Steve Edwards L.T.C.L.
Enhanced CBR/DBS Certificate
Bury, Lancashire
Piano Tuition
Tel: 07586 320905

Students Area


Artical: The Digital Age

Student Recitals

Hear Me Play
Digital Piano Technology
Although traditionally from the 'old school', new technology has always been fascinating, so I try to embrace it. Since the birth of the synthesiser and electric piano, I have dabbled with many of these new keyboards with varying degrees of satisfaction.

I still have a vivid memory from my student days and the first time I played a brand new Bosendorfer grand piano in the concert hall of the music college. I was blown away. I remember just playing one note at a time and being in ore of the wonderful tone of each single note. That's a big deal to try and emulate using technology and a set of speakers, and it hasn't happened yet.

Yamaha's digital pianos claim to be sampled from their CFX grand piano. The CFX grand is priced at around £98,000. If these digital sampled pianos could accurately mimic the CFX, I doubt they would be selling them for the £2000 to £6000 mark.

Now to the positive side.
The latest digital pianos do sound better than some of the traditional upright pianos I have played. Yes, I really did just say that, me from the old school. The key action is excellent, and I don't see any reason for modern technology not to crack that one.
They also have features you can't get on a traditional piano.

Pop on a pair of headphones or turn the volume down and you can practice to your hearts content without disturbing neighbours or family. Let the piano show you how the piece should be played and correct your errors. Slow sections down for accurate rhythm practise. Record your performance and then cast your critical ear over the result. For teaching and learning, the digital piano is a must have.

Sampled Sounds and the new Physical Modelling.

Sampled Sounds.
Until recently, digital pianos have used recordings of grand piano notes to trigger each key, and each note has a different recording for certain (but not all) volume levels. These sampled pianos are also available in pc software and can be triggered by any digital piano with a midi connection. This all seems great, we can have samples of all the great piano manufacturers, Steinway, Bosendorfer, Bechstein, Bluthner, etc.
The reality, I find, is not so good.
I have yet to find a digital piano, or software piano that does not have some sort of anomaly in certain notes or range of notes. Whether it is in the recording or a sympathetic vibration between the speakers and the environment on certain notes, I am not sure, but it exists. Some notes just sound odd, they have extra high frequencies, or simply don't sound like they are from the same make of piano.

Physical Modelling.
Physical modelling creates the piano sounds in real time using software algorithms. The software creates and combines the various tones from each part of the piano, from the strings to the hammers to the sound board, as you play.
The result is remarkable. A more realistic sound than any I have heard, and with an even tone throughout. It is also more expressive, as every tone is created according each notes volume level from 0 to 127. There is also no limit to the number of notes that can be played together (polyphony).

Every note can be individually adjusted with a multitude of parameters, so if you have any speaker resonance problems they can be ironed out, or you can tailor the sound to suit.

The company responsible for this system is Modartt, and the software is called Pianoteq 6.

I now use Pianoteq Pro with a Yamaha CLP 575 digital piano and two extra digital monitor speakers to give more clarity, making it a 6 speaker system.
My personal favourite instrument is the Steinway Model B Grand Piano, it has a superb tone, more natural and expressive than Yamaha's own CFX sampled tones. I use the 'Prelude' preset with several adjustments made to individual notes to match the environment. The 'Recording' presets on the Steinway models B and D are great (without any note adjustments) for recording your performances.

Roland have now started to use the physical modelling system in their new digital pianos.
The LX7, LX17 and GP607 pianos all sounded good to me, although it takes more than my half hour trial to really get to grips with the sounds and nuances of any piano.