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Researching DP options for a retired senior at late elementary stage. I'm coming from a lifetime with the classical guitar (RCM Grade 9), wanting to acquire good piano/keyboard skills. Experienced pianists/teachers here may have some useful advice for me. I have a good grasp of general theory, but my goal is to gain more sophisticated ability with jazz theory, improv and new age/minimalist music. Right now I have an Arturia KeyLab 61 mkII midi controller with loads of VSTs and some good studio monitors. This is fine but it hasn't taken me long to realize the limitations of 61 keys, with synth action.

I'm caught in the horns of a dilemma concerning what sort of DP I ought to get to help me advance toward my goals. I may be way out in left field (which is why I'm soliciting seasoned players' advice!) but it occurred to me that an arranger type of piano might a good learning tool for practicing stuff like modal improvising, or improv over chord changes, working up arrangements from lead sheets, composing, circle of 5th drills, or just making routine practice of scales and chords a little more creative and interesting with an arranger that I can program with accompaniment changes, rhythms, etc. I've looked at specs for the Yamaha DGX670, Casio's PX-S3100, and the Roland RD-88. I haven't include Kawai because the closest dealer is a 5-hour drive away.

But, not being an anywhere close to knowing what's best for developing piano techniques, I'm wondering if I've blundered with this line of thinking. Could all the arranger's bells and whistles actually retard my progress instead of helping it? And would it be fair or unfair to suggest that many of the preset styles for backing instruments or rhythms are barely a step or two beyond the "Cheeze Zone"? Too many cliches? Is it possible that an arranger keyboard could turn into trap, imposing arbitrary limitations where musical liberation is my goal? What do you think?

With these doubts, I've also taken a close look at specs for more piano-centric DPs, like Roland's FP 60X or Yamaha's P515, or even much less expensive like Casio's PX-S1100. These models strike me as concentrating more on piano features than the arranger keyboards. And although I haven't actually heard or tried any of these DP's, the specs appear to point to superior sound and action features. But, they simply don't look like as much fun for practice drills as the arrangers. I dunno the sound quality I'm predisposed to think none of these models can match my VST's through studio quality monitors, so this sound fidelity isn't a be-all-end-all for me. If I'm dead wrong here, please blast me! I'll probably hang onto my Arturia controller because it integrates so beautifully with Arturia's own products like Analog Lab V, Piano V2, and Pigments 3.0 among others. Works great, too, with my DAW, Reaper.

I dunno, maybe some of you may think, I ought to use the midi controller and the zillions of plug-ins to take up the project of enhancing theory skills and get a DP that emphasizes piano emulation above all else.

I also have the thorny issue of living on the remote island of Prince Edward Island, and the one music store doesn't have an inventory to try out any of these particular makes/models. I suspect I'll be buying whatever sight unseen, instrument unplayed, a blind purchase. Not good, I know. So I'm putting stock in what I learn in forums like this one.

My budget is $1500 to $2000 thereabouts. Also, no available teachers with strong expertise in the genres I'm interested in. Just classical. I'll reserve my classical guitar playing for that.

Welcoming opinions, criticisms, suggestions along any of the lines mentioned in this post. I appreciate the input.

Last edited by bob@pei; 05/09/22 12:07 AM.
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Originally Posted by bob@pei
. .. I dunno the sound quality I'm predisposed to think none of these models can match my VST's through studio quality monitors, so this sound fidelity isn't a be-all-end-all for me. If I'm dead wrong here, please blast me!

You're quite right about sound quality. All slab-format, moderately-priced DP's are limited by their built-in amps and speakers -- that's inherent in the design trade-offs. And -- maybe for marketing reasons -- they don't have samples (or modeling) that matches good VST's.

I have a Casio PX-350 (ancestor of the PX-S3100). I've owned it for 7 or 8 years, and I've hardly used the accompaniment features. But I don't practice improvising over chord progressions, and that's a reasonable use for those features. I have, occasionally, used the built-in rhythms, and found those to be useful.

The accompaniment features are inexpensive, and they come with a whole encyclopedia of extra voices, and better recording capabilities. So the worst that will happen is that you'll ignore them. I don't think they'll capture your soul, or very much of your practice time.

I've never been to PEI, will have to do that some day.


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here's an opinion since you're asking for them smile

if you're mostly using vsts then you're already on the computer, and software can do all your sequencing / arranging without buying an arranger keyboard. so to my mind you'd be better spending the money on a weighted 88-key keyboard to complement your 61 key synth action, and use the computer (and/or backing tracks on YouTube of which there are countless) for accompaniment

from what you say you want to achieve, it seems there is a weighted keyboard in your future and sooner is probably better

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True. I guess that an 'arranger' is a keyboard that has a bunch of instrument samples, and also onboard sequencer for laying out the tracks.

And the vst plus software sequencer of desktop/laptop computers plus a midi-keyboard controller is along the lines of the same thing.

Nice comments from charles and jack.

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Thanks for weighing in with comments, @SouthPark, @jackopiano, and @CharlesCohen. I appreciate getting your various perspective so I'm not feeling alone in wilderness! Interesting to hear, Charles, that you can see the potential utility of using arranger harmony/rhythm functions to help with technical studies. But also interesting is jackopiano affirming that it might make more sense to using my existing controller/computer setup for studying and focusing on the piano's primary attributes like weighted hammer action. SouthPark, you have a balanced view which is probably close to my own posture, that I could go either direction.

The arranger option seems to have the convenience of out-of-box easy, quick setups for harmony/rhythm backing to make technical piano practice more fun. But I suppose this points to me making efforts of getting quicker, more skilled with my DAW, plugins, and controller to make my own setups.

I didn't mention "portability" as a criteria in my original post, but this is a priority for me. Retired, I'm starting think about downsizing my living quarters, so portability for me translates into flexibility. That's why no furniture style DPs appear on my lists.

Appreciate your input!

bob

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My vote would also be for a DP rather than an arranger type keyboard. You can get most of what you are looking for from apps these days in terms of accompaniment. There have been some great threads on that subject in the Non-Classical section of this forum along with some other great threads regarding your development in the areas you mentioned.

In terms of specific DP recommendations since availability is a concern do not overlook something like the Yamaha P125 or perhaps a Korg D1. (the Kawai ES110 would be my first choice but are hard to come by these days) Given that you are a retired senior something with a lighter action in my opinion would suit you best. Good luck with it ...

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Hey @Farfisakid thanks for introducing several thoughtful ideas I hadn't thought about myself. Like all the accompaniment apps in the marketplace. I'll check out the threads you're pointing to, thanks. Interesting comment about lighter action as appropriate for seniors and seems to be make sense. Your hypothetical choices like the Yamaha P125 or Korg D1 are super practical, coming in well below my budget of $1500-$2000.

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I didn’t go for it because it didn’t have what I needed in terms of the key action - but the DGX 670 is an amazingly fun instrument. From what your description is though, I think you might be wanting the RD-88. Very portable, great sound, reasonable action.

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Thanks for your input @JacksonTree. It seems the DGX 670 has been a really successful replacement/update for the DGX 660. Fun is a key criteria. Yes, you're right, the RD-88 should tick all the boxes, even though I haven't had direct experience with it.

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Originally Posted by bob@pei
But, not being an anywhere close to knowing what's best for developing piano techniques, I'm wondering if I've blundered with this line of thinking. Could all the arranger's bells and whistles actually retard my progress instead of helping it? And would it be fair or unfair to suggest that many of the preset styles for backing instruments or rhythms are barely a step or two beyond the "Cheeze Zone"? Too many cliches? Is it possible that an arranger keyboard could turn into trap, imposing arbitrary limitations where musical liberation is my goal? What do you think?

Welcoming opinions, criticisms, suggestions along any of the lines mentioned in this post. I appreciate the input.

Since you’ve already gotten a fair amount of thoughtful replies ….and you did specify you welcome opinions, here’s mine.

Basic piano learning ultimately involves a person learning a complex skill not unlike choreography; the grey matter applies its collective efforts in teaching / conducting the fingers and foot / feet to dance in all the right ways at the right times so as culminate in producing a song or piece / riff therein that, at a minimum, is acceptably pleasing to the grey matter of the owner/operator (gmooo) .

Along the way they ( gmooo) may have to spend some time learning how to tweak their piano - AP or Digital - so as to put its best sound foot forward in an effort of satisfying the collective senses (sight/sound/tactile/olfactory plus the ever present opinions/preferences of the gmoo’s mind). It may be they spend anywhere from minutes to months tweaking their DP’s virtual piano tuning settings and eventually conclude such are either fine or so-so. In the case of the former, they carry on with their main goal - learning basic, pleasing piano playing.

In the case of the latter, they may only be stuck with how to get the metronome volume balanced with the piano sound volume or they may have more complex virtual tweaking issues to resolve but either way, after not finding the right press-this-then-that sequence, they opt to buy / add one or more virtual pianos to the mix, after which they may spend minutes to months tweaking virtual virtual-piano-tuning settings and eventually conclude such are either fine or ….. maybe it’s best to try/buy a more better different DP or virtual piano package or maybe go an different direction with their spare time ….. like learning yoga or knitting …. or volunteering to help the local meals-on-wheels chapter 😉

The short end to this long opinion is, have you ever watched videos of dealers demonstrating - improv style - scales/rhythm / drum pattern / backing track / auto-accompaniment / auto-chord features on a given make & model of DP that is or isn’t officially positioned as having arranger features? Not only do they usually demonstrate the use of staff pianists who are very good at choreographing their fingers & feet to produce basic, very nice piano songs/pieces/riffs, they are also skilled in simultaneously choreographing the fingers and feet to quickly trigger on & off the aforementioned accompaniment features WITHOUT missing a beat! In my opinion, the answer to your question may depend on whether or not your gmoo logic is a good match for the gmoo logic of the engineers who designed the accompaniment features - basic built in ones OR arranger ones - you must learning to use to your satisfaction with whichever route you go.

I think DGX670 is potentially a good example. Ive been studying its features and dealer videos for months. They sure look like they might be a lot of fun even for anyone not named Emerson, Wakeman et al 🙂

Last edited by drewr; 05/10/22 12:12 PM.

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Hey @drewr, thanks for putting you cerebral spin on my dilemma of Arranger vs Basic DP. I take your intriguing points on the GMOO ( I like that!) as healthy food for thought. My immediate gut response is to simplify, simplify, minimize, minimize, focus, focus toward what you refer to as "pleasing piano playing". Tweaking this, that and the all the other things that would present themselves--and likely seductively so!--could be a recipe for distractions that go contrary to simplify, minimize, and focus on pleasing piano playing".

I recognize the clear and present risk you hint at if one is gobbling up time with this VST, then the next, then.... I should know better, because I'm prone to this accumulating pathology. Keep me out of the candy store!

It struck me as salient, your point about makers and sellers extracting every drop of marketing juice from highly skilled staff pianists. Digging deeper, your mention of engineer/designer compatibility with the end user is quite illuminating. I hadn't thought of that, but it does resonate for me.

If there's a flip side, of discipline, strategies, GMOO conditioning, all towards "pleasing piano playing", for me it's the fun, exploratory meandering, the meditative no-goal, no strategy philosophy. Like a walk in the woods, along a path unconcerned about which might be best tree species for construction, the straightness of the path, or the sense of accomplishment at the path's end.

I'd venture that this sort of contemplation is where you ended up in your post, where the final words point toward curious desire, plain fun, and dreams in jest. I can relate to what you're writing here and I appreciate you chiming in with such a spirited, well-thought message.

bob

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Bob,

I’m glad you took my post in the spirit intended.

Despite being a beginning pianist, you have an advantage; many years experience in music on a different instrument. Also, with your stated budget, even if you decide on a non-arranger DP, you will get bells & whistles whether you want any of them or not. All of the models you mentioned are worthy candidates for a beginner, IMO.

I am interested to know how your decision works out with respect to what kind of preference you may or may not have for piano action; something that many beginner pianists grapple with since they generally have little experience with feel. Obviously, feel with a guitar versus piano are different beasts BUT nonetheless, your guitar experience may give you some benefit that true beginners do not have.

* side note: in your years playing guitar, did you happen to observe if guitarists - beginners to experts - also have a tendency to obsess / worry about how a given guitar strings/frets feel the way pianists do with key actions?

On the way out, here is a brief 670 demo/vid which begins with an improvised, jazzy version of a classic classical tune that has lots of backing sounds, and you may find the guitar voice demo later in the vid to be somewhat realistic.




Good luck!

Last edited by drewr; 05/10/22 09:33 PM.

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Thanks for your followup post, @drewr. I suppose you're right that a lot of guitar experience confers benefits unavailable to the average beginner without musical experience. Whether it'll help me with respect keyboard action attributes is another question! If nothing else I can certainly appreciate the importance the experienced pianist lays on the nuances of keybed action.

I guess where I'd part company with the pianist's obsession with action compared to a guitarist, is to say, guitar action is very much a function of style. So, for example, the slick action of the iconic Fender Stratocaster is a foreign and distant land to me with the sprawling action of my Classical guitar. Standards for everything from string material and diameter, to scale length, to nut width, neck profile, fret types defies any attempt to mimic the pianist's general, but powerful call for DP's to emulate acoustic piano action. It's a rare guitarist indeed who can comfortably skip to and fro from one species of guitar to another. Eric Clapton comes to mind, as does Mark Knopfler. By and large a guitarist finds a single niche and action type usually goes hand-in-hand with it. I might be wrong, but I'd guess that this might be akin to the gulf between a concert pianist and her gear vs a keyboard synth player in a new age band.

This gives me to wonder if there's anything axiomatic to be said about action difference/preferences, say, between traditional jazz pianists and pop artists?

drewr wrote:
* side note: in your years playing guitar, did you happen to observe if guitarists - beginners to experts - also have a tendency to obsess / worry about how a given guitar strings/frets feel the way pianists do with key actions?

Yes, I'd say you're right on about action obsession with guitarists. On the other hand, I'd say there are diverse baseline standards to go with each genre or species, especially given physical material differences and dimensional disparities. Now, this knowledge imported from Guitaristana does make me a little suspicious about any presupposed homogeneity of acoustic piano keybed action. "Graded Hammer Action" strikes me as a very loose rubric and I imagine a finer-cut typology of differences nested within that rubric to reveal many more differences than generally spoken about. Perhaps they are not as gross and in-your-face as the zoo of guitar action possibilities, but surely there can be no absolute AP standard. And indeed I've seen evidence of that expression of AP action differences in many posts from experienced pianists.

What I appreciate about your entry into this discussion is to spark unusual ideas and concepts in my decision making process that I hadn't given much if any thought to at all, but which do warrant attention.

I'm even thinking of delaying any decision until I can make the trip to a big piano retailer to actually sit, listen, noodle, push buttons and compare models. I'm in Prince Edward Island, a lonely island floating in the Atlantic, but planning a trip to Toronto, where I still have family to visit this summer.

A journey within a journey so to speak.

Thanks for your comments!

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Quote
. . . I'm even thinking of delaying any decision until I can make the trip to a big piano retailer to actually sit, listen, noodle, push buttons and compare models. I'm in Prince Edward Island, a lonely island floating in the Atlantic, but planning a trip to Toronto, where I still have family to visit this summer.

The usual advice here includes someone saying:

. . .
Quote
We can give you _our_ preferences. If you want to know your own preferences, spend some time at music stores, trying out various DP's.

Toronto should have at least a Tom Lee and Long & McQuade (probably several of each). If Steve's is still around, it would be worth a visit. Find the Kasai dealer list, as well.


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Thanks for pointing to Toronto store options, @CharlesCohen. No denying it, that the in-person, physical experience of trying out this one or that one is best. Where I see minor risk (or maybe it's major!) is getting sucked into something by impulse, a perfectly persuasive sales person, going way over budget.

I think of car shopping. The old way would have the poor shopper tramping from dealer to dealer, test driving everything in sight, a real crap shoot. These days, the savvy car buyer does a lot of silent, self-directed research, narrows down options in the calm and cerebral confines of their own home, and maybe even pits one dealer's quote against the competition.

Maybe my analogy is lame and broken, and certainly I'd be stupid to dismiss the usual advice your pointing to. I suppose an equal measure of rigorous research and focused in-person test-playing is probably best.

In terms of my technical criteria, I haven't mentioned MIDI facility, but an earlier poster suggested I could do just as well with piano skills development with the backing tracks and theory drills made with MIDI files and my DAW. However, a slab DP with half-decent MIDI record and playback functions would be great because I could then easily transit from controller/computer setup to my DP. I mention this because the much touted Yamaha DGX 670 is not really MIDI enabled, say, compared to Casio's PX-S3100 with which one can record three tracks of one's playing in MIDI (or Audio), not just play MIDI files. Roland's FP-60X can do the same, with more memory, but only one track.

I can anticipate a critique of this thinking which says if you really want to develop your piano skills why are you dithering so, allowing yourself to get so damn distracted with these secondary concerns? Fair point, I'll admit.

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> However, a slab DP with half-decent MIDI record and playback functions would be great because I could then easily transit from controller/computer setup to my DP.

I think the controller/computer setup is much more convenient for home use than these boards with a very restricted user interface.
A workstation type keyboard with the right buttons and dials may be different matter, but it also takes a minute to boot up. Even these are losing the race with computers.

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Thanks for adding your comment, @_sem_. I hear you when you speak of the controller/computer setup being more convenient and less restrictive than a workstation type keyboard. It's practical to inject this caveat because I'll be much less likely to set myself up for disappointments with the computational weaknesses of the all-in-one keyboard compared to the near limitless, interstellar power of my computer/controller setup. That said, sometimes it feels like one needs to be rocket scientist to get even semi-close to a comfort level with electronic music production. I've had my setup for a few years now and sadly, I confess I've barely scratched the surface of its potential. It's still very intimidating.

As such, as long as my expectations for a slab DP are realistic, the DP workstation could bring at least some partial relief from complexity.

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I mean, on my DP, deleting a recent failed recording takes about ten presses of different keys, and having read the manual I've never bothered to try renaming a recording from a default name.
The control panels of the workstation synths are stone age compared to current smartphones and computers.
I think it is a very good idea to go and try such things out in a store if they really work for you, instead of purchasing immediately after salivation over the features list.

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home studio isn't how arrangers are typically used. arrangers keep quick set of tools handy for stage purposes, the ui is not made for recording/studio use.

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DGX670 has a 16 track recorder for midi / audio recording to internal memory or usb stick. The menu system also has Song Creator sub-menu for editing recordings. I suspect this may serve some basic recording needs but since 670 supports midi over USB, users may need to rely on their PC/DAW/studio apps for comprehensive recording needs.


There are some typical limitations to the midi recorder. For instance, vocals ( via the built-in mic port) cannot be recorded to midi.

Also, after 10 months of effectively co-habitating with the 670 owner’s manual, and reference manual, and marketing literature, and studying approximately 10 ( and still counting) demo videos, and discussing on forums, i’m convinced that another limitation is - there is no single reference source that adequately describes what can or cannot be on the the DGX670. IE. There is no such manual or combination of manuals, and videos and forums and blogs. Despite all of this, I suspect that if planets align, anyone who has all these reference sources and also owns a 670, might be able to figure out how to do whatever it can do 🙂


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