Will Practising on a Digital Piano Damage Your Piano Technique?

By Daz Thornton at The Piano Vault

For many pianists ranging from beginner to advanced, it is not always possible to practice on a traditional acoustic upright or grand piano. There may be space restrictions, neighbours and other family members to consider, or of course, budget limitations. Serious piano students can worry that practising on digital pianos (sometimes called electric pianos) will have a limiting effect on the development of their technique, or even damage it if they are already playing at a high level.

Let's explore the pros and cons of this concern.

WHAT IS PIANO TECHNIQUE?

Piano technique is a pianist's ability to carry out the technical requirements of a composition, and control the instrument they are playing to achieve a desired expressive outcome.

There are probably two main areas that affect how a pianist can use or develop their technique... 1) the action of the piano - meaning the keyboard and hammer mechanism combined with how it feels under the fingers, and 2) the sound produced by a piano when reacting to the action. Depending on the abilities of a pianist, ranging from beginner to professional, these two areas will be of varying importance.

WHAT MIGHT LIMIT YOUR PIANO TECHNIQUE?

It really depends on the piano you are playing as to how you can either use the technique you already have, or develop a technique from scratch. It also depends on the genre of music you are playing, and at what level.

Most people when starting out on their musical journey will begin on a relatively inexpensive instrument, and upgrade as their technique and musicianship grows. Leaving what are termed as 'keyboards' out of this discussion (usually with unweighted sprung keys), there are basically two different categories of piano, both having sub-categories within them.

Pianos without strings

Stage pianos, digital pianos and digital hybrid pianos.

Pianos with strings

Upright pianos and grand pianos.

It is often assumed that all acoustic upright and grand pianos are going to be superior to anything in the digital category as far as developing a good technique is concerned. However, in my experience, if developing your technique to a high level is your goal, ALL the categories and sub-categories above will vary in action and sound to a greater or lesser extent. As well as this, you will find that the action and sound will differ between instruments within just one of these categories too.

 Upright Piano Action

Upright Piano Action

 Upright Piano Action

Upright Piano Action

Not so long ago, there was quite a difference between the digital and acoustic categories in terms of both action and sound. Well maintained acoustic pianos usually always come out on top, but due to acoustics often requiring regular maintenance, they can quickly slip into disrepair, or develop an unpleasant sound. I've always pointed out that if a developing piano student had the option between an out of tune, poorly maintained acoustic, and a good quality consistently reliable digital, they would probably have a much better playing experience with the digital piano option.

When I was studying music at college and university, each practise room had an upright acoustic piano in it, and each of them felt completely different as you moved from one to the other. The quality of the uprights would vary enormously, as would the state of repair. The practice rooms that had grand pianos in them tended to be more reliable and consistent, but the key action and the sound of each one was also very different. All these variations affect how you can either use your piano technique, or indeed, develop and refine it further.

With this example in mind, it is clear that there can be a lack of consistency between the abilities of acoustic pianos. This could also be true of pianos in the digital category, but usually for reasons of the software and hardware rather than needing maintenance.

MOVING BETWEEN DIGITAL AND ACOUSTICS

Whilst developing my piano technique as a student, I had a digital piano at home to practise on, as well as an upright acoustic. The acoustic had limited capabilities due to the somewhat worn action, but I could do enough on it to get by in playing music from the advanced repertoire. I don't recall having any problems moving between one and the other, even though the digital piano had a somewhat lighter key weight than the acoustic. It's actually good practice for making quick on-the-spot adjustments to your playing when faced with using different pianos. This of course is a skill that pianists must acquire, whether they only ever play on two different pianos (their own and their teacher's), or, are playing at different venues. Quickly adapting to different pianos is an essential part of developing a good piano technique.

Pianists off the top of my head who practise on a digital piano are Stephen Hough, Benjamin Grosvenor, Artur Pizarro and Josh Wright. Their technique is still very much intact! Let's be clear though... these pianists will also practise on acoustic grand pianos that they either own, or have access to at concert venues. I do advise that playing good quality acoustic pianos is an important thing to do for a developing pianist... even if it's somewhat occasionally.

If you only ever play on one piano digital or acoustic, you will probably develop a technique within the confines of that specific instrument. You will become so familiar with it that you will know every nuance of it's action and sound, and will be able to predict how that piano behaves. This is great if you only ever intend to play this one piano, but you would be surprised at how strange it can feel to play an unfamiliar instrument. The sound and touch may be completely different to what you are use to, and as a teacher, I've seen many pupils sit down at one of my pianos and react with shock as they play the first few notes of their piece. As mentioned above, this is simply due to them practising all week on their own instrument, and expecting the feel and sound of another piano to be the same as they have grown accustomed to at home.

If you are planning to perform, and wish to avoid the 'shock' of playing an unfamiliar instrument, practise on as many different instruments (digital and acoustic) as you can. This will allow you to adapt quickly and deliver a performance to the best of your ability.

OPTIONS TO CONSIDER

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We have seen above that not all acoustic pianos can be described as preferable to digital pianos when it comes to developing and maintaining a piano technique. If the option is a badly maintained acoustic, you probably won't be able to develop any level of refinement in your playing, which will definitely hold you back in building your technique and enjoying your playing experience. On the other hand, if your situation allows, I would say that playing and excellent acoustic piano is probably the ultimate option. If you are limited by budget, and buying either a well maintained second hand acoustic or a brand new on is not an option, a good digital piano may be just what you need. What you will find however, is that your budget will dictate the amount of nuance that you can add to your playing due to the action of the keyboard and the quality of sound. This may either limit the development of your technique if you are moving toward an advanced level of playing, or not live up to what you can already do as an advanced player. In general, as you would expect, the more you spend, the more you move towards the realism of an acoustic, and the more your chosen instrument will respond to your technique. You don't have to break the bank though to purchase an instrument of quality and convincing authenticity.

Unfortunately for me, an acoustic grand or upright piano is impractical. Being constrained by space, I needed a digital that emulated a well maintained acoustic piano. Something that would feel authentic, respond to my technique, and create a sound that behaves according to those things. There are then all the other benefits that a digital piano comes with, usually at a fraction of the price of a quality acoustic piano.

One such instrument on the market at the moment is the Casio Celviano Grand Hybrid. As I write this post, the Grand Hybrid is the most affordable instrument in the 'hybrid' range of digital pianos currently available on the market. But, don't let an affordable price fool you into thinking that this is not a quality instrument. You don't half get a bang for your buck!

WHAT IS A DIGITAL HYBRID PIANO?

It was mentioned earlier that an important aspect of developing a good piano technique is the action of the keys. Although I would take the opportunity wherever you can to play well maintained acoustic pianos, the digital hybrid piano market has now really started to close the gap between acoustic and digital playing experience.

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Casio's collaboration with C. Bechstein on the Grand Hybrid's keyboard action means that the instrument benefits from world class experience when it comes to acoustic piano building. Hybrid pianos aim to combine the action of an acoustic piano with all the things that are usually expected from a digital piano. The advantage here is that you can feel more authenticity of touch under your fingers... as you would do of course on an acoustic piano. This leads to a higher quality of playing experience that enables you to use your technique (or develop it) along the same lines that you would do on a good acoustic. The Grand Hybrid makes an excellent practice instrument!

More on this keyboard action in the video below:

As well as having a reliable and authentic action, this instrument is definitely designed with the serious pianist in mind. You can choose between three distinctive piano samples, which as far as your piano technique is concerned is a great way to practise adapting to different piano sounds. This really helps if you are planning to perform on unfamiliar pianos at some point. You could also adjust the touch sensitivity and practise adapting to a piano that requires either more or less finger strength in each key stroke.

Here are some examples of the Casio Grand Hybrid in action:

WHAT TO TAKE AWAY

After exploring whether practising on a digital piano would damage your technique or not, I think the answer is a clear no. However, that would all depend on the quality of the instrument. Just like an acoustic piano can vary in quality, as well as its state of repair, you could make a similar argument against a digital piano and it's quality of action and sound.

Playing on both acoustic and digital pianos can affect how we play to a lesser or greater extent, and being able to adapt to this depending on what is available to us is an important aspect of piano technique to develop.

If you were thinking about investing in a digital piano due to being limited by living conditions that would rule out an acoustic, I'd recommend that you go for something like the Casio Celviano Grand Hybrid. You may even consider one as a second piano! You can be sure that it will allow you to develop or maintain your technique without the worry of having a vastly different experience when you play an acoustic piano.

If however The Grand Hybrid is beyond your budget, why not try this piano selector which will help you find an instrument that is right for you:

https://music.casio.co.uk/piano-selector/

Find out more about the hybrid range of instruments here:

https://music.casio.co.uk/premium-grand-hybrid/


Listen to more of the Grand Hybrid in this specially selected playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcG-xdMuAYX-x1SGtM4odZmnUttQQWCRV

Casio Grand Hybrid at The Trinity Proms 2018

The Trinity Proms 2018 took place on Saturday 7th July, marking the end of the School year. This delightful evening showcased both the best of Trinity School homegrown musical talent, alongside special guests Johan Hugosson (composer/pianist) and Hannah White (singer-songwriter)

During the evening we were treated to two remarkable performances from pianists Amiri Harewood and Johan Hugosson on our unique Grand Hybrid piano. Amiri Harewood on 16 years old, is the 2018 Trinity Musician of the Year. 

Johan Hugosson was born in Sweden and studied piano at the Royal College of Music. While at RCM he won a number of prizes, including the coveted Chopin and Beethoven prizes respectively.

The evening came to a close with an amazing performance by the Trinity School Big Band, playing under the direction of band leader Lewis Brito Babpulle.

We had the pleasure to talk to Amiri Harewood, Johan Hugosson, Lewis Brito Babpulle about their passion for music, music education and all things Grand Hybrid...

https://youtu.be/xdrSMJE8Qwk

Lorraine Liyanage reviews The Grand Hybrid Competition at the Dulwich Music Festival

The Dulwich Music Festival runs several events throughout the year for piano at various London venues. The festival was established in 2012 by South London-based musician Lorraine Liyanage to address the need for local music events in the vibrant community of South London. 

The Festival is always an exciting time for Casio. This year however, the Festival was even more stimulating than usual: Casio teamed up with Dulwich Music Festival for the first digital piano competition for amateur pianists of all ages.

We had nearly 60 performers participating in a free piano competition on Sunday 11 June 2018 at Kingsdale Foundation School in South London. Find out more about the event below, in the word of Lorraine Liyanage

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This is the third year the festival has been sponsored by Casio but the first time we have offered a competitive music platform solely on digital pianos.

We believe this is the first-ever digital piano competition held in the UK (and maybe further afield!). The competition was adjudicated by Claire HarrisNikolas SiderisBen Norburyand Alison Mathews.

Casio have gone one step further than recreating the sound of a grand piano and that is making the digital piano  feel like a grand piano. They have incorporated C. Bechstein’s traditional wooden keys into the Grand Hybrid and it has also brought in a natural grand hammer action to enhance response and feedback, which in turn should enhance the expressiveness of playing. The Grand Hybrid feels satisfyingly weighty under the keys and I have not played another digital piano that actually feels like an acoustic piano.

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We had nearly 60 performers participating in a free piano competition on Sunday 11 June 2018 at Kingsdale Foundation School in South London.

Wiktoria Cwik, student of the Womack-Banning Piano Academy in Bedford performed in the piano competition and has decided to order a Casio Grand Hybrid digital piano as she embarks upon a music career once she leaves secondary school:

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Wiktoria says: “My teacher, Lorraine Womack, is a Casio Grand Hybrid Ambassador and suggested that I should upgrade my digital piano to a Casio Grand Hybrid Piano now that I am studying towards my Grade 7 exam. As I am looking to pursue my musical studies at university once I leave school, this instrument ticks all the boxes for me! I was delighted to have the opportunity to perform in the Casio Grand Hybrid Piano Competition at Kingsdale School as well as speak to Casio expert Andy Brown who gave us all the information to satisfy us that this is the right piano for us to purchase. We are ordering the piano this week and as I know it will greatly improve my playing to have such a beautiful instrument. I will be taking this instrument to University with me so it will accompany me on the next stage of my exciting musical journey.”

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Many of my piano teacher colleagues are members of the new Casio Grand Hybrid Ambassador scheme info.casio.co.uk/pianoteachernetwork This allows us the opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge of the instruments and make recommendations to our students that are seeking a high-quality digital piano for use at home. One of my favourite features of the instrument which makes it ideal for learners is the Record and Playback function of the piano. I always encourage my students to record their performances and listen back to them to critique and review their technique and interpretation. The playback function lets you pause, fast-forward, rewind and A-B segment your performance during playback. This is a fantastic feature that lets you improve your playing skills by reviewing your own performance objectively afterwards.

I also love the Concert Play function that improves students’ listening skills by playing along with live orchestra audio. Very few pianists will have the option to play with a live orchestra but with the Grand Hybrid piano, it is entirely possible to bring the orchestra to you and for you to become the soloist! Listen to the Concert Play sample tracks online. You can also choose which acoustic setting you want your performance to take place in – cathedral, opera house or concert hall. The choice is yours!

We interviewed Roberta Wolff, pianist, piano teacher, adjudicator and owner of Music, Me, Piano about her thoughts on her Grand Hybrid Piano:

 

For more information about the Casio CELVIANO Grand Hybrid pianos, please email me. You can play the pianos at Musicroom in Denmark Street, WC2, open 7 days a week.

View the Casio digital piano range online:

GP-400 Celviano
GP-500 Celviano

" I love my Casio hybrid piano. It has enhanced both my piano teaching and personal music making opportunities.

The touch is authentic and the sound quality is great. Many pianists who visit comment on the quality of sound.

I enjoy having two pianos for teaching. With younger students the duet mode works well when playing in unison along side the student. This helps develop listening skills and rhythmic playing in a very intuitive way.

For older students it is comfortable to teach from one piano whilst the student uses the other. We also play together during the learning stages of a piece which is a very instinctive way to refine skills such as rubato, tone and shaping.

The various features like hall simulator, listener position, light to heavy touch options and different piano sounds are very useful, especially in the run up to a performance. I set the piano up differently each week and the student has to play on it and respond and alter touch in real time to create a balanced performance.  A particularly fun and informative setting is harpsichord with no touch response (this sounds terribly unmusical, I know) but I use this when a student is underplaying the bass lines, particularly in Bach. There is a light bulb moment when they suddenly hear balance between their own hands.

I use this piano along side my Steinway model O when playing two piano repertoire. It does a good job of holding its own against my grand. Sight reading concertos with the orchestral backing is a very rewarding way of improving this skill. There are also a range of other instrument voices to select which add colour and depth when we play in groups.

The record function is ever useful and just last week I recorded a set of backing tracks for a singer who needed a specific key.

The Casio hybrid is great value for money. It is easy to use and I wouldn’t be without it now.

Roberta Wolff

www.musicmepiano.co.uk –

Highly acclaimed practice resources for students of all ages and stages. Instant download available as well as many freebies.

www.robertawolff.co.uk –
Please check out my website for further details on what I offer in addition to piano lessons."

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For more information about the Casio CELVIANO Grand Hybrid pianos, please email me. You can play the pianos at Musicroom in Denmark Street, WC2, open 7 days a week.

View the Casio digital piano range online:

GP-400 Celviano
GP-500 Celviano

What is a Hybrid Piano? 7 Things you should know...

In a world of modern tech, we're quite used to the word 'hybrid'. If something is a hybrid, it means that it's a mixture of two different ideas, which gives improved performance over conventional designs.

So, you probably know that a Hybrid car combines petrol and electric motors for cleaner emissions. But, what's about a hybrid piano all about?

1. No Strings Attached. 

 Grand Hybrid pianos have moving hammers, to make the key feel more authentic when playing.

Grand Hybrid pianos have moving hammers, to make the key feel more authentic when playing.

The keys of an acoustic piano are connected to hammers which hit strings to make the sound. A hybrid piano also has hammers but produces sound electronically. This means there are no strings to tune, and the instrument can be made smaller to fit into living spaces more easily.

2. Hammers make the touch more authentic.

Although there are no strings, it is important to keep the hammers. It's this moving mechanism attached to each key that pianists can feel when they play. If you remove this, as most digital pianos do, the movement of the keys is different (even though the keys themselves might look similar).

 Hybrid pianos have full-length, wooden keys

Hybrid pianos have full-length, wooden keys

3. Hybrids have real piano keys.

Most digital pianos have keys that are made of plastic, or a mixture of wood and plastic. This is not true of acoustic pianos, where the key is shaped from specially-grown Austrian Spruce. Casio's Grand Hybrid pianos have keys made from exactly the same wood, for an authentic feel.

4. Hybrids use the same key length as acoustic pianos.

82% of surveyed teachers said that the feel of the keys is the most important part of a piano. But, conventional digital pianos often don't measure up in this area: their plastic keys are shorter when compared to an acoustic piano. This compromises the key movement and the instrument feels less realistic. With a hybrid piano, the key length is the same as an acoustic piano, which means the travel and bounce of each key is much closer to that of a real Grand. 

 Grand Hybrid pianos have three different Grand Piano tones stored inside them, such as a C. Bechstein D282 (right). 

Grand Hybrid pianos have three different Grand Piano tones stored inside them, such as a C. Bechstein D282 (right). 

5. You can have three different Grand piano sounds in one instrument. 

Because the sound of a hybrid piano is produced digitally, without strings, you can make the instrument produce more than one traditional piano tone. Casio's Grand Hybrid range includes the tone of three of Europe's most finest brands of acoustic piano, including a £115,000 C. Bechstein D282 piano. 

Irene Veneziano plays "Allegro de Concierto, OP. 46" by Enrique Granados on a CELVIANO Grand Hybrid GP-500BP in the beautiful gardens of Palazzo Gromo Losa in Biella (Italy).

6. You can play them in the garden.

Ok, not permanently, but the serious point here is that a hybrid piano is more resilient than its acoustic counterpart. This means it will live happily in spaces that wouldn't be suitable for traditional pianos, such as in direct sunlight, a conservatory or summer house, or next to a radiator. 

7. You can plug headphones in, for silent practice.

Even though hybrid pianos use a lot of acoustic piano principles for their feel, the sound is purely digital, so can still plug in headphones and get the best of both worlds: the touch of an acoustic piano with the convenience of digital sound. 

To find out more about Casio's award winning Grand Hybrid range, visit

 

 

 

 

Explore the Grand Hybrid Range:

What's the best digital piano for beginners?

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Need some help choosing your first digital piano for 2018? 

Music teacher, Dr Chris Stanbury reviews two of the best digital pianos for beginners. 

 The CDP-130 is an ideal starter digital piano

The CDP-130 is an ideal starter digital piano

A digital piano can give you a great start in music, and they're ideal for home use. Not only do they fit into compact living spaces, but you can also plug in headphones and they don't need tuning. Many students ask me what is the best digital piano for beginners, and I’ve found two from Casio UK which should be at the top of your shopping list.

Casio CDP-130

As one of the most affordable digital pianos on the market, I was genuinely impressed with what the Casio CDP-130 has to offer. I’ve seen and heard quite a few other products that are available for a similar price, but I have to say that the CDP-130 offered the best in terms of sound and touch of all the starter digital pianos that I've tried. It's no wonder that this is such a popular instrument amongst beginning piano students and often recommended by piano teachers worldwide.

Above all, it’s really important that a digital piano has touch sensitive keys and a weighted keyboard. This means that the keys have a slight resistance to being pushed down, just like an acoustic piano. Learning to play against this key resistance is an essential piano playing technique.

 the cdp-130 is an ideal choice for beginner pianists of all ages

the cdp-130 is an ideal choice for beginner pianists of all ages

So, choosing a digital piano that reproduces this key weighting correctly is really important, as having something which sounds nice but doesn't really feel like an acoustic piano can do more harm than good. Thankfully, the touch and key weighting of the CDP-130 was great and ideal for beginners. I felt sure that piano students of all ages would be encouraged to play in the right way with this instrument. 

How a digital piano sounds is also very important, of course.  When you’re trying out a digital piano, try this: play any key quickly and with force, and you should hear a tone that is both loud and bright, with a clear, ringing tone. Then, play the same key slower and with less force. The resulting note should be quieter but also much more mellow in character.

Pianists call this ‘tone colour’, and it’s a very important area of expressive playing which beginners need to appreciate. In some digital pianos, doing this experiment just results in the same tone just at different volumes. This isn’t ideal, as it isn’t what occurs on an acoustic piano.

Thankfully, Casio tell me that the CDP-130 has something called ‘Dual Element Sampling’, which means the piano can tell if you’re playing loudly or softly and plays the matching ‘colour’ of piano tone. For the beginning pianist, this means that the CDP-130 helps them to develop good expressive skills as well as the proper playing technique. 

The touch and key weighting of the CDP-130 was really good, and I felt sure that beginning piano students would be encouraged to play in the right way with this instrument.
— Chris Stanbury, Music Teacher and LCM Music Examiner
 An affordable first piano: The CAsio CDP-130 (shown with optional stand)

An affordable first piano: The CAsio CDP-130 (shown with optional stand)

Overall, the Casio CDP-130 is a great digital piano for beginners, and would be ideal for a student of any age who is looking for something affordable but with all the essential features included. A quick look online shows that this instrument would suit anyone with a budget of £299 (in actual fact, I found the price to be even lower in my local music shop).

Casio PX-760

If you’re able to put a little more into your investment, you might be interested in my next choice: the Casio PX-760.

 The Casio PX-760 is one of the best digital piano for 2018

The Casio PX-760 is one of the best digital piano for 2018

The PX-760 is the first instrument in Casio’s very popular Privia range. They sound great and they're also some of the most compact digital pianos available in the UK. This means that they are perfect where you need an instrument that plays well but doesn't take up much room.

It’s a general rule in the digital piano industry that a higher price means a better quality touch and sound. But, Casio think about things differently. In recognition of a digital piano’s important place in music education, Casio has it's own rule: that every instrument they produce, including the PX-760, should have a first class touch and sound.

In fact, many important parts of the PX-760 (such as the weighted keys) are borrowed from instruments costing twice the price, which is why the PX-760 is really good value for money. 

 

When I played the PX-760, I was genuinely surprised by how good it was. The tone was very clear and it was nice to listen to. I’d happily recommend this to any beginning piano student.
— Chris Stanbury - Piano Teacher and LCM Music Examiner


The PX-760 uses a completely different technology to the CDP-130 that I mentioned earlier, and I could hear a big improvement in the sound quality. The instrument coped with everything I played, from starter tunes to professional pieces and beyond. 

 Casio concert Play makes the px-760 the best digital piano for beginners

Casio concert Play makes the px-760 the best digital piano for beginners

From a teaching perspective, there are a few extra details which I can imagine will make a big difference to piano students of all ages and abilities. Firstly, the song recorder is really useful, as it means you can record the pieces that you're learning and then listen back to them to spot mistakes.

Secondly, Casio’s brilliant Concert Play feature introduces the sound of an orchestra into your music learning. Basically, you can play along to some beautiful orchestral music and be the star soloist alongside Japan’s finest orchestra, the NHK Symphony. As a beginning piano student, I always dreamed of what it would be like to be part of an orchestra. With the Concert Play feature and the free included music book, Casio makes this possible and my students love it. 

The PX-760 is a great musical companion for many students, and it’s no wonder that it is one of Casio’s top sellers. Is it worth the extra £200 over the CDP-130? Definitely. As I found out, an PX-760 could cope with even top grade piano pieces, thanks to the impressive piano sound and great keyboard feel. What's more, its sleek cabinet design makes it look really impressive. In my view, it's one of the best digital pianos for beginners by far. 

Did you know?

Wondering which digital piano to buy for 2018? Try the Piano Selector tool and let Casio UK help find your perfect instrument.  


Explore the range

 
 

Cory Henry meets the Casio CT-X

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The Frankfurt MusikMesse show is always an exciting time for Casio. This year however, the atmosphere was even more electrifying than usual: the incredible new CT-X keyboards were making their European debut, launched by none other than Grammy award-winning artist, Cory Henry.

As expected, Cory produces a masterful set, wowing the thousands of visitors and putting the new CT-X keyboards through their paces.

After the show, Casio's Jack Terroni caught up with Cory to chat to him about the new keyboards.

"Cory, that was an amazing set. A lot of people here are saying how impressed they are with the quality of the new sounds. How authentic do you feel the CT-X range’s AiX Sound Source is?"

It felt good when I was tracking for the Casio video, the sounds I used in that shoot was really fun! For a starter keyboard you really get great sonic sounds that make you feel as if you are at a professional level, that’s really important.

"I noticed you took great care in adjusting the EQs and Effects on the Keyboard. How important is it to you to be able to refine your sound?"

Yeah, I like my sounds with a lot of low end and on the dry side, with the ability to build effects in if necessary. I like to hear how the tone sounds before effects are added. My boy Rich (Richard Formidoni, Casio US Product Marketing Manager), when he bought the board over, he was like, ‘You gotta hear this man!’ It was cool to hear the CT-X in the raw, you’ve got a good 'board there!

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"When choosing a Keyboard what are the things you look for?"

It’s kind of like a 5 point checklist: touch, sound, the ability to navigate smoothly through the keyboard, how many keys, the design… there’s a lot of the different things I look for.

"What music among contemporary artists are you currently listening to and where do you see the state of music at presently?

It’s in a good place, the music is in a good place - I’ve been digging recently Anderson Paak, Kendrick LamarEsperanza Spalding and Robert Glasper are amazing… they are really progressing the art form.

"What do you value more in a keyboard player, technical proficiency or ‘feel’?"

Feel, every time.

"Your epic keys solo in the track ‘Lingus’ from the Snarky Puppy, ‘We like it here’ LIVE DVD is often listened to here at Casio Music UK. What are your memories of that day and your time with Snarky Puppy?"

That day was cool, although I wasn’t really feeling that well - we had recorded two shows a day for 4 days that week!

I think they took the ‘Thursday’ (solo for the DVD). However, I think my best day was the second set on the Tuesday. I remember playing that solo and I looked at Mike and was like ‘THIS IS IT!’ and then when the record came out, we were out and I heard it and it was not the ‘Tuesday’ one! Mike said, ‘…well the band sounded better…(on the Thursday session)’. I got it, it was cool, no problem -because by the time I played the last solo on the Thursday I had already played it 7 times, so by the eighth time I just thought I’m gonna let this one hang! I picked some new sounds, I played totally different… I tried a piano track, a rhodes pad, lots of different tones and I’m glad I did it, because I was happy with the one that made the cut after the fact.

Playing with Snarky was great, it was wonderful to be with those guys and travel the world. Everyone in that band was a genius in their own right, it was cool to be in a situation where no one wanted to overstep each other and just play together. It was wonderful.

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Exploring the new AP-270 and AP-470 Celviano Pianos

New Year, New Piano: Dr Chris Stanbury looks at Casio’s brand new AP-270 and AP-470 Celviano digital pianos.

As we’re well into January, you might find your New Year’s resolutions might need a bit of help along the way by now. If buying a new digital piano was on the top of your list, I’d recommend you look at Casio’s new Celviano pianos.

Casio has gone through a huge renaissance recently, and a massive investment in research and development has produced some incredible products that have really caught the eyes (and ears) of the music industry.  With this in mind, I was really interested to see what innovations Casio had put into the new 2017 range of AP series digital pianos. The previous range of Celvianos were so successful, surely no designer would want to change the winning formula?

 The new AP-270 Celviano 

The new AP-270 Celviano 

New Designs

At first glance though, it’s obvious that both instruments (the entry-level AP-270 and the larger AP-470) have been completely redesigned. Casio are definitely aiming high here: everything has a quality feel and even the ebony and ivory textures on the keys have been refined.

Casio say that the control panel has been completely redesigned following customer feedback. The whole panel has now been moved to the far left of the keyboard, giving both models a sleeker, premium look. It’s also possible to control these new Celviano models with the Chordana Play Piano app* (for iOS and Android), where you can select different sounds, record your performances and even read musical scores in PDF format.

 Chordana Play Piano lets you control the piano functions from your phone, learn new pieces and view PDF music files (iOS & Android*).

Chordana Play Piano lets you control the piano functions from your phone, learn new pieces and view PDF music files (iOS & Android*).

 

Two New Concert Grand Piano Tones

Less obvious, but just as important, are the big improvements that Casio have made to the sound. I had the chance to hear the old models of Celviano next to these new instruments while I was at Casio’s head office, and the difference is huge.

Both the AP-270 and AP-470 now have two new Concert Grand Piano tones. Why two piano sounds? Well, the answer is in the variety and interest that it gives you as a performer. Grand Piano 1, a majestic European grand, is perfect for classical pieces, whilst the resonant sound of Grand Piano 2 is perfect for jazz and pop songs. Having two pianos for the price of one is brilliant - you’ll always find a tone that suits your style.

 

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Features

Whilst we’re talking about useful features for students, Casio’s Concert Play (available on both models) is definitely worth a mention. These are recordings of favourite classical pieces played by a real symphony orchestra which you can play along to thanks to the included piano score.

As well as being great fun, Concert Play really inspires you to improve your music reading skills and hone your abilities in playing along with an ensemble.

Usually, entry level digital pianos leave me rather uninspired, as most piano manufacturers use basic key mechanisms which don't feel as good to play as the more expensive models. With the Casio AP-270 however, this isn’t the case: the key action is the same as in larger instruments in the range. This makes the AP-270 fantastic value for money: you’re getting a premium key action that will support music learning for years to come, even up to the highest levels of performance. For me, this alone makes the AP-270 one of the best starter instruments available today and one that I would definitely recommend to students of all ages and abilities.

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What more does the AP-470 offer?

Put simply, it’s an improved sound and some very useful extra features. When I moved on to the AP-470 after playing the AP-270, I immediately noticed that the piano tone seemed 'bigger'. Casio say this is for two reasons: the speaker system used is nearly three times more powerful than the AP-270, and this larger instrument also has extra string resonance (a computer recreation of all the extra harmonics that an acoustic piano produces) which gives it a warmer sound. The opening acoustic lid, which lifts up just like a grand piano, gives the instrument that extra finesse (not to mention a bigger spread of sound, too). 

Also, there are some really useful extra features on the AP-470, such as the ability to customise the piano tone to your own taste. The best feature for me though was USB Audio, which means you can record your performance straight to USB memory stick as digital audio, ready to share with friends and family.

Overall, I was really impressed with both the AP-270 and AP-470. I was expecting some small improvements, but these two instruments represent a giant leap forward in terms of quality and value for money.

EXPLORE THE AP-270 & AP-470

Have you heard about Casio CT-X?

Dr Chris Stanbury reviews the new range of CT-X keyboards from Casio and explains why this latest series is the best yet.

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Casio’s name has long been associated with some great innovations in keyboards for well over thirty five years. In fact, the Casiotone CT-201 was the first ever electronic keyboard, launched in January 1980. Other notable keyboards include the SK-1 sampling keyboard (a firm favourite amongst electronic musicians), the iconic VL tone (as used by Human League, Thomas Dolby, Robbie Williams and Lady Gaga) and the extraordinary CZ-101 synthesiser.

I remember spending hours on these instruments at school and at home, creating some great sounds that weren’t available on any other keyboard at the time. Ever since then, I’ve always admired the way Casio have produced their products, with an emphasis on innovation and usability.

So, when I got the call to visit Casio Music UK and try out the new CT-X range, I couldn't wait!

 
 
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There are three instruments in the range: the CT-X700, X3000 and X5000, which replace the CTK-4400, 6100 and 7200 models. The outgoing models were some of the best selling keyboards in the industry, not just for Casio, so their replacements are eagerly awaited by the industry and musicians alike.

Casio CT-X700

All New Sound Technology

Casio say the CT-X series is all new, featuring a new sound chip (called AiX), new case and panel designs, many new sounds and accompaniment styles together with some incredible new speakers (more about this later).

“We’re incredibly proud of the new AiX sound chip” says Neil Evans, Divisional Manager of Casio Music UK, “It’s the result of a huge investment in research and development, and it means that CT-X can produce some stunning sounds that, frankly, change expectations of what instruments in this price bracket can achieve”.  


As part of my visit, I’m allowed to try pre production samples that have just arrived from Tokyo. I try the CT-X700 first, and am immediately struck by how detailed the stereo grand piano sound is. Neil explains: “AiX stands for Acoustic Intelligent Expression, and it’s an incredibly powerful processor. Not only have we increased the quality of the new sounds, but the processor now adapts to your touch.”

I put this to the test on the CT-X700 and try the new Acoustic Guitar sounds, which sound fantastic. Playing gently produces some gentle string tones, whilst playing forcefully produces effects such as hammer on and slide. Straight away, I can see the potential of this new sound chip: it can produce some incredibly expressive performances, the type of which I’ve only managed to produce on keyboards costing over £500. To be able to do the same thing on something that is half the cost is incredible.

My other favourite tones are the Electric Pianos. Not only does the CT-X have some great new sounds in this category, but I can also hear  effects such as phaser, delay and panning being added automatically. “That’s another advantage of AiX” say Neil, “we can now have much more detailed effects added individually to each part, which really brings the sounds and styles alive”.

 The CT-X700 has a stand for a smartphone.

The CT-X700 has a stand for a smartphone.

New Sleek Designs

As well as the sound, Casio have clearly spent a great deal of time looking at the design of each instrument. Each of the three models has an all-new case design, which looks really distinctive. One innovative feature on the CT-X700 is the inclusion of a built-in stand for a smartphone or mini-tablet. This is great if you use music apps, as the stand places your device's screen at the ideal angle for viewing. Connecting your devices to any CT-X is really easy, thanks to the built-in audio input and USB connection.

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Moving on to the CT-X3000, I notice that the chassis and panel design is different. There are a few added features, such as the Phrase Pads, where you can add extra guitar riffs, piano arpeggios and more when performing. The speakers now use Bass Reflex technology, giving a wider dynamic range, which is really noticeable. 

There are some much bigger changes on the CT-X3000 to talk about though. As well as a USB Audio Player, which means that you can play along to any standard WAV file (and cancel out the vocal part so you can play it live), I was really impressed to find that the CT-X3000 has something that I've long been looking for in affordable keyboards: an expression pedal input.

As a teacher, I've noticed the lack of expression pedal inputs in affordable instruments. Although all the major music exam boards require the use of expression pedals, you could only use them with keyboards costing nearly £700, which is too expensive for most students. I am genuinely pleased to see expression pedal connections now included on the CT-X3000 and CT-X5000. 

CT-X5000

On the flagship CT-X5000, you can even plug in a microphone and put your vocals through the effects processor too.   An exceptional dual 15W speaker system, the largest I’ve ever seen on a keyboard in this price bracket, transforms the sounds and styles. With features like this, it's clear that this is the model designed for the ambitious performer. It really has to be heard to be believed. What's more, you'll find standard Line Output connectors on the back of the CT-X5000 which will plug into a mixer or PA speakers. 

There are lots of small details that Casio have included on the CT-X5000 that make performing just that little bit easier, such as every instrument category having its own shortcut button for quick access, LED indicators to show which of the 128 registration memories you have selected and a controller wheel that can switch from pitch bend to modulation with the press of a button. 

I’m really excited by the potential that the CT-X range offers. Put simply, these are the best mid-range keyboards I've ever played. Casio have included some features that have never been seen before on keyboards in this price range.  

I can’t wait to try them again soon in my local music retailer.

EXPLORE THE CT-X RANGE:

Get playing and stay motivated with CASIO and Rockschool!

So, you're thinking of buying a new piano or keyboard. Imagine it’s unwrapped, out of the box and switched on. You’re ready to go, but how do you know where to start? Wouldn’t it be great if your new instrument came with some music that actually made you want to play and, more importantly, inspire you to keep practising and learning? 

With selected models of Casio keyboards and pianos, that's exactly what happens. Their new collaboration with Rockschool, one of the UK’s leading music exam boards for Rock and Pop music, has produced a free downloadable digital sheet music book that starts you playing some of your favourite pop songs straight away. Forget having to begin your keyboard journey with dry technical exercises or tunes that you don't recognise: for the first time, you can begin by playing songs that everybody knows and loves, which means it's much more likely that you'll carry on playing. 

Not only are there some great arrangements of songs by Coldplay, Ray Charles and Alicia Keys, but the backing tracks to each song are included as well. This means that you can hear the drums,  bass and other parts of the song as you play the keyboard.

This is such an inspirational feature, as you’re no longer practising ‘on you own’ and instead have a whole band to accompany you each time you play .

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Every arrangement is produced by some of the UK’s top educators at Rockschool, which means the challenges and musical techniques used are cleverly designed to inspire but not frustrate beginning players. The music is easy to follow, the presentation looks great and every piece offers an exciting challenge which keeps you coming back for more. Having a structured, properly-designed series of pieces is so much better for learning than struggling with YouTube videos, which are often over complex and not always straightforward. What’s more, you can even use these songs in a Rockschool music exam if you wish.

Whatever style of pop music you’re into, you’ll find something of interest in the downloadable pack, which is included with selected models of Casio keyboard and piano*. From Alicia Keys’ No. 1 Falllin’, Coldplay’s The Scientist or Ray Charles’ Hallelujah I Love Her So,  there’s a variety of styles on offer together with some specially-commissioned original pieces written by the Rockschool team.

If you’re thinking of buying a keyboard or piano for you or someone in the family, but have been put off because you worry they won’t stick to it, it’s definitely worth giving a Rockschool-powered Casio instrument a go. As any music teacher will tell you, music practice should be fun and inspirational, and this new downloadable pack does just that.

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*Free downloadable digital sheet music book available with the purchase of the following models: CTK-3500, CTK-6200, CTK-7200, WK-7600, PX-160.

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Going Digital: Why Grand Hybrid is the perfect education instrument.

Buying a piano for a school or college can often involve a compromise: do you go for an acoustic instrument, for the authenticity of touch and tone, or choose a digital product which can be more versatile but perhaps lacks the same performing stature or integrity?  Dr Chris Stanbury investigates how the new Casio Grand Hybrid piano offers the best of both, and finds out that these pianos already have a loyal fan base in education.

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When I’m asked to recommend a piano for a classroom or music studio, I often have to ask further questions to find out exactly what the priorities are. For example, if it was an instrument intended primarily for advanced performance and piano teaching, I would probably recommend a good model of acoustic upright. On the other hand, if it turns out that the school needs an all-round instrument for classroom music and ensemble performance, a bit of recording, and maybe the ability to connect to other studio equipment, I’d usually recommend a digital piano.

However, I’ve always felt uneasy that schools are presented with this buying dilemma: by buying a really good acoustic piano, you get the necessary touch and performance dynamic, but you have to accept that your investment isn’t the most studio or classroom friendly (once you realise that acoustic pianos need regular specialist maintenance and shouldn’t be placed next to radiators or direct sunlight, plus they need extra equipment to record them if required).

What is really wanted is the best of both worlds: a twenty-first century piano which marries the true refinement of touch offered by an acoustic instrument with the benefits of a digital keyboard. Step forward, Casio’s Grand Hybrid series of hybrid pianos which are co-developed with C. Bechstein, my new first choice when it comes to choosing a versatile classroom instrument without compromise.

First and foremost, the keys are made of the same Austrian spruce wood as those found on C. Bechstein acoustic pianos. In addition, and unlike most digital pianos, Grand Hybrid pianos feature a real, moving hammer mechanism developed in collaboration with the Berlin-based piano company. This produces a playing action that is far ahead of any other digital piano (in my view) and genuinely comparable to an acoustic instrument. Casio say that this action solves the problem that many schools and colleges face: the need for the resilience and versatility that a digital piano brings, but with the authenticity of action that only an acoustic instrument can provide.

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As part of the initial product launch, educators from some of the UK’s top music schools and colleges were invited to evaluate the new instruments. The reaction was unanimous: a very enthusiastic endorsement and genuine excitement. Conor Doherty, director of London’s BRIT school was amongst many senior members of music education that were genuinely impressed with the touch and versatility of the Grand Hybrids. Conor commented that "many of our students who come from a more traditional piano background dislike the feel of using stage pianos that we’ve often had to use, and have warmed to the Casio Grand Hybrid far more quickly, and several actually prefer it to the acoustic grand piano that we have!" 

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Ryan Hepburn, Head of Academic Studies at Brighton College was similarly enthusiastic about the unique keyboard action in the Grand Hybrid, saying that “it felt like you could immediately connect with the instrument. You didn’t have to compromise in any way.”

In addition to the authenticity of touch and tone, the Grand Hybrid has many important and useful features. First and foremost is its comprehensive MIDI and audio recording facilities. This means that, not only will the instrument link seamlessly to a PC or Mac running Sibelius, Cubase or Logic, but the Audio recording facility enables quick recording to USB memory stick making the audio recording of performances for assessment and archive quick and reliable. No additional leads, microphones or recording devices are required, which will no doubt save costs, not to mention time!

There are other connection options too: it’s also possible to plug the Grand Hybrids into a separate PA system if required. For school productions or concerts, this means that the sound of the piano can be amplified further with additional speakers if required. In addition, the other tones available, such as organs, strings and electric pianos make the instrument more flexible than it’s acoustic counterpart for contemporary music.  On the other hand, you can also use the built-in speakers of the Grand Hybrid to amplify music from other devices, such as ipods, CD players or computers. This means that backing tracks, musical examples or students’ work can be played from a laptop or media device without needing additional amplifiers or speakers, which can be a real lifeline in a classroom environment where equipment can be difficult to come by, or if the Grand Hybrid is located in a studio which is different to the usual listening area.

If you are looking to buy an acoustic or digital piano for education, I would recommend the Grand Hybrid wholeheartedly. It is fair to call these pianos unique, as they offer a long sought after combination of touch authenticity and versatility, with the added advantage of being very reasonably priced indeed.

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