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

with No Comments

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?

Support me on Patreon!

How I record and edit my piano parts

with No Comments

How I record and edit my piano parts • CharlotteBax.nl

Hey guys,

Today I’d like to show you how I record my MIDI piano parts! Basically, this is one of the most important steps in my entire production process. If it’s not an all-piano song, then it will be a dynamic and expressive guide for the orchestration.

You ready?

1 – Prep your lead sheet

Print it and not down the intensity of each section from 1-10. Until quite recently I never used to to this, but the fun thing is that The Addiction Formula and my vocal teacher both say this is important.

And indeed, it helps so much with figuring out where your song comes from and where it goes! You can adapt your playing style to the intensity of the section, instead of just playing the same thing over and over just because it feels comfortable.

2 – Hook up your MIDI piano to your audio setup

Well, first things first: I actually never record piano audio. Virtual piano instruments are so advanced right now, you can make it sound like the real deal. So having some extra room to edit and perfect your takes is quite nice!

In my case, I just leave the cables on permanently because they all run pretty much along the wall. Perks of a small home studio 😉 I use a Yamaha S90ES, an Focusrite Liquid Saffire 56 and Logic Pro.

Don’t forget to choose the right External MIDI source in your DAW! When I was a beginner I totally didn’t get why I couldn’t record MIDI parts. I mean, the cabls were in the right ins and outs! Took me a while to understand I had to actually select the MIDI source. Ah well, you can’t be a pro in everything right from the beginning!

3 – Record all sections

Sometimes I record the whole thing at once, but most of the time I record all sections separately. Especially when it’s a totally new song and I haven’t practiced much, mistakes happen quite easily. It’s so much easier to just record sections in such a case!

When you turn on recording mode, don’t forget the clicktrack and TAKE YOUR TIME. You don’t have to start playing after one bar already. Especially when recording section by section, you can just glue them together afterwards. No stress!

After recording I put all the right takes in a track with East West’s Steinway piano (from Gold Symphony Orchestra).

4 – Timing

Check your timing and nudge everything that sounds off. Mind you, SOUNDS off. Sometimes stuff looks off, but it sounds perfectly fine. It’s natural to have slight tempo changes in every musical phrase.

Usually I move entire chords, to not damage the human element too much. Remember that nobody plays perfectly on time like a robot! Only on rare occasions I move a single note.

5 – Velocity

One of the things I love about recording MIDI parts, is that I can edit everything afterwards. Not only timing but also velocity is very important to fix before you start recording vocals. Usually I make the softer parts a bit softer and the louder parts a bit louder. This is very helpful for expression and dynamics in your vocal recordings. In music it’s hard to overdo it!

6 – Playback

Don’t forget to play back the whole thing to check if it’s exactly as you want it to be!

Support me on Patreon!

How to transcribe a piano piece to string quartet

with No Comments

How to transcribe a piano piece to string quartet • CharlotteBax.nl

Do you ever think by yourself: “What a beautiful piece of music, if only it was written for my instrument!”

Well, how about arranging it yourself? It’s not difficult at all, you just have to keep some simple things in mind and be familiar with your own performing skills and and those of the other people in your ensemble.

Today I will teach you how to arrange a piece of piano music for string quartet! 🙂

Some basics to keep in mind

Of course, there are a few rules you have to live by.

1 – Choose a suitable piece of music

Some pieces are too easy, or just have not enough layers. For example, a piece with only a melody in the right hand and arpeggiated chords in the left hand is less suitable, because it only has 2 parts.

For this example I chose the first Promenade from “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Musorgsky, because it shows different amounts of layers already in the first 8 bars.

2 – Know your instrument

What are the highest and lowest notes you can play? Can you play 2 or more notes at once? Ask the same questions to the other people in your ensemble.

3 – Keep an eye on the level of difficulty

You may be able to play fast notes or big chords, but maybe your fellow musician is not at that level yet, or just doesn’t have big hands.

These basics not only apply to a string quartet, but to all musicians, instruments and ensembles.

Learn how to transcribe piano music to strings in 4 easy steps! >> Click To Tweet

Transcribe from piano to string quartet in 4 steps!

1 – Melody

First, start with the melody. Usually, this lies fairly comfortable within the G clef range, and can be played by the first violin. When it goes below the lowest G on a violin, you can assign this melody to the cello or viola.

2 – Bass

Then, check out the bass. You can assign this safely to the cello. Watch out for notes that go below the lowest C on a cello. If this is the case, transpose the entire phrase, or maybe a set of phrases.

3 – Inbetween voices

Now it gets interesting. When there’s 4 notes in a chord, it’s obvious. Just assign the leftover 2 notes to the second violin and the viola. Maybe you need to do some transposing, but most of the time it just fits the range perfectly.

When there’s more than 4 notes in a chord, you can do 2 different things:

  • Simplify to 4 notes per chord, or
  • Get savvy with double or multiple stops.

When you want to simplify the music, take a good look at it. Are there any separate voices and melodies? Try to follow those as close as possible. Is it just chord-filling? Look at what notes you already have in melody and bass and what notes are doubled. You don’t necessarily need to add all 3 G’s in a certain chord, make sure you have the B and D as well.

When you want to keep the music’s complexity, check for every. single. fucking. double stop if it is actually possible to play. For example, you can’t play a low A and C on a violin, because they both can only be played on the G string. Unless you let the violinist play the whole piece with a differently tuned violin.

In bar 3 you can see I assigned the highest and lowest of the “leftover notes” to the viola, and the middle one to the second violin. This is because neither one could practically or comfortably play the otherwise resulting third.

4 – Articulation

This is what makes transcribing from piano to strings so much fun: you can play with different articulations! With a piano, the hammer hits the snare, and you can do that soft or loud. But on a violin you can bow or pluck or bounce, you can bow at different parts of the snares, there’s so much more going on!

How to transcribe a piano piece to string quartet • CharlotteBax.nl

(Clicky for larger picture!)

It’s as simple as that! You just need a little bit of patience, because it takes a little time. But I guess that double checking all those double stops goes a lot faster when you’re a string instrument player yourself!

If you have any questions, just leave them in the comment section below 🙂

Support me on Patreon!