Voices and Expanded Capabilities

Some people, even some professional musicians, will tell you that using automated accompaniments—those rhythmic combinations of drums, bass lines, and chords—constitutes "cheating." This has never made sense to me. If I use a tool to do something that I couldn't possibly have done with my bare hands, am I cheating?

Whether or not a digital piano has these automatic features, frequently referred to as styles, is the primary factor that separates standard digital pianos from ensemble pianos. If your musical interest is focused solely on the classical piano repertoire, then this capability will probably be of no interest to you. If, however, you or someone in your household plays or plans to play a wide variety of musical styles, the ability to have backup instrumentalists at your beck and call is just entirely too much fun. No matter how good a player you may be, you can't be four people at once—or eight, or twelve, or an entire orchestra. These accompaniments are typically divided into groups by musical genre: Swing, Latin, Rock, World, and so on. The best of these styles are of a caliber that the best record producers would be proud of.

How do these styles "know" which key to use when playing all those chords and bass lines? In the simplest "single finger" settings, if the player needs an accompaniment style played in C, for example, she plays a C with the left hand. As chords change in the music, the player makes the appropriate change in the left hand to indicate what the accompaniment should play. Once the harmonies have been determined, the instrument can also apply them to the right hand by filling in the notes of the appropriate chord under the melody note. More sophisticated systems can decipher complex chords by evaluating all of the notes played on the keyboard, so that even advanced players can use the accompaniment styles without being held back from their normal style of playing.

All of this technology can make raw beginners sound as if they've been playing for years. While many players will progress beyond the simplest settings, other members of the family may continue using these playing aids for their own enjoyment.

For more information on Voices and Expanded Capabilities, please refer to "Digital Piano Basics, Part 2: Beyond the Acoustic Piano" in Acoustic & Digital Piano Buyer. Additional topics covered there include:

  • Layering and Splitting
  • Reverb, Chorus, and other Effects
  • Alternate (Historical) Tunings
  • Memory Presets
  • Song Settings, Music Libraries, and Educational Tools
  • Pitch Bend Wheels and Other Controls
  • Vocal Effects
  • Physical Modeling

Introduction to Buying
a Digital Piano

by Alden Skinner

Acoustic & Digital
Piano Buyer