Hardware overwhelm: a girl’s guide to buying a new stage piano

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Hardware overwhelm: a girl's guide to buying a new stage piano • CharlotteBax.nl

Good morning my creative friends!

Last month I sold my monstrously heavy, ginormous Yamaha S90SE stage piano with a million features that I never used, to replace it with something simpler, and more importantly: lighter – a Yamaha P115B.

I don’t really know if it is because I am a woman, or just because I am “me”, but I always get a bit overwhelmed when I have to buy a new piece of hardware. Most equipment doesn’t come with practical, easy to use names but some kind of model number, what always seems to be a pretty random bunch of digits, but apparently makes perfect sense to the manufacturer.

This blog post is meant to be a guide to help you buy a new stage piano, but I guess you could use it for basically any piece of hardware you need!

1 – Why do you need something new?

First you want to make clear why you need a new piece of hardware. Is it because you don’t have this kind of gear yet, or does your old equipment need replacement? Are you dissatisfied with what you have now?

I really loved my Yamaha S90SE. It felt like a real piano and the piano samples that I used regularly sounded really good. The only problem was that the instrument was so incredibly heavy, that I couldn’t lift it on my own, let alone take it with me to play gigs! Plus it had a ton of features I never used, which was quite a waste.

2 – What specs are important to you?

Make a list of all the important characteristics of your instrument. Think of what you need based on the previous question (why you need something new) and what you need the instrument for.

For example, I needed it to be a light instrument for playing gigs, but I also wanted to use it at home for rehearsing AND as a MIDI controller for easy part recording. I needed it to have its own speakers, so I wouldn’t have to plug it into my audio interface to actually produce some sound, but it also needed to have L/R jack outputs, so I could rig it to whatever sound system available at a venue.

This is the list I came up with:

  • Light enough to handle on my own (max 15 kg)
  • Speakers
  • Jack outputs
  • 88 keys, weighted or hammer action
  • MIDI / USB
  • Input for sustain pedal
  • Needs to have a way to transpose by half steps

Don’t get scared by very detailed specs such as the wattage of the speakers (yeah it’s nice to know but I just need it to have its own speakers) or specs with difficult words that you weren’t specifically looking for. Usually if you don’t know a word, you weren’t looking for it 😉

3 – Ask around

Because different brands can have very different quality instruments, I recommend asking some piano-geeky friends what they would recommend based on your most important demands.

I asked a former teacher if he could recommend some stage piano that is light enough for me to handle, 88 keys, and with MIDI output. I also sent some links to instruments that were within my budget and that had the specs I needed.

This way I learned that Casio is more of a cheap brand for beginners with not really spectacular sounds and that Yamaha always has a great realistic piano sound. He sent me links to 2 instruments which might be right for me. TWO instruments. Much better than the overwhelming amount you find in webshops!

If you’re entirely on your own and don’t have geeky friends like this, don’t hesitate to email the customer service of some large webshop you will probably buy at! They are happy to help you.

4 – Check your specs

When you think you have collected some nice options, you just have to check the specs. Usually the specs ar listed in the webshop, but for some very specific things, just google for the instrument user manual and use the search function to look up what you need. For example the transposing function is not commonly listed in webshop specs, it’s not important to them. I had to look that one up in the user manual.

Sometimes really simple things such as audio outputs are not listed because they are so common, but it wise to always double check this in the manual! One of the two instruments I compared actually DIDN’T have two jack outputs for audio, only one jack for headphones. Of course I immediately crossed this one off the list! The other instrument had all the features I needed.

5 – Time to buy!

Well, at least you know what instrument you want now! Before buying, you could check if you can sell your old piece of gear online. It’s really great if selling your old instrument covers the costs of a new one.

Also make sure you are buying from a legit company, such as Thomann (or in The Netherlands Bax-Shop). This makes returning or repairing the instrument (if needed) so much easier.

Do you get overwhelmed by hardware specs and names? How do you deal with it?

A guide to songwriting around a theme

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A guide to songwriting around a theme • CharlotteBax.nl

Hey folks,

How are you? I’m sweating away in here, it’s finally summer and yesterday we had a whopping 34°C! With such temperatures, it’s really hard to do anything else than seeking shadow and sitting very still (and playing Minecraft with your own hacked together mod pack). Today is a bit cooler (28°C I guess), so time to work again!

When writing a song, you can basically do whatever you want. No one will stop you from creating your perfect song and nothing is wrong. And that is quite frightening. When you can do literally anything, where in the world do you start?

Sometimes, you already have the lyrics. Other times, you only have an idea what the song should be about. Love. A walk in the woods. Dinosaurs. (What did you say Charlie? Dinos? Yes, of course you can write a song about dinosaurs! I totally didn’t get inspired by that fossils mod 😉 )

Now comes the fun part: you don’t have to restrict yourself to the lyrics to implement that theme. You can use it in many musical ways too!

So today, I will teach you how to write a song around a theme. (Or: how to write a song about dinosaurs. I love dinosaurs.)

Lyrics & your theme

The easiest way to play with your theme is by writing some nice lyrics. Brainstorm every possible angle on your theme, then come up with some phrases and more keywords.

What are the characteristics of dinosaurs? What part of them could you make into a song? Maybe their age, their size, or how they went extinct.

I’m not going into this matter too deep, because I’ve already written a lengthy post about that!

   Check out “The 3 stages of lyric writing” + free worksheets!

Music & your theme

There are a lot of parameters in your music that you can make decicions about. Everyone already writes 4/4 songs because it’s easy. Everyone uses E & A keys because that works best on guitar. Everyone arranges for bass/drums/guitar/keys/vocals because that’s what a band is, right?

Key

The first thing you could think about is the key you will write this song in. What key suits dinosaurs best? D, because the word “dinosaur” starts with it? Maybe a minor key, because extinction is a sad ending? Or a church mode combined with a pedal tone, which give that really old feeling. Maybe you want a modulation, because that suits your theme.

See? This is a whole other way of thinking!

Tempo

So now you do the same for the tempo. Don’t think “I want a midtempo song so how does it fit the theme”, but “what tempo would suit the dinosaurs best? I think a really slow and laidback tempo suits them best. The majority of them were huge, so they would move slowly.

Time

Getting used to this way of thinking? Now think of a time signature that suits your theme. And remember: you can’t do it wrong, as long as you can explain WHY you made a particular choice. I think I would choose something that was lengthy, like 6/4 or 7/4. Or 11/4. (I did that once. It sounded awesome!)

But maybe 4/4 or 6/8 will b a perfectly logical choice for your theme. That’s fine too!

Structure

How will you build your song structure? How will you build your musical phrases? Even your structure can be influenced by the theme you chose. Don’t only look at standard song structures, but also to structures from classical music, like a rondo, minimal music or other chained structures.

Want to learn a whole different way of writing songs? Check this epic blogpost! Click To Tweet

Instruments

Ooh I love this part! This will make all the difference to your song. Ditch the standard band formation and create an entire new one! Of course you need some basic functions, like bass, chords (rhythm and/or pad), melody, countermelody. But who says it has to be a bass guitar?

When thinking of dinosaurs, I think old and organic. So no modern synthesizer sounds in my song! I’d loooove to get a bass marimba in there. Woodsy, low. Hard to come by though, but you can always fake it with some great virtual instruments! Big and epic drums will definitely suit the picture too (Hi Stormdrum!). Bassoon, solo violin and pan flute also come to mind.

Arranging

We’re not done yet! We only chose the instruments! But how will you arrange your song? Do you need a walking bass or perhaps a pedal tone as foundation? Straight played chords, or more arpeggios, or a smooth pad? Wide voiced chords, or narrow and high? One melody on top? Two maybe? Or does a polyphonic piece suit your theme better and will you ditch the whole foundation/chords/melody thing altogether?

Choices, choices. Now have fun with your dinosaur song. Make it epic. Make it stand out! Be awesome 🙂

A guide to songwriting around a theme infographic • CharlotteBax.nl