A Hybrid Musical Instrument

There are two particularly-useful add-ons for the KeyMusician Keyboard:

  1. A gamers' typing-keyboard with anti-ghosting, which allows simultaneous key-presses of every finger on the keyboard, to be sent to the computer, simultaneously

  2. A MIDI keyboard, which gives you touch-sensitive expressivity, instant accidentals, and a continuous, single row of notes

This article shows you how you can take advantage of of the KeyMusician Keyboard, using the good features of both.

So why would you want to use both, rather than one, or the other?

Advantages Of The Typing-Keyboard

  1. The huge variety of chords you can play on the numeric-keypad, using a different instrument sound from the melody, played as sustained chords, strummed-chords, and arpeggios – all without having to memorize the notes of the chords

  2. It gives you a range greater than most MIDI keyboards

  3. It's compact shape and form, allows you to play simultaneously in widely-separated areas of the keyboard, without needing to use the sustain control, which could blur-together melody-notes

  4. It lets you instantly change key-signatures, and instrument sounds

  5. It lets you change the overall volume of the music you're playing

Advantages Of The MIDI Keyboard

  1. It lets you instantly play a note that's not in the key-signature's scale (an accidental) without having to first press the Page-Up, or Page-Down key

  2. It gives you touch-sensitive expressivity, for outstanding musical performance, as well as the ability to make some notes you're playing stand out from the other notes

  3. It gives you a single, continuous row of notes, simplifying the fingering of the music, and letting you better see the intervals you are reaching-for in the music

  4. It can allow you to attach a sustain-pedal, and even a volume-pedal, which frees-up your fingers for playing music, while your feet handle these additional (but important) functions, and these pedals affect music played with both the MIDI, and typing keyboards

  5. Music you learn to play on the MIDI keyboard, can be played even on an ordinary piano or synthesizer

Using Them Both

When I first tried doing this, I would sit at the MIDI keyboard, with the keyboard in my lap, which worked fine for playing chords on the numeric-keypad, but was a problem when I needed to change key-signatures or instrument sounds, by hitting a function-key.

I later discovered that if you have the typing-keyboard between you and the MIDI keyboard, in the same plane (or table-top) as the MIDI keyboard, you can easily hit function-keys on the typing-keyboard, using the thumb(s) of your hand(s) playing on the MIDI keyboard.

Also with this arrangement, it's easy to switch from playing entirely on the MIDI keyboard, to playing entirely on the typing-keyboard, or playing both simultaneously.

Here is a picture of this arrangement of keyboards, I use for playing a desktop computer:

A MIDI-Keyboard / Typing-Keyboard Combination

Notice that when playing on the lower 2/3 of the MIDI keyboard, the function-keys are easily reachable using a thumb. And while playing chords on the numeric-keypad, the MIDI keyboard notes are easily playable using your left hand.

Letting The Audience See Your Fingers On The Keys

For a performer playing a piano or keyboard, seated in front of it, the only way the audience can see your fingers on the keys, is if the keyboard is set at an angle, with the your back and side to the audience, as in the picture below:

Playing a MIDI keyboard through the KeyMusician Keyboard, with a typing-keyboard in my lap

Even if you play standing up, this problem persists.

But if you're using a shorter MIDI keyboard (up to 49 keys), you can do it this way:

The hybrid instrument, here using an iRig37, along with a gamers keyboard, on a music stand, with the laptop to the side

When I perform, the laptop on its stand is to the side of me, where I can access it easily. It's been repositioned here for the sake of the picture. I like the 37-key keyboard better than a 25-key, because the need to hit an octave-transpose button is much less frequent. Yet, even with full-size keys, it fits nicely on the music stand, which is tilted so the audience can see fingers-on-keys.

Volume-pedal, and sustain-pedal (pressed) below the music stand

I like this setup, because everything can be made-ready before the performance, and I can walk up to the instrument, and start playing. I'm facing the audience, can make eye-contact with them, and they can see my fingers playing every note of the music. They can even see me switch to a different instrument, or key-signature.

This particular MIDI keyboard (the iRig Keys 37) will support both a sustain-pedal, and a volume-pedal (which sends MIDI expression-control-messages), but you can only have one of them plugged in to the keyboard at any one time, so it's something you change between musical numbers.

These shorter MIDI keyboards are fairly inexpensive, but they may not have volume-pedal support.

You can use the mini-key keyboards, but the feel of pressing the keys on them is stiffer. I prefer the full-size keys for this reason. Also mini-key MIDI keyboards in some cases may not even support sustain-pedals.

Here's a picture of the same setup, but using an M-Audio KeyStation 49 keyboard:

M-Audio KeyStation 49 on the music stand, with the gamers keyboard, right hand playing chords, and left-hand playing melody

With this keyboard, I can only plug-in a sustain-pedal. Volume-pedal support (sending MIDI volume-control-messages) is only available on the 88-key model, in which case, both a sustain-pedal and a volume-pedal can be plugged in at the same time.

The size, and bulk of the 49-key keyboard above, are testing the limits of what you can put on a music stand – even with its screw-down knobs to keep it at the proper height, and angle.

You may want the music to rock, but not your keyboard!

With an 88-key keyboard, a synthesizer stand, and a little do-it-yourself magic, you can even make this work with an 88-key keyboard.

So here's you, playing melody on the MIDI keyboard along with chords on the numeric-keypad:

Left hand on MIDI keyboard playing melody, and right hand on numeric-keypad playing chords

Here's you switching instrument sounds and key-signature while playing the MIDI keyboard, by pressing a function-key with your thumb:

Left hand on MIDI keyboard playing melody, and right hand on numeric-keypad playing chords, hitting F9 to change instruments

Here's you with both hands on the MIDI keyboard:

Both hands on the MIDI keyboard

And here's you with both hands on the typing-keyboard:

Both hands on the melody section of the gamers typing-keyboard

You can do it all, changing at any time, at your discretion, and those changes can add noticeable variety to the music you play.

Things To Keep In-Mind

Since changing the MIDI channel requires action to be taken on your MIDI keyboard (action that can't usually be done quickly), you'll want (in your KMK configuration) all the performance panes you use with the MIDI keyboard, to use the same MIDI channel.

Many software synthesizers will respond to MIDI program-change messages, so you can specify the various instruments in the different performance panes, all of them using the same channel.

You also need to specify your MIDI keyboard (or interface) in the “MIDI Thru Input From” drop-box on the “F1 (Help/Setup)” pane.

Your MIDI keyboard needs to be set to send on the MIDI channel of all of the performance panes you'll be using it with.

You can't use an ordinary music stand for this. You need one with screw-down adjustments to hold its position firmly in place, as shown below:

Music stand having screw-down adjustments so its angle or height doesn't change in the middle of performing

Having the keyboards you're playing drop lower, and lower, while playing, is a real let-down! And the music stand flipping forward, dumping your keyboards (though amusing to the audience), would be a real disaster!

So give this a try – your audience will love it, and you'll definitely stand out from all the other more typical bands.

You can learn more about connecting a MIDI keyboard to the KeyMusician Keyboard, by clicking on the following link:

Using A MIDI Keyboard

You can view the index of all KMK Newsletter articles, by clicking the link below:

Index Of All Newsletter Articles