Music Around The Campfire

When you think of music around the campfire, Guitars and singing usually pop into your head. But the KeyMusician Keyboard can be good in this environment as well.

This article will give you ideas of how you can play music around the campfire, using your KeyMusician Keyboard, adding to the musical experience along with the best of Guitarists.

In order to play the KeyMusician Keyboard in the great outdoors, there are several obstacles to overcome, all of which can be easily handled. We'll go through them one by one.

Playing On Battery Power

Though commercial campgrounds or R.V. parks have sites with electric power available, most Forest Service and National Park campgrounds do not. Even then, the campfire may well not be close to a power plug-in.

So chances are, you'll be playing using battery power. This likely means you'll be using a laptop.

Some laptops don't last very long on battery power, yet there are things you can do to prolong its endurance while using battery power, such as dimming the screen brightness.

One of the laptops I perform with, will be lucky to last two hours, which might cause me to drop out early in a campfire music session. But another laptop I have (actually a netbook), will easily last 5 hours on battery power, which is plenty of time. So think about how long your machine will last on battery power, if you have a choice of one, or another.

You could take your machine back to your car to re-charge it, but that would be an annoying interruption to the experience, and it would take time.

Using a NetBook Computer or a Tablet

The KeyMusician Keyboard was designed to work with older, slower, machines. So the software will work on a netbook. If you have a Tablet that runs Windows, it will work as well. Tablets running iOS will not work, because they have a cut-down version of Java, and the application needs the full version. If your Tablet will run Linux, the KeyMusician Keyboard will work on it.

My HP-Mini netbook computer has a 1.6 gigahertz dual-core processor, and 1 gigabyte of RAM. So it won't run Windows 10. But it runs Windows XP fine, and where I never use it to browse the Internet or read e-mail, it is sufficiently secure for how I use it. It runs Linux (Lubuntu) just fine, as well.


My HP-Mini Netbook

Though it is too slow to run DimensionPro on a VST host, it will barely run it as a stand-alone synthesizer, and it has no problem running the Java Sound (Gervill) synthesizer (that comes out-of-the-box with the application).

On Linux, it runs Qsynth and ZynAddSubFX under JACK just fine, but is a little bit too slow for playing composite voices (two simultaneous software synthesizers).

I use an external USB keyboard (having a numeric keypad) with it. I either use a gamers keyboard (with anti-ghosting), or (if I don't want to risk my gamers keyboard camping), an ordinary keyboard, with one hand on it, and the other hand on the netbook keyboard, which is almost as good a a gamers keyboard with anti-ghosting.

Its main problem is its small screen dimensions. The Windows version will not allow it to be installed because of its insufficient screen size, but plugging in an external monitor (at least temporarily) lets you install the application.

But when you run it on Windows, you can't see the sustain control, the bank selector, or the instrument selector – all of which are useful to have. If the instruments already set up in your configurations are all you need (selected by function key), you can still use it, though.

Here's what it looks like running on Linux, using the too-small screen:


The application on the netbook (too small) screen – notice the bottom controls are not visible.

Fortunately, on Linux, you can hold down the 'Alt' key, then click anywhere in the window, and drag the window to re-position it, as shown in the photo below:


This repositioning lets you see everything you really need to play it. On Windows, this is not possible, because you can only click and drag on the title-bar to reposition it, and the title-bar needs to be dragged out of the screen area.

I used this machine on a recent trip to Mesa Verde National Park, playing several times in the campground, and even in a jam-session with a guitarist, and never ran out of power (though it was getting close to 'empty').

Your Sound-System

As we have said many times, the laptop speakers are not going to inspire you as a musician. But more importantly, they won't have a volume level that can co-exist with one or more guitarists. And earphones won't work for people to sing-along with.

On my recent camping trip to Mesa Verde, I used a cube-speaker, as shown below:


A Cube Speaker

The USB cable is used only for charging it, and it has its own re-chargeable power. It lasted the whole trip without running out of power and needing to be recharged. I did remember to turn it off (the power button on top of it) when not in use.

I was initially afraid it wouldn't hold its own playing with a guitarist from the neighboring campsite, but it worked well in that capacity.

My favorite sound system to use on camping trips is the Roland Mobile AC amplifier, shown below:


It runs on 6 AA batteries, and on a long trip (playing many times), and then another trip, never ran out of power. This has a better sound than the cube speaker, yet isn't going to overpower the other musicians as long as you keep it at a reasonable volume level.

I've also used my X-Plod boom-box in the great outdoors, shown below:


This runs on 8 'D' batteries. On a 4-day church campout, using the instrument many times, never ran out of power.

This amplifier has the best sound of the ones shown, and had sufficient power in an open meadow improvising music under the sky.

What Music To Play

Certainly, if you know the chords, or have the music, you can easily play chords and sing, as guitarists do. You won't match the rhythmic strumming of guitarists, but you can add the sound of a string orchestra to the chords.

Unlike most guitarists, you can easily play melody, and play that melody choosing from among hundreds of instrument sounds.

Personally, I like to improvise instrumental parts along with the guitars and singing.

For country music, I like to use Hawaiian Guitar (using the wah-wah key), improvising parallel 6ths, giving it that 'sicky sweet' country sound. Parallel 6ths can also be good using electric piano.

I also like to use the Cello sound (using the FluidR3_GM soundfont), and Electric Piano, with pop music. For rock music, a distortion guitar sound (using the wah-wah key), or perhaps a big Halo Pad sound.

You need to know the key-signature the guitarists are using, and set the key-signature to match.

So ask them the key-signature. If they don't know which key-signature, ask what chord phrases end on, and ultimately, what chord the piece ends on.

The problem with improvising, is the first time through, you learn a lot – stumbling a bit, and on the 2nd or 3rd verse, you get pretty good. But then you move on to another song, and start the process all over again!

I also like to sit out in the beauty of nature, on my own, improvising music to fit the scenery. I have come up with some really good music this way.

To inspire you in this musical realm, watch the slide-show music video below, with music composed and performed on the KeyMusician Keyboard by Aere. It takes you to the various viewpoints along the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park, including the rim-trail. The music shares its title with the Navajo poem/prayer, “Walk In Beauty”.

So take your KeyMusician Keyboard out in the beauty of nature, composing music befitting the beauty you see, and have great times around the campfire. Your instrument is compact and mobile, and can run on battery power. Enjoy!

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