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.

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 10.29.43.png

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 needed 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.

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 10.29.16.png

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!" 

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 10.17.02.png

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.

view the product

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 10.15.56.png

Connect to Chordana: What are the main features of Casio's new app?

Chordanatitle.jpg

This year, Casio launched a new app called Chordana Play, which is available for both Android and Apple iOS. Dr Chris Stanbury looks at what it offers both the beginner and established musician.

 

Thinking back to my earliest memories of Casio keyboards from the early nineties, they’ve always had some pretty interesting education features that can teach you how to play. Casio’s famous lighted keys system, where the keys light up to show you which notes to play was a major development in home keyboard playing, and they’re still as successful today as when they were introduced over twenty years ago.

Today, the idea of using a phone or tablet to learn has become much more mainstream, with lots of online courses, podcasts and apps to help you do anything from learn a new language to improve your cooking skills. However, the apps available to help you play the piano have been few and far between up till now.  So, is Chordana the answer to using a smart device and a digital instrument together?

Firstly, Casio have made Chordana accessible to a wide range of their instruments. From a CTK-2500 electronic keyboard to the PX-870 Privia piano, it’s possible to connect many of their current products to the app and get started straight away. For the keyboards, this can be done with a 3.5mm audio cable (the type that you often use to connect your music player to a car stereo). Once you’ve connected up your smartphone or tablet, you can hear the sound of the app through the speakers of your keyboard and, if you have lighted keys, you’ll see the keys light up as you play any of the built-in songs.

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 09.09.26.png

There are 50 songs included in Chordana, ranging from favourite beginner’s pieces to popular classics such as Beethoven’s Fur Elise, all with a simulated orchestral accompaniment. Once you have selected a song, you can see the piano part as either traditional music notes, or what Casio calls ‘Piano Roll’. Piano Roll is proving very popular on YouTube, where there are thousands of piano tutorials using this same format.

Chordana4.jpg

However, one of the main advantages of Chordana Play over video tutorials is that, if you’ve connected it to a digital piano such as a new Privia model (via a USB cable), you’ll find that it is much more interactive. This means that you can slow down the performance, repeat difficult sections and even ask the app to wait until you find the rights notes before continuing. Overall, this is so much better than watching tutorials, as you’re directly involved from the start and will learn much quicker.

Chordana play isn’t just for beginners, however. Advanced players will appreciate the ability to load in any standard MIDI file. I’ve tried it with a range of repertoire, including electronic versions of Chopin, Beethoven and Debussy and was very impressed with how clear straightforward the score was presented. The ability to listen to Chordana playing one hand, whilst I played the other was very useful and helped me gain an overall insight into the music much more quickly that if I was playing alone.

Overall, Chordana promises to be a great addition to your home practice.

 

view the product

 

As a free download, it’s defintiely worth trying. For more information, see http://web.casio.com/app/en/play/function.html

Compact Excellence: Why you should try a Casio Privia Piano

Did you know that our homes in the U.K. are the smallest in Europe? With living space at a premium, recent reports suggest that smaller beds, sofas and other household items are more popular than ever. But how compact can you make a piano? Dr Chris Stanbury reviews Casio’s solution: the new Privia PX-770 and PX-870 digital pianos.

The Casio Privia: Perfect for small living spaces. 

The Casio Privia: Perfect for small living spaces. 

It may be a cliché, but to experience the best in small-scale design you have to look to Japan. For nearly fifty years, Japanese product designers have shown how to put some incredible ideas into space defying shapes. Since the 1980s, cameras, computers, music players and televisions have all evolved into more compact versions to make them easier to live with. However, it was only in 2003 that Casio revolutionised the world of electronic musical instruments with the PX-100 Privia, an ultra compact digital piano designed for small living spaces.

Fast forward 14 years, and with over half a million instruments sold, Casio are keen to show me their new PX-770 and PX-870 Privia pianos. The success of these instruments is very important for the company, as the Privia range of pianos are not only some of the best-selling slimline pianos in the industry, but they also continue Casio’s design renaissance that began in 2015 with the highly-acclaimed Grand Hybrid instruments.

It’s not until you see these pianos up close that you realise just how compact the Privia is. All the important elements are there, such as the 88 note, weighted keyboard (with ebony and ivory textured keys), three pedals and an impressive speaker system, but they’re combined into a format that takes up half the room space of a traditional digital piano.  As well as being incredibly stylish, the ingenuity of Casio’s design means that the Privia range are the most compact digital pianos on the market today.

PX-770 (£799)

The PX-770: A Great Digital Piano for Beginners

The PX-770: A Great Digital Piano for Beginners

With a price of £799, the PX-770 is currently the best value slimline piano on the market. I spent a long time listening to the piano sound and was hugely impressed with the clarity and depth of tone. Casio say that they have used new sound processing technologies in this latest range of Privia pianos, paying particular attention to the way a piano sound changes as you hold a key for a longer time, and the results are certainly quite stunning.

The keys themselves have had a refresh too, with a new surface texture that feels more subtle and less artificial than previous designs. They felt good to play too, and I was surprised at how expressive I could be on an instrument that is just the first step in the range. Casio say this is because the keyboard action and the main piano tone is the same as that used in the top of the range instruments and they don’t limit entry level models by using a more basic keyboard or piano tone. This is done to extend the lifespan of the instrument: to take you from the first steps right up to more advanced pieces with one piano.

As I’ve mentioned playing pieces, I should say that the PX-770 has something called Concert Play. This a library of built-in recordings of one of Japan’s most prestigious orchestras, the NHK Symphony Orchestra. In this collection are some new arrangements of famous classical themes which you can play along to (the music book is included with the piano). I’ve never seen or heard real orchestral recordings used in this way before, and I can imagine music students of all ages finding this really inspirational.

PX-870 (£999)

If it’s true that all Privia pianos use the same piano tone and keyboard action, how different can the PX-870 be? As I found out, the answer is “massively”. The PX-870 feels and sounds like a completely different beast, even though it has the same compact dimensions.

The PX-870 has a Sound Projection System, for superior dynamics. 

The PX-870 has a Sound Projection System, for superior dynamics. 

Firstly, the piano sounds a lot bigger and more expansive, as the speaker system in this model is more than twice the size of its smaller sibling. Casio have used more speakers in the PX-870 too, as well as including sound ‘ports’ all the way along the back of the rear of the cabinet to increase sound projection. Together with a rear resonance panel, this system delivers a lot more punch and a wider dynamic range, which makes a huge difference.

The sound processing technology has also received a very significant upgrade in the PX-870. The piano tone now includes extra string resonance (to give more warmth and colour) and there is also something called a Lid Simulator. This recreates the change in sound you would hear if you opened or closed the lid on an acoustic piano. Of course, this is all done virtually as there are no physical parts to open and close, but the effect is really convincing. 

The PX-870 has lots of other interesting features too. There isn’t space to name them all, but amongst my favourites are the new Headphone Mode (where the sound is remixed automatically when using headphones for a more natural balance), USB Audio (making it possible to record and playback WAV files on USB memory stick) and the Hall Simulator (where the piano recreates the acoustic of famous concert venues across the world, such as the Berlin Philharmonic Hall or the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris).

Overall, both these instruments are very impressive indeed. The PX-770 is the ideal instrument for families looking for a space-saving first piano which would easily see them through the first five years or more of their piano journey. I can see the PX-870 being a firm favourite with established players who are looking for a compact solution without compromising on sound or features.  With these two instruments, Casio’s new reputation for design innovation looks set to continue.

 

view the product

 

 

"The Sound of Berlin" - Erica Worth meets CASIO Grand Hybrid

030 colour, for web, Erica Worth Feb 2015.jpg
PIANIST LOGO.jpg

Exactly two years ago, Pianist magazine editor Erica Worth took a trip to Berlin to find out why Casio’s most recent digital piano innovation – the hybrid piano – was launched in the German capital.

It’s early September, and I’m in a large room on the top floor of Berlin’s sleek Stilwerk design centre, awaiting the unveiling of Casio’s newest digital piano. The room is full of journalists, piano dealers, Casio representatives from all over Europe and an impressive line-up of Casio executives. Kazuhiro Kashio, Casio’s President & Chief Operating Officer, a busy man whom I’d imagine only attends the most important of Casio events worldwide, is here, joined at the top table by two high-ranking executives – Hiroshi Nakamura and Hitoshi Ando. Everyone in this room is ready to discover what the Casio Celviano Grand Hybrid is all about.

An exceptional collaboration: CASIO and C.Bechstein

An exceptional collaboration: CASIO and C.Bechstein

So why Berlin? By way of answer, here’s one name I have yet to mention: Karl Schulze, CEO of Bechstein, who is also sat at the top table. And this is where the story comes together: Casio has developed its Celviano Grand Hybrid in collaboration with the Berlin-based piano manufacturer C. Bechstein. Exactly 35 years after the launch of its first electronic keyboard, the groundbreaking Casiotone 201, Casio seems to be in the role of the pioneer once again, this time combining its electronics savvy with the traditions of one of the top old-school German piano makers, Bechstein. The first two models of the new Celviano Grand Hybrid, that are launched here, are the GP-500BP and the GP-300BK. [The BP-400BK is the most recent model, launched after this event, in 2016.]

‘For the past 30 years we’ve wanted to penetrate the piano market,’ says Casio’s Hiroshi Nakamura of this new hybrid. ‘We want to create more music-lovers, we want to expand the music market: our goal is to help people to enjoy and play music. This is a totally new digital piano that will bring a new edge to the piano market. We want people to feel more pleasure when they play, to feel that they are playing grand piano in their own home. This is a goal that people would say is impossible. We want the perfect combination of acoustic and digital.’

Bechstein’s Karl Schulze speaks of his excitement about the collaboration between the Japanese electronics giant and the venerable German maker: ‘This is absolutely new! Sixteen months ago, some people from the Casio team came to Berlin and introduced their idea of building a much higher quality line of digital pianos. Casio knows a lot about how to build a perfect electronic product – they know to build electronic musical instruments. So we worked together. This is the first step – and it has to be step by step. The second step is that Casio is willing to continue this partnership, to develop more and better products.’

A Look Inside

What can the user expect from these new, higher quality digital piano instruments? Having played an acoustic grand most of my life, I find that as I learn about the new Celviano Grand Hybrid, there are two features that stand out for me: that the instrument includes action of a grand piano and the sound(s) of a grand piano.

To the action first: the Natural Grand Hammer Action Keyboard was co-developed using Bechstein’s acoustic mechanics and Casio’s digital expertise. The action comprises precision-made wooden keys sourced from the same high-grade Austrian Spruce as used for C. Bechstein grand pianos, incorporating real hammers that follow the same path of motion as in a concert grand, even allowing for faster note repetition than on many an acoustic. We are told that the grand piano action on the new Celviano requires no maintenance, but when I ask Schulze about this later, he says that the action might require a bit of maintenance – possibly three to five years down the line, depending on how much it has been played, and that it would only take a small adjustment of an hour or so from a technician. Schulze points out that everything is still a work in progress, and that Casio and Bechstein are working together in continuing to develop the action to the next level of standards. 

All Grand Hybrid pianos have the same wooden keys as Bechstein acoustic instruments, and a moving hammer mechanism designed with the same proportions and dimensions.

All Grand Hybrid pianos have the same wooden keys as Bechstein acoustic instruments, and a moving hammer mechanism designed with the same proportions and dimensions.

Then to the grand sound, of which the new Celviano boasts three, named after three important piano-making European cities. There’s the Berlin Grand (described by Casio as having ‘a balanced, elegant sound, ideal for playing Impressionist music’), the Hamburg Grand (‘A brilliant, rich sound. Loved by pianists for its wide range of expression’) and the Vienna Grand (‘Noted for its impressive low range. Great for both soft and vigorous playing with its warm tone’). The Berlin Grand sound was created closely with C. Bechstein, while the Hamburg and Vienna were developed in house, with Casio’s expertise.

Both the pianos feature a Grand Acoustic System designed to convey every aspect of the grand piano sound such as smooth dynamics between loud and soft, lid adjustment and even that pedal sound of the felt as the damper lifts away from the strings. Six speakers have also been carefully positioned in order to faithfully emulate the grand piano as it disperses the sound from above and below the soundboard.

The instruments have lots of other intriguing features: There’s the Scene Feature (GP-500BP only), which consists of 15 pre-set types of different composers such as Chopin and Liszt, as well as music genres such as jazz and easy listening – pre-sets that combine the best optimal tones, reverberations and effects for the type of piece being played. Then there’s the Hall Simulator, which provides the experience of performing in a special venue such as church or concert hall. You can also try Concert Play, which allows you to play along with a ‘live’ orchestra, or you can chose from an array of tones (35 on the GP-500BP and 26 on the GP-300BK) and more.

Another pianist has their say

Lucy Parham

Lucy Parham

Fast forward some months later and I take one of my colleagues, the British concert pianist Lucy Parham, to a retailer in London to try out the GP-500BP. She’s as impressed as I was. She plays some luscious Brahms, some gossamer Ravel and some light Scarlatti – oh, and the opening of the Tchaikovsky Concerto. She enjoys the Berlin Grand sound the best, telling me that ‘a professional could definitely use this – it has a convincing action. I really enjoyed playing the Tchaikovsky on it. I’d definitely have it as a second instrument.’ Parham tells me that it’s the real action on this that impresses her most.  

What does she think of all the other buttons and functions? ‘I haven’t explored the other sounds and functions yet. I have been focusing on how it feels compared to a real piano. You can have the full lid open, which adds more bass resonance to the sound. You can adjust the touch to make it heavier or lighter. It feels like a real piano under the fingers. I still have lots to try out.’

If the Celviano Grand Hybrid is good enough for Lucy Parham, it might well be good enough for the rest of us. Time to give it a try.

 

https://www.pianistmagazine.com/

view the product

Get Set, Go Piano!

ChristopherStanbury.jpg

With so many digital pianos on the market, it can be difficult to choose the right one for you.

Dr Chris Stanbury suggests two of the best digital pianos for beginning pianists.

kids.jpg

With a new school term started and the summer drawing to a close, now is the ideal time to start to learn the piano. I remember my parents saying that investing in music lessons was the best thing they did for me, as it helped my concentration and discipline at school as well as in my piano sessions. Now, as a parent myself, I find playing the piano a great way to unwind and escape at the end of a long day.

A digital piano can give you a great start in music. Not only do they fit into compact living spaces, but you can also plug in headphones for silent playing. As a piano teacher, I’m often asked to recommend an ideal instrument for beginners and I’ve found two from Casio which are at the top of my list.

The Perfect Start: The CAsio CDP-130 (shown with optional stand)

The Perfect Start: The CAsio CDP-130 (shown with optional stand)

Casio CDP-130

As one of the most reasonably-priced 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.

Above all, it’s really important that a student has an instrument with touch sensitive keys and what pianists refer to as a ‘weighted keyboard’. This means that the keys have a slight resistance to being pushed down, just like an acoustic piano key. Learning to play against this key resistance, and developing the necessary finger skills to control how loud you want the note to play is an essential part of piano playing.

The touch and key weighting of the CDP-130 was really good, and I felt reassured that the developing piano student would be encouraged to play in the right way with this instrument.
— Chris Stanbury, Music Teacher and LCM Music Examiner
Screen Shot 2017-10-07 at 11.31.41.png

Consequently, choosing a digital piano that simulates 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 I felt reassured that the developing piano student 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.

Pianists call this ‘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 colour of note, 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 correct ‘colour’ of piano tone too. For the beginning pianist, this means that they can be sure that the CDP-130 develops good expressive skills as well as a secure technique. I was very impressed with the quality of the CDP-130’s Grand Piano tone - the sound was clear and detailed and I was able to play with expression and a good contrast of tone.

Overall, the CDP-130 is a great starter instrument, and would be ideal for a student of any age who is looking for something to last them three years or more. 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 AP-260

If you’re able to put a little more into your investment, you might be interested in my next choice: the Casio AP-260.

The Casio AP-260 offers tremendous value for money.

The Casio AP-260 offers tremendous value for money.

The AP-260 is the first instrument in Casio’s ‘Celviano’ range. Long established as the name of some of the most reliable and good-sounding digital pianos, Celviano pianos offer some great opportunities for the beginning pianist.

This is mostly down to the way Casio design their instruments. It’s a well established rule in the digital piano industry that a higher product price means a better quality touch and sound. However, Casio think about things differently. In recognition of a digital piano’s important place in music education, Casio have a philosophy called ‘Piano First’, which ensures that every Celviano they produce, including the AP-260, should have a first class touch and sound.

Incredibly, you’ll find the same key mechanism and piano tone in this piano as that used in the top of the range Celviano pianos costing over £1000 more. Of course, the more expensive ones have lots more sounds and features, but the core piano sound and feel is the same.

When I played the AP-260, the premium feel and sound was immediately obvious. The tone was very clear and it had a huge amount of variety and depth
— Chris Stanbury - Piano Teacher and LCM Music Examiner

When I played the AP-260, the premium feel and sound was immediately obvious. The tone was very clear and it had a huge amount of variety and depth. Casio tell me that the AP-260 has the largest sound system of any entry-level piano, which might have something to do with it.

This piano uses a completely different technology to the CDP-130 I mentioned earlier, and I could hear a big step up in terms of sound clarity and character. The instrument coped with everything I played, from elementary studies to Grade 8 pieces and beyond. What’s more, the classic upright design incorporates a great speaker system and three full-size pedals.

Casio concert Play brings an orchestra into your music practice

Casio concert Play brings an orchestra into your music practice

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 for students, as it encourages them to perform and then listen back with a critical ear, improving their playing (the Casio song recorder is also the easiest system to use, with literally two button presses needed to start recording). Secondly, Casio’s innovative Concert Play feature introduces the sound of an orchestral into their music learning, where you can play along to some beautifully recorded music and be the star soloist (in case you’re wondering, it’s Japan’s finest orchestra, the NHK Symphony, that Casio commissioned to produce this). As a beginning piano student, I always wondered what it would be like to be the soloist in an orchestral concert. With the Concert Play feature on the AP-260, Casio make this possible and, dare I say it, they may have actually made music reading enjoyable!

As a beginning piano student, I always wondered what it would be like to be the soloist in an orchestral concert. With the Concert Play feature on the AP-260, Casio make this possible and, dare I say it, they may have actually made music reading enjoyable!

I can see the AP-260 being 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 £250 over the CDP-130 if you have the budget? Absolutely. As I found, an AP-260 could cope with even top grade repertoire, thanks to the improved piano sound and precise keyboard movement. Dividing the initial cost over a typical ten year life span makes this a really attractive instrument. What’s more, Casio tell me they have some very interesting price promotions coming up in the next few weeks. Watch this space!

 

view the product