demonstrated and compared.
Chorus is produced by constantly varying the pitch of a slightly delayed copy of your sound. When this variation is mixed back with the original signal, it produces a pleasing, rich result. The chorus effect was first designed to sound like a choir of voices singing together, with the slight imperfections in tuning and timing that produced an ensemble sound.
Common chorus parameters to adjust on your keyboard include
[check] Mix or wet/dry mix: Controls how much of your dry signal is passed on and how much of the original-plus-varied (wet) signal is introduced. Unlike reverb, mix sounds better at higher, or wetter, values for chorus.
[check] Depth: This parameter indicates how much pitch variation is produced.
[check] Rate/frequency: This control adjusts the speed of the pitch variations. Very slow to medium sounds good; too fast, and your sound takes on a wobbly, underwater quality. But maybe that's what you want.
Excerpted from Piano and Keyboard All-in-One For Dummies by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Excerpted by permission of John Wiley & Sons.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.