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As with computers, keyboards are updated and become outdated as quickly as they reach the stores. But unlike some unfriendly and money-hungry computer and software developers, keyboard manufacturers are constantly trying to make products that won’t become obsolete by creating keyboards that can be upgraded or added to as technology grows.
Ask the manufacturer or a salesperson these questions to minimize the possibility that your keyboard won’t be thrown out the window when the next big thing comes along:
J' Can I add memory? Adding memory to keyboards is quite common these days. More memory means the ability to accommodate new sounds, software, and hardware at a later date. Also ask what the memory limitations are. If you don’t understand the terminology, ask the salesperson to explain it to you in non-technical terms.
J' Is it SCSI (pronounced “scuzzy”) compatible? This means that you can connect your keyboard to an external computer hard drive or CD-ROM drive. These external devices can store extra sounds or other software that may benefit your keyboard.
J' Is the unit upgradeable? When the manufacturer comes out with the next model, you want to be able to simply upgrade your model, not throw it out.
J' Can I purchase extra sound cards or libraries? Many synthesizers and samplers have vast libraries of sounds. Whether they’re developed by the original manufacturer or other sound developers, you can add extra sound cards and libraries to make old keyboards sound new again.
S' Is the company still making this model or series? If not, it’s already headed toward the land of obsolescence. But if it meets ail the other criteria on this list and you can get it for a cheaper price, just add memory, upgrades, and sounds over the years.
Don’t be embarrassed to ask the preceding questions. If the salesperson looks at you funny, and you’re sure it’s not your haircut, then call the manufacturer directly (using the information listed in the section “Looking at some specific brands”) and ask them.
250 Part VI: So Many Toys, So Little Time
Knowing the features you Want
Decide what features are important to you and make a list before you even start shopping. This can be different for each user, each performer. For example, I don’t tour with a band, so 1 have no need for a feature allowing me “quick live performance flexibility.” If you play concerts, however, this may be an important feature.
As technology expands, more and more keyboards are beginning to feature all kinds of nice little bells and whistles. Here are some of the features you can expect to find:
S Multi-note polyphony: The bigger the number, the more notes you can play at once. Try to get at least 32-note polyphony. Sure, you don’t have 32 fingers, but if you use MIDI (which I tell you about later in this chapter), 32-note polyphony comes in handy. Some current models even have 128-note polyphony. Now that’s excellent.
S Multi-timbral: This means you can play more than one sound at the same time. For example, you can play sounds like a piano, a violin, a banjo, and a bagpipe together on “Danny Boy.” Wow, please send me a tape of that!
•K MIDI capable: You can read more about MIDI later in this chapter.
J’ Pitch bend and modulation: Fun little effects to make your sounds say “wah wah” and “woob woob.”
S SCSI compatible: See the previous section for an explanation of SCSI, or just trust me — you want it.
S Sound editing: Do you want to change the sounds — make the piano sound brighter, the horns sound brassier, the goose calls goosier? If so, make sure you have this feature.
S Weighted keys: Makes it feel more like a piano feels when you play.
S Hammer-action keys: Yeah, right! What are the keys hammering? The circuitry inside? Just don’t pay extra for this load of salesmanship.
S Internal sequencing: Want to record what you play without using a tape deck or computer? You need a sequencer, which you can read more about later in this chapter.
S Internal effects: Allows you to add cool little sound effects without buying extra effects devices.
S Other mumbo-jumbo: Flash ROM, DSP Plug-Ins, BIAS Peak, suboscillators, vocoders, modeling filters, arpeggiators. All of this is very cool, but what does it have to do with you playing music? Not much. It’s simply saying that your model is on the cutting edge of current keyboard features.
_________________________Chapter 16: Finding the Perfect Keyboard
Looking at some specific brands
Here’s my list of recommended brands and models for electric pianos and organs. If you’re having trouble finding any of these brands in your city, contact the company directly. They’ll be more than happy to help sell you a piano or organ:
J1 Kawai America Corporation: 2055 East University Drive, Compton, CA, 90220. Phone: (310) 631-1771; fax (310) 604-6913. Web site: www .kawaius.com. Recommended models: MP9000 and ConcertArtist.
J' Roland Corporation US: 7200 Dominion Circle, Los Angeles, CA, 90040-3696. Phone: (213) 685-5141; fax (213) 721-4875. Web site: www.rolandus.com. Recommended model: The EP Series.