Using A Gamers Keyboard

When I was creating the KeyMusician Keyboard, I didn't know about gamers keyboards. So I went to a lot of work making the software perform well with ordinary keyboards.

That turned out to be a good thing, since few people have gamers keyboards, and the software needs to work with what people have.

Had I known about gamers keyboards, I might have just told people to get a gamers keyboard...

What's so special about a gamers keyboard?

They have a feature called “Anti-Ghosting”, which means that you can press multiple keyboard keys at the same time, and all of them will be input to your computer. With some such keyboards, if you were to press every key on the keyboard at the same time, every single key pressed would be input to the computer.

This feature is very useful when playing music – especially when you're using both hands in the melody section!

With ordinary keyboards, there are many combinations of keys, such that if you press them together, no keys (or perhaps one or two of them) will be input to your computer, as if the keyboard had somehow 'jammed'.

For example, if you are playing the KeyMusician Keyboard with an ordinary keyboard (having the QWERTY key-arrangement), try pressing the following key-combinations at the same time (these combinations cause problems on many keyboards):

I P ]

E R T

Q E T < +

Q E T then F2, F3, or F4

Notice that all of the keys don't appear as notes, and possibly one, or no notes may appear. In the function-key case, the function keys won't be acted upon (the performance panes won't switch).

Notice that if you play the keys separately, each key is acted-upon.

The cases where keys won't register when pressed together, are called “ghosting”, from which comes the keyboard feature called “anti-ghosting”.

Please realize that not all keyboards are the same, and the above combinations may actually work on some keyboards. But I'm sure if you've been playing the KeyMusician Keyboard for a few weeks, you will have run into combinations that won't work together.

Here's another experiment to try with an ordinary keyboard.

In the key of C (no flats or sharps), press (and hold) the QWERTY “G” key. A note will appear to the left of the “E” note, near the middle of the bass clef.

While holding that key down, play a “C” chord (numeric keypad “1” key, then numeric keypad “0” key), and hold down the Play-button (the numeric keypad “0” key).

While holding down the Play-button, try to switch to a “G” chord (by pressing the “5” numeric keypad key). Notice that the “G” chord button doesn't get selected.

But if you release the Play-button, and then select the “G” chord, it will work.

If, while playing the notes (and C chord) above, you had selected an F chord (instead of the G chord), it would have worked.

None of these problems will occur when using a gamers keyboard having anti-ghosting on all of the keys.

It's hard enough to do a flawless performance – even without the keyboard tripping you up. That (along with being able to use both hands on the melody section of the keyboard), is the reason I use a gamers keyboard.

If you have a laptop with a full keyboard (that includes the numeric keypad), there's still another reason to invest in another keyboard.

On laptops having a numeric keypad, other keys needed for playing the KeyMusician Keyboard can be in awkward places, such as in the case of the “Page-Up” and “Page-Down” keys, in the following picture:


Note the position of the Page-Up and Page-Down keys, pointed-to in the picture

Another keyboard can put these keys in a less-awkward place, accessed by your index finger.

So if you might invest in a separate keyboard, it might as well be a gamers keyboard, which work on Mac and Linux, as well as Windows.

A “Poor Man's” Gamer Keyboard

If you don't want to invest in a gamers keyboard just now, there's a half-way step that will help you out. I actually used this on a vacation trip, and it worked well in almost every case.

(Although a Mac is shown here, this works on Windows and Linux as well. The same thing works with a desktop computer - just plug in two keyboards.)


Playing two keyboards (one for each hand) gives you a lot of anti-ghosting functionality

Notice that the two keyboards are 'staggered' – for play by each hand.

This arrangement won't help you in every case. The “E R T” combination will still give you problems, unless you do some of the keys with each hand.

A Multi-Media Keyboard is not a Gamers Keyboard

Here is a picture, showing a multi-media keyboard (on the left), and a gamers keyboard on the right (foreground):


What we need, is the anti-ghosting feature, and the multi-media keyboard on the left doesn't have any more of it than an ordinary keyboard.

The keyboard on the right, is a Microsoft Sidewinder X4 gamers keyboard. It connects via USB, and will pass to the computer simultaneously, more keys than you have fingers to press.

But beware – the next model of the Microsoft Sidewinder keyboard, the X6, has little (if any) anti-ghosting!

Not all gamers keyboards have the anti-ghosting we need.

Some gamers keyboards only have anti-ghosting on the keys typically used by gamers. That won't work for us – we need anti-ghosting on all of the keys. Some gamers keyboards (such as the Sidewinder X6 mentioned above), don't have anti-ghosting at all!

Many USB-connected gamers keyboards have only 6-key-rollover (6kro), which means you can press up to 6 keys simultaneously, and they will be successfully input to the computer.

Although six simultaneous key-presses is enough for playing the KeyMusician Keyboard in most cases, there are cases in the music I play, where it isn't enough.

The Microsoft Sidewinder X4 keyboard I use, has 18KRO, meaning 18-key-rollover, or that it can handle up to 18 simultaneous key-presses.

An Unexpected Advantage Of Using A Gamers Keyboard

Many gamers keyboards give you the capability of programmable keys.

With this feature, you can enter a sequence of keystrokes into one of the programmable keys, and thereafter, if you press that programmable key, it will produce the sequence of keystrokes you entered into it.

That lets you play a difficult sequence of keystrokes by pressing just one key.

This might make it easy for you to play a chord having a flatted (or sharped) root note (and/or slash-chord note).

Shopping For A Gamers Keyboard

Look for gamers keyboards, having the “anti-ghosting” feature. Then look for how many keys of rollover it supports. Though 6KRO (six key rollover) will work, try for better than that. If it says “NKRO”, it should mean that it supports an unlimited number of simultaneous key-presses.

Try an Internet search (such as Google) for: nkro

Some gamers keyboards require you to turn-on the anti-ghosting feature (otherwise it has none). This was supposedly to support older Macintosh machines that didn't support anti-ghosting. But every Mac OS X machine I've tried (starting at 10.6.8) has supported it.

Having to turn-on anti-ghosting, could have you get into playing a song in a performance, and then run into a simultaneous key-press problem (messing up your performance) because you forgot to turn it on.

So look for keyboards where anti-ghosting is permanently enabled.

Also, since doing a glissando (sliding your fingers over a range of keys) can add a lot to your music, keyboards having beveled corners will be more comfortable on your fingers. 'Chicklet' keys are also comfortable for this, but tend to be associated with poorer-quality key-switches.

Certainly, you want a keyboard having the numeric keypad (the 10-key section). Such keyboards will have at least 104 keys.

And unless you have an older desktop computer having a PS/2 keyboard connection plug, you will need a USB connection.

When I first looked at getting a gamers keyboard, they were uncommon, and cost significantly more than an ordinary keyboard.

Now, when I researched it for this article, they appear to be more common, and cost less than they used to.

Here are a few links you can check out in looking to purchase a gamers keyboard.

Guide To Rollover, Anti-Ghosting, And Keyboard Selection – keyboardco.com

This web-page tells you more about anti-ghosting, and lists a few example keyboards.

Keyboard Search – microcenter.com

This web-page lets you search for keyboards with the features selected (checked) in the left pane. If you un-check the “N-Key Rollover (NKRO)” check-box, it will give you more choices, though some of those choices may have only 6-key rollover (6KRO).

You can also select the type of key-switch (better than rubber-dome) you want.

Keyboard Peripherals – logicalIncrements.com

This web-page has a lot of different keyboards listed, some that have multiple key rollover, and many that do not.

For example, you might see: “NKRO (PS/2), 6 (USB)”, which means unlimited multiple key-presses with a PS/2 connection, but only 6KRO if using a USB connection.

If you see “???” in an entry, the value is not known, or untested, so beware.

Help – Keyboards Supporting Simultaneous Key-Presses

My original research on this, when I first looked into this subject. This information is old (2012).



Using a gamers keyboard with anti-ghosting will help you play with confidence, and fewer mistakes. But best of all, it will let you play with both hands on the melody section, which opens up a whole new world in the realm of musical improvisation, and even gives you a new musical technique not possible on a traditional music keyboard.

Give it a try – you'll be glad you did!

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