Improving Your Instrument

Though the KeyMusician Keyboard instrument, is very capable, flexible, and has a good sound right out-of-the-box, there are things you can do to improve it.

Many of these things won’t cost you any money – you just need to know how.

On Windows (and to a lesser degree on Mac OS X and Linux), there is a particular need, because there is a noticeable delay between pressing a key, and hearing the note. This delay is inherent in the OS, but it can be eliminated, at little or no cost.

Also, there are better instrument sounds than what comes with Java and your operating system, available at no cost.

Experience over time continually shows us, that an outstanding sound of an instrument, inspires more practice by the musician, and better results in that musician’s performance.

This section tells you how to improve your instrument to where it inspires you to play more, so read-on!

Enhancing Your Instrument Sounds - General

There are a lot of things you can do to improve both the sound, and the performance of your instrument, that are common to all operating systems (Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux).

We cover the common things first, then get into the improvements you can make that are specific to your particular operating system.

Attaching An Amplifier And Speakers

Having a quality sound is one of the best ways to inspire a budding (or experienced) musician. And one of the first very-effective things you can do is attach an amplifier and good speaker system to your computer.

The speakers internal to a laptop will not inspire you as a musician, and the sound of a musical instrument should inspire its performer.

A good set of headphones can get you started when you’re on a budget.

With the right adapter cable, you can attach your computer sound card to most home stereo systems.

There are sound-systems designed to attach to your computer (or an MP3 player). I recommend you get one that at least has a sub-woofer. But the lowest cost system of that sort is only adequate for using in a room, and won’t carry in a performance-hall, if you plan to perform.

Stores will try to sell you stuff that costs $200 – $300 per-speaker for that, but you don’t need to spend that much money.

Check out the KMK Newsletter article on amplifiers and sound systems, by clicking HERE, returning here by using your browsers back-button.

Using the Numeric-Keypad On Laptops

On laptop computers not having a separate numeric keypad, the numeric keypad (used for playing chords) uses up nearly half of the keys, which is not acceptable.

Shortening the keyboard rows to fit, is a very bad idea. It is better to simply attach a full-size typing-keyboard to the laptop via a USB port.

Attaching a separate USB numeric-keypad doesn’t solve this problem, because other keys you need to reach while playing chords are not in-reach of a separate numeric keypad.

Attaching a full-size keyboard is the only reasonable solution, because that way you have all of the keys, as well as the ability to play chords, and you can reach the other commonly-used keys near the numeric keypad.

Eliminating Keyboard Key-Combinations That Won’t Play Together

Though with most keyboards, in many cases, you can play multiple notes at once (having multiple keys depressed simultaneously), the typical typing keyboard was after all, designed so that a typist could type one character at a time. So unfortunately, there are cases where certain combinations of keys cannot be played together.

A cheap and easy way of working around this problem, is to plug-in an additional USB typing keyboard (one for each hand). This also gives you ‘piano 4-hands’ capability. Add another keyboard, and it gives you ‘piano 6-hands’ capability.

The best solution is to purchase a keyboard that supports more simultaneous key-presses, namely, a gamers keyboard with anti-ghosting.

Computer gamers have dealt with this keyboard deficiency for a long time, and there are a lot of keyboards manufactured for gamers that can support our need for higher numbers of simultaneous key-presses. For information on keyboards with this capability, click on the following link, using your browser’s back-button to return here:

Using A Gamers Keyboard

Soundfonts – Collections Of Instrument-Sounds

A soundfont is a collection of instrument-sounds, which can be loaded into the Java Sound synthesizer, and also VST-instrument soundfont players.

Which soundfont you use is like the difference between the sound of an upright spinet piano, or a grand piano costing thousands of dollars. As a composer, I can personally vouch for how much a quality instrument sound can do to inspire you to create! If your instrument doesn’t inspire you, it isn’t a good enough instrument.

Do an Internet search for “soundfonts” or “soundfonts free”, and check out what you can get. Though this is something worth investing in, there are some really outstanding soundfonts available for free.

I highly recommend the Fluid Release 3 (FluidR3_GM) soundfont, which can be used in all three operating systems.

You can click the link (returning using your browser’s back-button) to find out more about the FluidR3_GM soundfont, which is included as part of the KeyMusician Keyboard.

VST (Virtual Studio Technology) Instrument Plug-Ins

On Windows and Mac OS X (and to a lesser degree on Linux), the software providing low-latency, quality sounds, is in the form of VST plug-ins (or Audio Units on Mac).

Here’s a short sample, playing DimensionPro: Piano-Strings Audio Demo using DimensionPro

Plug-ins can either provide a software instrument (in which case they are called VSTi plug-ins), or effects on the sound (such as reverberation, flanger, and other effects). You can chain plug-ins together, with successive plug-ins acting on the output of the prior plug-in.

There are some very good instruments available in this realm, but it can easily cost you a fair amount of money.

In order to use VST instrument plug-ins, you need something called a VST Host.

On Windows, I recommend Cantabile. On Mac OS X, I recommend (in this role) the “Garage Band” application, or the MainStage application. These should be fine for most people, are easy to learn, easy to use.

Here is a demo-piece using MainStage, using a custom layered sound, called Choir-Harp-Strings:

Choir-Harp-Strings Demo using MainStage

Connecting A Sound-Module

The low-cost sound-cards with on-board hardware synthesizers, have ‘evolved’ to become high-cost (but quality) sound-modules. You need a keyboard to play them, but the KeyMusician Keyboard gives you that capability. They are essentially a synthesizer, but without the keyboard.

These will give you high-quality sound, with imperceptible latency, which is very good, but they can cost a lot of money. I recommend trying one out in a store before purchasing it, to see if you especially like its sounds.

Connecting A Synthesizer

Connecting a synthesizer will give you quality sounds, with imperceptible latency, and it will also give you a traditional music keyboard. And the KeyMusician Keyboard can give new life to an old synthesizer.

If they only connect using a MIDI interface, you’ll need a USB-MIDI interface (such as those available from M-Audio) to connect it.

The KeyMusician Keyboard application is more than just a keyboard. It’s also a complete music-training tool, and a synthesizer (with its keyboard, connected to your computer) is an excellent tool for interfacing with it.

If you get a synthesizer, try to get one that plays a note louder if you hit the key hard, and soft if you hit the key softly. These are a bit more expensive, but that capability is worth a lot, in performing music.

A typing keyboard is not velocity-sensitive (though you can control the volume in other ways). So connecting a velocity-sensitive synthesizer will give you increased expressiveness (and also the need to practice to use that level of expression).

Connecting A MIDI Keyboard

A MIDI keyboard, unlike a synthesizer, has no sound-generation capability. They are about the same cost as on entry-level synthesizer. It allows you to play a software synthesizer, or a hardware synthesizer in a sound-card, and it will interface with the KeyMusician Keyboard application in its role of music training.

Their USB connection will probably interface with Java. My M-Audio Keystation models do. At worst, you might have to purchase a USB MIDI interface for it, which is not an overly-high cost.

One thing to consider with a MIDI keyboard, is how many keys it has. For playing popular music, a 61-key keyboard will be all you need, and you can probably get by in most cases with a 49-key keyboard. But if you play classical music, you really will need the full-size (88-key) keyboard, as well as a sustain-pedal for it.

A typing keyboard is not velocity-sensitive (though you can control the volume in other ways). So connecting such a keyboard will give you increased expressiveness (and also the need to practice to use that level of expression).

Check out the KeyMusician Newsletter article on using a MIDI keyboard, by clicking on the following link:

Using A MIDI Keyboard

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