Pro Keyboard Topics:
» Arranger vs. Workstation
» Using a keyboard workstation live
» What can a Professional Arranger do for me?
» The organ: How it shaped and continues to shape the sound of modern music.
» What to look for in a pro keyboard
Powerful, mighty and sonically stupendous, Professional Keyboards add girth to
any studio or live rig. This Sweetwater Buying Guide includes information that
can help you choose a Professional Keyboard for your needs. Since there's so
consider when purchasing a Professional Keyboard, don't hesitate to call 1-800-222-4700 for
Arranger vs. Workstation
Before we compare and contrast the Arranger
Keyboard with a Keyboard
the important thing to remember is that the
distinction is NOT
that one is professional and the other
is not. Today, probably the only major
a workstation and an arranger is the type
of sounds. Arrangers generally have what
as "bread and butter sounds" (pianos,
organ, brass and so on). Where as in addition
to basic "bread and butter sounds" a
workstation generally has more synth sounds
and also better and more effects, as well
as other music creation tools too numerous
mention in this context.
In a one-man band situation, both can work to have a full band effect but an arranger would give a more live feeling to the music by the use of intros, fills and variations with in a style. If you get an arranger that allows you to create your own styles, you can make the styles tailored to the type of music you play, and you're playing technique, and with as much live feeling as you need. On a workstation, you can use midi files or program the song with all the different parts and at the gig, play over the sequence. Depending on how you sequence the midi file, you can get a band-like effect.
With respect to composing original music, both an arranger and a workstation can get you to a final original song. On a workstation, you can use the sequencer and record each track in a linear way. Or you can use the pattern chaining function. On an arranger that has a sequencer (which most top end arrangers are coming with), you can also record in a linear way. You can also use the styles to build the song using fills, variation, intros and endings to give the different parts to the song. Depending on the type of keyboard arranger you have, you can either copy or paste the different parts of the styles in to the sequencer or you can record the styles real-time in to the sequencer. When in the sequencer, you can then edit the song to your liking using the punch in recording mode, copying measures and so on. If you don't want to compose a song from scratch, both arrangers and workstations have tools to help you. A workstation has onboard arpeggios and loops while an arranger has onboard styles.
In terms of live performance, and again, depending on the style in which you perform, the advantage of an arranger is the chord recognition feature for performing on the fly, and the vocal processor.
You really have to sit down and ask your self
what do you want to do with a keyboard
and what would be the best way to accomplish
Then you can look at workstations vs.
arrangers and after that, you have to
look at what type/brand
of arranger or workstation would best
fit your needs. Your Sweetwater Sales
Engineer can certainly
help you there (call 800-222-4700).
Arrangers work well for solo performers,
but both are excellent types of keyboards
musician would benefit from having both
in their set up.
Using a keyboard workstation live:
Though most professional performers think
that an Arranger
Keyboard is more suitable
for live performance, a Keyboard
Workstation is geared for stage use as well.
For live performances, a workstation can
be used in a band setting. If it is just
of selecting sounds and playing the keyboard,
both a workstation and an arranger can
do the job. On a workstation, you can
use midi files,
either commercially produced or programmed
yourself to get the band-like effect.
If you are performing original music,
this is where
the workstation shines for live performance.
First of all, you have a greater palette
for creating original sounds and effects
workstation than are available on the
arranger. From there, program your songs
with all the
parts except for the ones you are going
to perform live, and then play them along
with the sequence. Also, if you are performing
music and want to produce more authentic
covers, the workstation gives you more
aforementioned commercial MIDI files)
for reproducing the music more accurately.
also have a vocal harmonizer function
to provide backup vocals while you perform,
is a much more common feature on an arranger.
As we have realized, since either an arranger or a workstation can be used effectively in live performance, it is important that you assess your musical goals and choose accordingly.
What can a Professional Arranger do for me?
There was a time not too long ago, and definitely
not in a galaxy far, far, away, when Arranger
Keyboards were thought to be little more
than home entertainment, much like the
of yesteryear. This is no longer the case.
Arrangers have evolved into a necessary
tool for the professional performing musician.
are showing up in the studios where their
tracks are directly recorded from the
put on CD for release. (This is happening
quite frequently in Latin music.) Of course,
makes sense, since the styles and performances
are created and performed by world-class
musicians, as in the case of the Korg
Pa3X76 . In fact,
a very well known Hollywood sound designer
who does feature-film work recently added
Tyros to his arsenal of sound
For composers who have to produce music
quickly in a given style that they may
not be familiar
with, an arranger can be the difference
between making the deadline or losing
the gig. Here's
a scenario I've found myself in: Imagine
being asked to produce background music
for a film
in the style of the early Errol Garner
Trio, and you have one day to do it. The
would take to thoroughly research Garner's
style, not to mention acquire the technique
to play it on piano (especially if you're
a string player like me), would mean that
you'd probably have to pass on the gig,
pink slip. Either way, future work would
get scarce. That's where an arranger can
bacon. Simply load in the style, enter
your chord progression, maybe do a little
editing, and there you are, a convincing
on great sounding instruments. In fact,
quality acoustic instrument sounds is
where the arranger
shines because the 'instruments' are set
up to respond as though they are being
played live. In fact, Yamaha's "Mega Voice" technology
was created for that very purpose.
Getting back to the advantages of the arranger: let's say the dust has settled, you delivered the goods on that jazz cue and now you have a little time on your hands. You can use the arranger as an educational tool, giving yourself access to the inner workings of a multitude of styles and genres, which will certainly increase your value and longevity as a working musician. In music, especially nowadays, the more versatile you are, the more you work. A good professional arranger can keep you in the game while you play catch up on your own. Actually, in most cases, people who hire composers don't care how you come up with the music, as long as you do.
For a songwriter who doesn't know how to program drums or play guitar, or doesn't want to, the arranger can give you the satisfaction of hearing your songs being played by a band without having to call in a drummer or bass player and etc. In short, you can realize your music fully produced without hiring musicians, rehearsal space and booking lots of studio time.
Finally, for the working solo performer, the arranger can add new dimension to your sound by giving you the advantage of sounding like a full band, all to your audiences delight.
The organ: How it shaped and continues to shape the sound of modern music.
A brief history of the Hammond Organ:
Hammond B3 and Leslie 122
Before we enter into a discussion of
the Organ and its
influence on modern music, it is interesting
to note the most
organ of all time, the Hammond, (particularly
the B3), whose sound is still found
in mainstream pop music was invented
by a man who self-admittedly
had no musical abilities what-so-ever,
and was, in fact, quite tone deaf.
It is also of interest to note that
while the names B3 and Leslie are almost
synonymous, the inventor of the Hammond organ,
Hammond, hated the sound of Leslie
speakers and when asked about Leslie Speakers,
almost irrational response was, "I never
intended for my organs to sound that way. "
The sound of the Hammond B3 formed the basis of 60's rock, blues and R&B and while briefly dying out, (or so it appeared) in the 80's, the sound of the organ is back in a big way being used as a featured instrument in bands like the Black Crowes, and Phish and many others. In fact, in my previous incarnation as a pop music sequencer for the number one Karaoke production house in the country, I would not have survived with out the vintage organ expansion card in my JV 5080. Almost every rock/pop tune I sequenced had organ (usually a B3 or some variation) present in the arrangement or featured.
Nord Electro 73
The B3 went out of production in 1975, but
that and its 400 plus pounds didn't stop musicians
from using it. The sound of the B3 still garners
the attention of technical geniuses who find
new and more complex ways to emulate its sound,
hoping to provide that unmistakable sound that
pop music can't seem to live without in a convenient,
portable package. Hence the existence of plug-in
emulations and modern day organs such as Roland's
VK-8 and the Clavia
Nord C2 (Even Hammond has an organ that models their own B3, the XK-3C).
Where did it all start?
the 1935 Model A
early Hammond Organs, invented in 1934,
were promoted as "low-cost pipe organ
churches, which is where the electronic
organ had its beginnings and still remains
today, since a pipe organ can cost in
the hundreds of thousands, yet contemporary
the Roland VK-8 or the two-tiered VK-88
are found in churches all over. In the
the organ, which was previously associated
carnivals, ice-skating rinks, funerals
Hammond Jazz Legend"
it's way into the entertainment field.
While no single organist was responsible
for the instrument's sudden popularity
it would be hard to find one who contributed
as Ethel Smith, who is no relation
to Jimmy Smith, the jazz keyboardist who
was the first
jazz musician to treat the organ as
a real instrument and has since made it
a staple of jazz.
Invented in 1940 by Don Leslie, the Leslie 122 rotating speaker whose unique blending of sound and acoustical nuance defined the sound of rock organ, jazz organ and pop music. The Leslie rotating speaker sound, a staple of pop music to this day, also finds itself the subject of numerous emulations in synths, soft synths, and in guitar effects processors as well. (Thanks to the musical pioneering of Jimi Hendrix.) The rotating speaker sound is still so popular that Hammond has continued production with models such as the 3300.
Organ evolving into Synthesizer:
The fertile mind of Laurens Hammond was not satisfied. He conceived an instrument that would produce all the sounds of an orchestra from notes generated by radio vacuum tubes. The idea was to produce an instrument that could make music resembling that of the famous dance bands of the era. From that concept sprang the Novachord, introduced at the 1939 New York's World's Fair, it was in essence, the world's first synthesizer. Apparently, however, the public preferred to see the band and the instrument never caught on.
Another innovation hit the market in 1940 when Hammond introduced the Solovox, an electronic apparatus invented to augment a piano with accompaniment of orchestral sounds. The Solovox, generating sound with vacuum tubes, had a three-octave keyboard like the piano, but was arranged so that it could be played in six octaves. It has 12 tone selectors that produced a broad range of sound effects instantly popular with piano entertainers and owners. Three models were brought out in the years from 1940-1948, after which it was discontinued.
Interestingly enough, Dr. Robert Moog of Moog Music based his original experiments in synthesizer creation on the Novachord and Hammond's tone-wheel inventions - and the rest, as they say, is history.
Pro keyboards come in a number of sizes with various numbers of keys. It's common to find keyboards with 88, 76, 61, 49, 36, and even 25 keys. You will also hear the words 'hammer action', 'semi-weighted', and 'synth action' in regard to keys. You must determine which combination of keybed action type and number of keys will provide the best combination of feel and functionality for you.
In a professional setting, the only issue of sound quality that can make a difference is the sample rate and bit depth of the samples, such as 24-bit/96kHz, which is rapidly becoming the standard for professional recording. With many synthesizers offering sounds that were recorded in world-class studios with rare vintage gear, as opposed to the lo-fi, bit-crushing and sound mangling that has become popular in some genres of music; the question of sound quality becomes an issue of whether or not the sounds a particular synth produces inspire you.
RAM/ROM - Upgradeable
This is an important issue in choosing a keyboard. ROM expansion allows you add sound cards thus extending the sonic and useful life of your keyboard. For sampling keyboards, the amount of RAM determines how much sampling time you have.
To determine which to choose, a sampler, sample player, or workstation, consider the type of work you will be doing. Will you be performing, sequencing, or composing, or any combination therein? Do you prefer to create your own sounds, or would you rather spend time composing?
Type of Synthesis
This depends on the type of music you want to make and also on what other sound sources you have. If you want one keyboard, a computer and nothing else, then consider one with options of different kinds of synthesis, such as the Kurzweil VAST system. Do you want authentic analog modeling or clean sounding sample playback? If you want realism, plan to do orchestral, mainstream, or pop music; you will need convincing piano, string section, brass, and percussion sounds, in which case, a sample playback synth will work. If you are doing dance, trance, D 'N B, techno, then an analog modeling synth would be more appropriate.
In the workstation you can record MIDI sequences using the preset sounds and combination programs, drum loops, high quality samples from the best sample CD ROMs, even your own voice or guitar as audio. If this excites you, but you're not interested in the steep learning curve of a computer system, then a workstation is for you.
Virtually all synthesizers come with some form of effects processing. If you are considering a workstation for all-in-one concept to CD production, then along with the usual types of dynamics processing, look for mastering effects as well.
Knobs and controllers
The bare necessities are a functioning pitch wheel and mod wheel. Don't leave home without them. Make sure that the knobs and sliders transmit MIDI continuous controller messages. These become very useful as you find your way around the MIDI universe. You can use them to sweep filters and fade FX, not only with the keyboard's sound engine but in your sequencer as well.
This is important for archiving or saving your patch information. Its purpose is twofold. If your keyboard needs repair, you won't lose your settings if the keyboard is reinitialized. Also, in time, the number of patches you create may exceed the memory capabilities of the keyboard. Removable media allows you to organize your patches for use as your performance needs require.
PC Interface: USB or mLAN
Many keyboards offer a USB or mLAN (a version of FireWire) interface for data transfer, offering even greater possibilities for sample transfer and data archival. If you are working with a computer-based DAW, a keyboard with a built-in audio interface can be a very cost effective way to get high-quality audio in and out of the computer without having to invest in additional sound cards.
If you plan on gigging, then the most important factor to look for is durability. Not all keyboards are meant to leave the studio.