Music Performance (Extended) Diploma Level 3 - Keyboard


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Hi All,

Wonder if you can assist with advice. My daughter has just started her Music course today. She has had singing lessons for years and continues to do so as well as a member of the local amateur dramatics group which is free. She has never played an instrument before so she will also be learning to play as well.

Due to budget constraints we are looking to get her a entry level keyboard whereby she can record her singing as well as the output from the keyboard and then edit the content as well. I understand I would need to get a MIDI keyboard for this, is that correct?

We are also looking at getting her a 2nd hand macbook pro or air. I know the pro would be more suited to this but again budget constraints as I am a single parent father who works but is reluctant at present to spend out properly until we see more professional stuff is required.

We would probably be looking at software like Cubase Elements, unless you can advise of free software with the same caability which is free and MAC compatible

So I wonder if you could maybe point me in the direction of what we actually need that can do the above and do we need a midi? The course outline is below if that assists.

You will study the following units:
  • Using a keyboard with a DAW
  • Live music performance
  • Session musician
  • Planning for a career and getting work in music
  • Life sound recording
  • Music rehearsal skills
  • Music improvisation
  • Radio and podcast production
 
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SeaGtGruff

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I was going to suggest Cakewalk as a possible free DAW, but it looks like it's a Windows-only DAW.

Tracktion makes a DAW which is available for Mac in addition to Windows and Linux, and they have a free version. Some companies put restrictions on the free versions of their DAWs, such as being limited to a small number of tracks per project, but Tracktion takes a different approach-- the most recent version of their DAW is available only through purchase; the previous version is available as "bundled" software with the purchase of certain audio or MIDI equipment; and the version prior to that is available for free. Of course, if you're using the older free version and decide you'd like to benefit from new or updated features that were added in a later version, you can easily move up to either the bundled version (by purchasing equipment that it comes with) or the most current version-- which they often offer at a reduced price for people who have a license to an older version.

However, one thing to be aware of if you wish to try the free version of Tracktion is that it doesn't include any virtual instruments or effects, so you'll need to provide your own. Even with the paid version, I believe the plugins are sold separately. Fortunately, there are many free third-party plugins available, as well as high-quality paid plugins.

Cockos REAPER is another DAW which is available for Mac in addition to Windows and Linux. REAPER isn't free, but it's very inexpensive, and the full version can be used for free on a trial basis. The free trial is for a limited time period, but the program doesn't stop working when the trial period is up-- it just lets you know that the trial period has ended and that you should purchase a license if you wish to keep using the program legally, but it doesn't stop you from using it without a license.

One of the reasons REAPER is so inexpensive is because it doesn't have much in the way of included instruments and effects. In fact, that's one of the things that can drive up the prices of most commercial DAWs-- the quantity and quality of instrument and effects plugins which are included with the DAW. Commercial DAWs which are available in different versions for different prices, ranging from completely free to very expensive (several hundreds of dollars), will typically include a varying number of plugins depending on which version you're buying.

Of course, if you want to use a Mac computer then you might want to start with GarageBand for free and then upgrade later to Logic Pro.
 
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Thank you Michael for the detailed and informative response. I am a IT consultant so the above is totally understood. I would rather shy away from Windows or Linux OS as inevitably the OS becomes less responsive over the course of time due to their architecture and the way applications are installed.

I did consider a decent spec laptop with Windows installed and then run a virtual Windows OS within, only installing apps on the virtual machine but I think this would confuse my daughter. The MAC OS architecture and the way it is ringfenced, the installation of apps wont bring down the performance over the course of time.

I shall look up GarageBand and its functionality. Cubase is expensive but didnt realise they done a light elements version until I done a bit of research over the weekend, I think that will suffice and at only £80 is cheaper than the full studio version.

I notice in your profile sig you list current & past ownership of a number of keyboards. Are you able to advise on the following?

1) recommendation of potential keyboards that would fulfill our requirement as starter keyboards? I am looking at present in the £0-£150 price bracket to see how she gets on.
2) Do keyboards exist that have a Microphone input that also has a output to a MAC that records/outputs simultaneously both voice and keyboard notes direct into the MAC software ?
 

happyrat1

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Three questions.

1) How old is your daughter?

2) If you require MIDI you're going to have to bump up your budget to at least 350 to 500 UK Pounds. Is this doable?

3) Are you averse to getting a full sized 88 key piano action keyboard due to available space or other reasons?

You could shop around on your local craigslist to see what's available in that price range and you should be able to find keyboards that are less toylike and more geared to serious study.

I'd recommend a used Casio Privia PX-340 or PX-350 in that price range if you can score one.

They have a proper weighted, hammer action 88 Keyboard and enough built in voices to do some serious compositions.

Gary ;)
 
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Three questions.

1) How old is your daughter?

2) If you require MIDI you're going to have to bump up your budget to at least 350 to 500 UK Pounds. Is this doable?

3) Are you averse to getting a full sized 88 key piano action keyboard due to available space or other reasons?

You could shop around on your local craigslist to see what's available in that price range and you should be able to find keyboards that are less toylike and more geared to serious study.

I'd recommend a used Casio Privia PX-340 or PX-350 in that price range if you can score one.

They have a proper weighted, hammer action 88 Keyboard and enough built in voices to do some serious compositions.

Gary ;)
Thanks Gary. She is 16, so just starting college. The purchase of this kit is not a course requirement but merely for her to use to run alongside. Although she is committed I am reluctant to spend out incase learning a instrument is not her thing and she decides to concentrate on her singing. We are under no illusions that she is going to make it big, she does have a voice and can sign (not a biased fatherly opinion but that of previous teachers, private vocal tutors and those at her performing arts group) She enjoys singing, music (all genres) and performing, whether it becomes a career for her or a serious hobby alongside another career is her decision.

To answer the other two questions, it is doable but I dont want to run the risk that a instrument is not for her after paying out that much. I also didnt realise there is a 88 key version, all I have seen is 61 based on my searches. So not sure of the benefits between 61 and 88.

I have through my recent research discovered that there is weighted and hammer etc but not sure if needed at the minute.


My approach at present is to get something entry level as such and if she embraces learning the piano/keyboard then by all means I will have no issues shelling out for more professional kit at the price point you mention. It might be the case that she just continues her singing and takes a interest in production rather than a artist who plays an instrument

Hope that makes sense
 

happyrat1

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The thing is that there are two main types of keyboard. Weighted hammer action which delivers the feel of a real piano. This is very important if you are learning to play piano styles.

Then there is synth weighted which lacks the hammer action piano "feel" of a real piano. This is acceptable if your instrument stylings are more organ and synth sounding.

I realize you may not appreciate the difference but most piano teachers will refuse to teach students with anything less than 88 weighted hammer action keys.

Hammer action for the most part is only available on 88 keyboards.

Synth weighted keys tend to come as 49, 61 or 76 or 73 keyboards.

I'd suggest asking her teacher if hammer action is a requirement for her course or not.

This will be the greatest deciding factor.

Gary ;)
 
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happyrat1

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BTW, if Synth weighted 61 keys are acceptable I'd recommend getting her one of the new Casio CT-X series like the CT-X800 for instance.

Decent sounds for a starter keyboard but it's the most basic entry level you can get from Casio these days.

Gary ;)
 
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A MAC may not be a good idea unless you can get one that is already using the latest Apple Operating System, now this bit is important, you will not be able to install the free Garage Band unless the device is using the latest OS it will be the same with Apples own fully fledged DAW Logic Pro which costs £200 so that to will only install to current OS versions.

Additionally to the excellent advice given so far then a digital piano could provide the 88 hammer action keys and the new Casio range has one at £320, and a Korg B1 is a similar price. So you should able to pick up a second hand digital piano of some kind for a reasonable price.

If you visit a Music Store near where you live then they can often have trade in keyboards that you can haggle a great price from and buying from a Music Store will give security of purchase since it will have a shop guarantee of some sorts.

Now for some possible excellent news, if you do a search for Music Stores then many are offering zero or low cost finance on musical instruments which are for a child under 18 years of age.

BTW, a singer who plays guitar or keys will probably find it more easy to get gigs or even to busk to hone their craft so learning keys is a great idea.
 
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The thing is that there are two main types of keyboard. Weighted hammer action which delivers the feel of a real piano. This is very important if you are learning to play piano styles.

Then there is synth weighted which lacks the hammer action piano "feel" of a real piano. This is acceptable if your instrument stylings are more organ and synth sounding.

I realize you may not appreciate the difference but most piano teachers will refuse to teach students with anything less than 88 weighted hammer action keys.

Hammer action for the most part is only available on 88 keyboards.

Synth weighted keys tend to come as 49, 61 or 76 or 73 keyboards.

I'd suggest asking her teacher if hammer action is a requirement for her course or not.

This will be the greatest deciding factor.

Gary ;)
Thanks Gary, as mentioned earlier this is not a course requirement. It is merely something for her to try alongside her college course. She thinks it will be a good accompaniment to learn, also beneficial if she writes her own music/songs. As she will be learning music production and editing in her course it makes sense that the keyboard has output capability for self editing at home which will only benefit any future assessment on that module.

Will look into the hammer, weighted element. I also saw in my brief research that I think it was weighted is more preferable as it allows you to control a note for more complex pieces. so a light press generates the note quietly and a hard press all the way a loud note generated, which is useful for quiet and slow sections of a "tune" and also loud secitions of a "tune". Hope I understood that right and sorry for the lack of musical terminology..."tune"...ha ha
 

happyrat1

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Just to clear up confusion.

1) Keyboard weighting involves the actual placement of lead weights under or inside the keys to make the dynamics of the touch more appealing to the player. Hammer action involves including a cam and pivot mechanism under each key to simulate the feel of a real piano's escapement when the hammer strikes a string.

2) Velocity sensitivity or touch sensitivity is the ability of the keys to respond to different speeds of keypresses with different volume levels. Virtually every modern keyboard has this feature except for the absolute cheapest kiddy toy quality keyboards.

The Casio CT-X800 I listed incorporates this feature as well as any superior model.

I just saw the CT-X800 listed for $150 CDN on Amazon.ca so shop around and keep an eye open for specials and sales.


Gary ;)
 

SeaGtGruff

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There are basically two styles of keys as far as their shapes.

Synths and home organs usually have keys which are flat with usually a little bit of plastic coming down on both sides and in front, but they don't have "proper" fronts or sides. I've seen these called "diving board" style keys, which seems like a pretty good description.

Pianos and some organs have keys which are better described as "box-shaped," in that they have proper fronts and sides. Of course, on "real" pianos and organs they're probably made of wood and are solid, but on electronic keyboards they're often just hollow plastic keys.

Then there is the weight and action of the keyboard, as Gary/@happyrat1 mentioned.

Diving board or synth-style keys are usually going to be unweighted; I'm not even sure whether they can even be made weighted or semi-weighted.

Box-shaped or piano-style keys will often be weighted or semi-weighted, but that's not a guarantee. Weighted keys will often be scaled or graded, where the lower keys feel heavier and the higher keys feel lighter-- but again, that's not a guarantee, and not all graded hammer scale weighting is the same.

Where this sort of thing matters the most is in the type of musical compositions that will be played. If you get an unweighted keyboard with diving board keys, but then find yourself wanting to play compositions for the piano, you're probably going to get very frustrated very quickly. But if you watch videos of people playing keyboards that have unweighted diving board keys, you can see them playing some nice piano pieces-- so it can really depend on the nature of the composition, meaning how rapidly certain passages need to be played, or how much variation there needs to be between very quiet, delicate passages and very loud, forceful passages.

Anyway, I didn't mean to rehash ground that other people have already covered. What I really wanted to say was that you might want to take your daughter to a store where she can try out some keyboards that have different types (shapes) and weights of keys, to see if she has any strong feelings for or against them.
 
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Just to clear up confusion.

1) Keyboard weighting involves the actual placement of lead weights under or inside the keys to make the dynamics of the touch more appealing to the player. Hammer action involves including a cam and pivot mechanism under each key to simulate the feel of a real piano's escapement when the hammer strikes a string.

2) Velocity sensitivity or touch sensitivity is the ability of the keys to respond to different speeds of keypresses with different volume levels. Virtually every modern keyboard has this feature except for the absolute cheapest kiddy toy quality keyboards.

The Casio CT-X800 I listed incorporates this feature as well as any superior model.

I just saw the CT-X800 listed for $150 CDN on Amazon.ca so shop around and keep an eye open for specials and sales.


Gary ;)
Thanks Gary for the clarification, it is most helpful for novices like myself
 
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There are basically two styles of keys as far as their shapes.

Synths and home organs usually have keys which are flat with usually a little bit of plastic coming down on both sides and in front, but they don't have "proper" fronts or sides. I've seen these called "diving board" style keys, which seems like a pretty good description.

Pianos and some organs have keys which are better described as "box-shaped," in that they have proper fronts and sides. Of course, on "real" pianos and organs they're probably made of wood and are solid, but on electronic keyboards they're often just hollow plastic keys.

Then there is the weight and action of the keyboard, as Gary/@happyrat1 mentioned.

Diving board or synth-style keys are usually going to be unweighted; I'm not even sure whether they can even be made weighted or semi-weighted.

Box-shaped or piano-style keys will often be weighted or semi-weighted, but that's not a guarantee. Weighted keys will often be scaled or graded, where the lower keys feel heavier and the higher keys feel lighter-- but again, that's not a guarantee, and not all graded hammer scale weighting is the same.

Where this sort of thing matters the most is in the type of musical compositions that will be played. If you get an unweighted keyboard with diving board keys, but then find yourself wanting to play compositions for the piano, you're probably going to get very frustrated very quickly. But if you watch videos of people playing keyboards that have unweighted diving board keys, you can see them playing some nice piano pieces-- so it can really depend on the nature of the composition, meaning how rapidly certain passages need to be played, or how much variation there needs to be between very quiet, delicate passages and very loud, forceful passages.

Anyway, I didn't mean to rehash ground that other people have already covered. What I really wanted to say was that you might want to take your daughter to a store where she can try out some keyboards that have different types (shapes) and weights of keys, to see if she has any strong feelings for or against them.
Thanks for that, makes sense also. Didnt consider actually going to try some out, I think in the current days of online shopping you forget you can do that, also more likely to purchase in scenarios like this when you dont know what you actually need and are provded with a service and quality advice.
 

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