Digital Piano Terminology

The digital piano is one of those instruments that offers endless possibilities when it comes to things that can be done with it from a musical standpoint. If you are starting out then a lot of the terms used in relation to digital pianos might seem alien or out of context. To make this journey easier, we have compiled a list of piano terminology that can come in handy.

 

 

Action

This is what describes the way the keys feel when played. Usually digital pianos are designed to replicate the feeling of a true piano. The closest it can get this feeling right is decided by the action. The touch can feel hard or soft to the touch with traditional pianists preferring the harder touch while synth players preferring a softer feel. 

 

Auto-accompaniment

This feature comes as standard on most digital pianos these days. It allows the piano to provide automatic backup to your performance. This can include drum sections, bass lines and other instruments depending on the style you have chosen. This feature can play the right notes depending on the keys you press with your left hand. This allows keyboardists to give a complete performance all by themselves.

 

Dual voice

This is another innovative feature found on most digital pianos. This blends the sound of two instruments to give a unique sound. A commonly used dual voice is a grand piano sound combined with a strings sound. This gives the sound more depth and allows the music to sound fuller.

 

MIDI

This stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and allows the piano to connect to a computer. The digital piano can then be used to send and receive digital signals. This can be used to make music with the computer using a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).

 

Pitch bend

This is a feature found on some digital pianos and is present as a wheel usually on the left side of the keyboard. Turning the wheel up or down increases or decreases the pitch. While this is rarely used with a piano sound it can make other instrument sounds like violins and guitar sound more authentic and realistic. 

 

Polyphony

This describes the ability of a digital piano to play multiple notes at the same time. Cheaper digital pianos with lower polyphony will cut off certain notes when too many notes are played together.

 

 Reverb

Usually pianos were played in large halls and auditoriums and the acoustics of such a large room added a bit of reverb. Digital pianos try to simulate this which can make it sound like it is being played in a much larger room. Usually there are multiple settings available that allow you to add reverb of varying degree.

 

Sequencer

This is a system many digital pianos today come with. It allows you to layer multiple sounds. You can begin by playing a drum section, add a strings section on top of it, then maybe a piano arpeggio and so on. A lot of complicated sounding music can be performed using a sequencer.

 

Sound engine

This is what allows the digital piano to produce its signature sounds. It has to play the right sound based on the key that has been pressed as well as how fast it was pressed. All of this has to done in real-time with minimum delay.

 

Split voice

This system splits the digital piano into two parts with either part sounding a different voice. For example, you can have a traditional piano sound on the left half and a pan-flute sound on the right half. This allows performers to play as if two instruments were being played simultaneously.

 

Sustain pedal

This pedal is used to increase the duration for which a particular note sounds for after the key has been pressed. Acoustic pianos achieved this via a mechanical pedal. Modern digital pianos replicate this feature by using a digital sustain pedal connected to a special port on the digital piano. Usually, these pedals have to be purchased separately.

 

Touch sensitivity

This tells us how sensitive the keys will be to the variations in finger speed and pressure which is then used to decide how loud a particular note will be. A lower touch sensitivity will make all the parts have a similar volume while a higher touch sensitivity allows for a more nuanced performance.

 

Track recording

This is the concept behind a sequencer. Each section that can be recorded is recorded to a track. The more expensive digital pianos have options to turn any particular track on or off at any point during the performance. This way the drums can be switched off during a quiet section and then turned back on whenever the music needs it to.

 

Transpose

There are twelve different individual notes in one octave. Each note represents a scale and most songs strictly stick to a particular scale. Transpose allows you to play the song in a higher or a lower scale without changing the keys that are pressed. This is a great feature if you have practiced a certain song in one scale but for whatever reason the scale is changed on the day of the performance and you don’t have to practice it in the new scale. You can use the same finger patterns as before with the transpose feature taking care of the rest.

 

Velocity

This is how the touch sensitivity of the keys are measured. Basically, the faster a key goes from not being pressed to being fully pressed, the louder the sound is. This variation is bought about by varying the finger pressure. A velocity curve determines how the volume of a key varies depending on how hard a key is pressed. Usually, people prefer a linear velocity curve so that they can have precise control over how soft or loud each note is.

 

Weighted keys

This is another feature used to give the keys a more authentic feel. A traditional piano key comes with a fair bit of resistance. To replicate this, some sort of weight is added to the opposite end of the key that is hidden inside the case of the keyboard. Cheap digital piano keys might not be weighted at all. The more expensive ones can either be semi-weighted or fully weighted with the fully weighted options coming the closest to a real piano.

 


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