Technology for the Modern Player
In a recent survey, it was discovered that 80% of people want to play a musical instrument. With the advent of the modern tech and the internet, you’ve got pretty much the entire chronology of humanity’s musical endeavours at your fingertips, so what’s stopping people from playing? The survey also discovered that most people don’t play due to fear of failure. They don’t want to commit their time only to end up no further forward than when they started. It’s an incredible privilege to play for people and as a gigging musician, the number one thing people say to me after a show is ‘I wish I’d learned to play an instrument!‘. As a hobby, it’s incredibly rewarding to play as well as having the unique feature of being a lifelong undertaking. Even players who’ve hit the half-century mark are still learning new things!
We were lucky enough to sit down with Kevin and Ian from Yamaha to get a look at the new range of digital and hybrid pianos on offer from the industry giants and see how they’re geared towards encouraging new players. Nearly everyone has a smart device in their pocket and for Yamaha, it’s this utilisation of modern technology with established instrumentation that aims to bring new players to the fore, whilst retaining the high-quality playability expected from the more seasoned musician. We got our hands on the Clavinova range, Arius range, the P-Series, Avant Grand as well as the innovative Yamaha Smart Pianist app to bring you the low down on this latest merger of technology and tradition.
The Smart Pianist App
The Smart Pianist app is an amazing bit of software. A free app that’s compatible with any of the latest Yamaha pianos it does a variety of tasks equally well to really enhance the playing experience. You can import your own songs into the app, and it will create a score for you, as well as chord charts. The app spends a short time analysing before producing sheets and charts that are scarily accurate. Most musicians start playing because they want to imitate the music, they already enjoy so this is a handy feature for the beginner, personalising the learning experience is key to keeping a student’s interest during the early development stages. Import your favourite songs and you can instantly start playing along to them, and the app even has the ability to create unique backing tracks in multiple styles by taking this musical information and remixing it, we took ‘Get Lucky’ by Daft Punk and gave it a shuffle feel with a jazz backing band!
The Piano Room section of the app is where you select which piano sound you want for your connected device. Connecting is a doddle using either USB cable and converter or utilising Yamaha’s optional wireless dongle. Depending on which piano you have, certain options are opened up to you for piano sounds. Yamaha has painstakingly recreated some incredible instruments and the Piano Room gives you plenty of scope for customising the sounds that are already there. Swipe down on the picture of the piano itself and you can set the lid to half-closed or fully closed. Swipe left and right at the top of the screen and you can set which room you want your piano to be in with everything from a Cathedral to a Jazz Club. The ease of use of the interface makes it perfect for newbies and veterans alike, chop and change your sound as you please, with all changes happening instantaneously and on-the-fly. For those who want to get more in-depth, just hit the cog at the top right and you’re granted a plethora of customisation options, from tuning to resonance to touch curve.
The CFX Grand Piano
Yamaha does all the development work for their pianos in the UK. A secret facility in London exists where their flagship CFX Grand Piano was developed, taking an astonishing 19 years to complete. Utilising cutting-edge technology and a scientific methodology, they analysed the way the piano vibrates, looking at the body, soundboard, frame and strings, noting how each of these components affects the other. CAD technology was employed to map the vibration patterns of the harmonics that colour the tone of every note, accurate to 1/1000th of a millimetre. They even utilised high-speed photography to capture the action of the hammers striking the strings, all in the name of producing a better-quality instrument. If you want an idea of the lengths Yamaha have gone to, even the felt on the hammers comes from a specific breed of goat, bred at a specific altitude to produce the best quality sound!
All of this hard work and effort translates into the Piano Room section of the Smart Pianist App, to ensure that when you play the CFX Grand on any of the pianos, you get the most realistic, most scrupulous recreation of an acoustic grand piano ever committed to the digital sound sphere. Virtual Resonance Modelling ensures that all the nuance and subtleties of an acoustic piano are recreated, the complexities of the interaction between the strings and the soundboard happen accurately, whereby each affects the other harmonically and the damper pedals stretch the sound of the key and cause the vibration to affect other strings and the soundboard. Every small detail has been included, from the key-off sound to damper resonance to provide the player with all the acoustic accuracy of a grand piano in a package that doesn’t require you to hire a crane to get it into your home.
The Clavinova CSP is the newest of the Yamaha piano range. The CSP range has only two physical buttons to give you the look and feel of a traditional piano but despite these simple looks, there is a wealth of technology within, accessible via a combination of any connected smart device and the Yamaha Smart Pianist App. Yamaha has created a clever evolution of the slightly gimmicky-feeling light-up keys on previous pianos to give a learning tool for new players. Now, just above the keys themselves, you get light-up boxes that drop down, similar to what you see when you play Rock Band or Guitar Hero to guide you through the song. The app won’t continue until you press the correct key helping the player to solidify note choice as well as assisting rhythmically, providing visual cues to ensure correct timing.
The Arius range aims to give you all the feel of a Concert Grand Piano housed in a unit smaller than an upright. Intelligent Polyphony ensures that no matter how fast you play there’s no loss of sound whilst Intelligent Acoustic Control lets you play with the volume down without losing any of the treble or bass, with an intelligent EQ curve making it great for a late evening tinkle that won’t disrupt your neighbours watching Corrie. The Stereo Optimizer (a feature on all Clavinova Pianos) creates a stereo image of the piano so it sounds as though the piano is in the room with you rather than just coming straight out of the cans, great for preventing ear fatigue when you want to crash the keys! Concert pianists never press their keys all the way down as this is an inefficient way to play, which is why people prefer a Grand Piano action so both the Arius and Clavinova pianos come with Graded Hammer actions, with sensors that recreate an accurate playing feel all the way down to the sound changing depending on how quickly or slowly you lift off the key.
The Clavinova range was included in Time magazine’s top 50 most influential gadgets and you’ll find one in plenty of homes, schools and concert venues across the world. As well as featuring the aforementioned CFX Grand Piano the CLP also has the Bosendorfer, a completely unique Grand Piano that does away with traditional production techniques to create the most highly resonant Grand Piano ever made. 80 different pieces of wood go into the construction of a Bosendorfer and it takes a year just to craft one! The CLP delivers all of its diligently duplicated digital depictions thanks to a powerful speaker system. Offcut wood from the construction of the pianos themselves is used in the speaker cones, giving a rich and precise sound that’s more percussive than the traditional use of plastic. On the CLP-675 you get a speaker each for treble, middle and bass whereas on the CLP-645 there are two speakers for bass and two for treble.
The Avant Grand series is a serious piece of kit. A hybrid piano, it aims to give you all the acoustic action and feel with all the versatility and utility of a digital piano. In a genuine piano action, there are over 50 components involved from when you strike the key to the hammer hitting the string. Plenty of pianos have tried to simplify this action without much success. The truth is a serious player can feel the difference immediately, the subtleties of the proper piano action are often lost in digital recreations. To get around this, Yamaha has evolved its hybrid technology. The Avant Grand is a real upright piano action, not an imitation and it doesn’t have any of the associated issues that plague acoustic uprights. There’s no tension thus no warping which equals no maintenance and with both the majestic CFX and legendary Bosendorfer sounds available, you are essentially getting two pianos in one! The Avant Grand series is used in some of the most prestigious music schools across the world because of its incredible replication of acoustic piano overtones and quality sound speakers.
The P-45 is our most popular piano and for good reason. Compact and lightweight enough to take anywhere yet retaining the characteristics of a piano three times the size, so you can easily utilise this piano equally well in the studio or on the stage. The handy Duo mode makes it great for student/teacher combinations with two headphone jacks allowing you to practice alongside each other silently, great if you want to keep practising the same part over and over without driving the rest of the family up the wall. There’s a USB to HOST feature that lets you connect to a DAW like Cubase or Logic making the P-Series an effective tool for music creation. All the Damper and String Resonance is present alongside the Intelligent Acoustic Control and Stereophonic Optimizer of the Clavinova and Arius range.
Yamaha are such sticklers for detail that they even make the machines that make their pianos, ensuring that every instrument they produce is of the highest quality. They don’t pay for endorsements so when you see some of the world’s greatest piano players playing a Yamaha on stage, you know it’s because it’s a quality instrument with an incredible sound. As much as these instruments will appeal to seasoned piano players, thanks to the Smart Pianist App they also have plenty of functionality to get new players on board, and more importantly, to keep them coming back for more.
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Matt is a multi-instrumentalist, music geek and current Content Creator at Dawsons Music. He composes, records and produces out of his home studio in Manchester as well as playing in two bands, China Moon and Sawbones.