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#690526 - 12/17/04 01:14 AM How does a digital piano work?
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3214
Loc: Virginia, USA
I know this is probably kind of a dumb question, but it has to do with a digital piano I'm looking at buying.

So if piano has MIDI, and if it uses AWM to create sounds, is it limited in how many sounds it can produce?

Or does the MIDI come at the end of the chain?

If MIDI is sent internally to the AWM, generating the sound, then you should be able to get all 128 voices out of the piano, even if it doesn't come with them. Maybe you'd have to run a MIDI cable out and in?

But if MIDI is generated parallel or after the sound, probably you couldn't.

Newby question, I know, you might just want to direct me to a link that explains it.
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#690527 - 12/17/04 06:47 AM Re: How does a digital piano work?
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 735
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada
Hi Tim,

A digital piano is essentially a controller keyboard attached to a tone generator via MIDI. The tone generator is essentially a synthesizer that uses a technique called sample and synthesis (S&S). There are other kinds of synthesis techniques (additive, subtractive, FM, ....) but these are typically not used in digital pianos. In an all-in-one keyboard like a digital piano, the tone generator is located within the body of the unit and the midi connection is hard wired (but can be disconnected by setting the local control). The midi signal from the controller is also routed to a midi out port, while a midi in port is routed directly to the tone generator. This allows your keyboard to trigger voices on other tone generators and have other controllers (such a sequencing software) control your tone generator.

Yamaha refers to their specific type of S&S tone generators as AWM so I'll assume the gear you are looking at is from that vendor.

The number of voices within the tone generator is related to the number of different samples stored in its memory (ROM) wich is why these keyboards are sometimes called ROMPLERS. Some other S&S keyboards also have RAM which can be loaded with user samples (these are called samplers), and then there is hybreds that have both (digital pianos are S&S ROMPLERS).

The tone generator (synthesizer) is really just a purpose built computer (more like the control unit in your microwave than your PC) with a small opperating system and limited CPU. They typically can only address a very limited amount of memory (ROM) so the manufacturer uses a number of tricks to squeeze as much sample data into a limited space as they can (looping and compression). The samples are altered and enhanced with various programmed effects, filters and mixing techniques.

In the case of a digital piano, most if not all of the ROM is dedicated to piano samples (after all this is a digital piano and not a general purpose synth). In some units ther is only piano samples and nothing else (Just because the Yamaha unit you are looking at says AWM doesn't mean it has other voices). Yamaha tends to include a sample/voice ROM in most of its digital pianos called "DX" which is a superset of the general midi specification (not to be confused with the MIDI protocol). If the unit you are looking at says DX on it then you can access those voices but if it doesn't then that ROM (samples/voices) have not been included. The keyboard may also include other samples/voices but this would be identified and you would be able to access them directly from the keyboards control functions.

SUMMARY:

Digital pianos are made up of a keyboard (midi controller) and an internal tone generator.

AWM is Yamaha's name for Sample and Synthesis which is a technique that some tone generators use to create sounds.

Tone generators recieve control messegaes via the MIDI protocol from various types of controllers such as keyboards, damper pedals, breath controllers, MOD Wheels, MIDI guitars, computer software, etc.

The MIDI OUT jack allows you to have your controller keyboard send MIDI protocol messages to external tone generators. The MIDI IN jack allows other controllers to send MIDI protocol messages to the digital piano's tone generator.

The tone generator creates sounds by playing back internal samples and processing those samples with various types of effects and filters. It can only play back the samples that are in it ROM (Read Only Memory) and for which it has voices programmed (type of effects to apply to samples). This is why it is sometimes called a ROMPLER.

The signal from the tone generater is passed to either an internal amplifier and speakers, or to the audio out jacks.

Digital pianos typically dedicate all or most of the sample ROM to piano sounds but it is not unusual to see manufacturers include additional sample ROM like the DX library from Yamaha or the general midi library.

I hope this answers you question.

Rodney

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#690528 - 12/17/04 09:35 AM Re: How does a digital piano work?
luv2cmwork Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/15/04
Posts: 11
Good question Tim and a great answer Rodney. Very extensive! I understand it a bit better, but I'm still a little fuzzy.

As you probably know by now (since I've mentioned it so much on this forum), I recently purchased a Yamaha P120. When I was researching different brands and models, some said that if I wanted more voices, I should consider a tone module, or if I had a computer that I might not need one.

Here's my question. With the Yamaha P120, how, specifically with this model, can I go about adding voices (if it's possible). I do have a laptop computer at this point and that's it. No software or any other hardware.

Or, can you point me in the right direction for instruction to add voices, if possible? Again, specifically for the P120, if possible.

Is someething like this what I need?
http://www.kraftmusic.com/catalog/keyboards/soundmodules/2326

Thanks so much!!

Thanks!!

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#690529 - 12/17/04 11:11 AM Re: How does a digital piano work?
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 735
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada
The module you point to is the Yamaha Motif tone generator pulled out from a Yamaha Motif workstation. This is exactly the kind of devide that will allow you to add hundreds of voices to your set up. Another good choice is the Roland Fantom XR which also supports user sampling.

http://www.kraftmusic.com/catalog/keyboards/soundmodules/2828

You simply connect the MIDI OUT from your P120 to the MIDI IN of the tone module and take the audio outputs from the module to your amp/speakers. You can now play the entire library of sounds within the module from your keyboard. (BTW: Don't forget to turn local MIDI off otherwise both the module and your keyboard's tone generator will make sounds.

BTW:

There are many software synths and samplers that run on PCs and MACs which turn your computer into a tone module as well. With a purpose built tone generator (Motif Rack, Fantom XR) no computer is required.

Rodney

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#690530 - 12/17/04 02:40 PM Re: How does a digital piano work?
FUNNYDOGNV Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/14/04
Posts: 20
Loc: NV USA
Hi Rodney,

Thanks for the very infromative description. By the way, did you mean "XG" when you said "DX"?

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#690531 - 12/17/04 02:45 PM Re: How does a digital piano work?
JazzP120 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/12/04
Posts: 136
The Yamaha XG Voice set is actually very usable in many situations, especially in a mix, when you need bread and butter instruments for the background.

Chris

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#690532 - 12/18/04 06:36 PM Re: How does a digital piano work?
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 735
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada
Must have had a brain fart... XG not DX.

Rodney

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#690533 - 12/22/04 08:35 AM Re: How does a digital piano work?
luv2cmwork Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/15/04
Posts: 11
 Quote:
Originally posted by Rodney:

BTW:

There are many software synths and samplers that run on PCs and MACs which turn your computer into a tone module as well.

Rodney [/b]
Can you point me to some...or one? Would I need some sort of "MIDI" plug, I assume? Would that come with the software?

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#690534 - 12/22/04 08:55 AM Re: How does a digital piano work?
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 735
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada
What kind of sound would you be looking for:

Analog Synth emulation
Digital Synth
Acoustic Piano (or other instruments) (Soft Sampler)


No matter which way you go, you will need a MIDI IN connecter on the computer(which can be done through the joystick port on most consumer audio cards). There are many dedicated MIDI devices that will work via USB, Firewire, or even internal cards. I use a Tascam US-122 which provides audio line in/out, Mic in and MIDI all in one box, attached to the computer by USB... VERY CONVENIENT!! Many professional audio cards also include midi connectors. Here is a partial list of dedicated MIDI devices to connect to your computer:

http://www.zzounds.com/cat--MIDI-Interfaces--2429

Software synthesizers and samplers come in many different configurations but the most common are dedicated and VSTi. For VSTi instruments, you will need to purchase a VSTi hosting application.

Do a quick google search using the following:

"free vsti"
"free vsti host"
"free soft synth"

You should be able to find a number of things to get you started.

Software samplers generally require modern (powerful) computers with dedicated hard drives for the samples. In my opinion the best one going right now is Tascam's GIGAStudio 3.0:

http://www.tascamgiga.com/

A bit pricy but absolutely amazing sound quality.

Rodney

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#690535 - 12/23/04 07:30 PM Re: How does a digital piano work?
luv2cmwork Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/15/04
Posts: 11
Thanks so much Rodney.

You explain yourself quite well, but I'm a little slow to learn sometimes.

If I understand you correctly, first I purchase the MIDI interface, from any of the recommendations you gave me (or finding my own).

I can download and install one of the free vsti or vsti host or soft synth programs.

Once I have that installed, I'm ready to start. Correct?

Will the voices be included in the vsti's or soft synths? Or are those something I have to purchase or at least, download later?

Again, thanks and I appreciate your help and patience.

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#690536 - 12/27/04 01:23 PM Re: How does a digital piano work?
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 735
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada
Once you have installed the soft synth and have a working midi connection to your computer, you simply have to configure the synth software to use the midi connector, and to route its audio to your audio device (sound card).

Let me know what your gear is and the devices and software you decide on, and I'll be happy to help you get things working.

Rodney

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#690537 - 12/29/04 09:55 PM Re: How does a digital piano work?
RandomThoughts Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/27/04
Posts: 106
Loc: Canada
Question for you, Rodney... I'm new to the whole digital thing too.

I installed a sample set on my computer (The Grand) and connected it up via usb. I tried using the keyboard (P250) as the controller with the computer as the tone generator.

There was a tiny delay (milliseconds) between my pressing the key and the tone sounding on the computer. Is this normal? I'm pretty sure that my computer is up to snuff - it has enough RAM to hold almost the entire gigabyte sample. Is my configuration wrong or is this really only for recording midi on the controller, playing it back on the computer while recording the new sample?

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#690538 - 12/30/04 08:30 AM Re: How does a digital piano work?
Rodney Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/04
Posts: 735
Loc: Caledon ON, Canada
The latency issue you describe is not uncommon with large computer samples like "The Grand". The issue may be with the Yamaha USB driver, the sample playback engine, the amount of RAM in your PC, the speed of your CPU, the speed of the hard drive that the samples are streaming from, or other applications that are running on your PC in additiona to your VSTi host (this would include VST effects), and finally output bufffer size on your audio card.

It is extremely hard to diagnose the problem but hopefully I have given you some ideas. Make sure you have the latest versions of any drivers (Yamaha's latest USB driver can be found at http://www.global.yamaha.com/download/usb_midi/).

BTW:

It is generally advisable to put all of your samples on a DEDICATED high performance (SATA or SCSI hard drive of at least 7200 RPMs) so that nothing can interfere with samples being streamed. This isn't likely your problem since the symptom for a slow drive is usually pops and not latency.

Hope this helps,

Rodney

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#690539 - 01/03/05 08:03 PM Re: How does a digital piano work?
RandomThoughts Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/27/04
Posts: 106
Loc: Canada
Thanks Rodney, I'll take a look there and see!

I don't have scsi, but I do have 7200 SATA, and I'm running a P4. So I'll try the usb driver.

Thanks again!
J

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#690540 - 01/04/05 01:07 AM Re: How does a digital piano work?
JeanL Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 12/05/04
Posts: 11
A dumb question: To learn "classic" music, can I use a good touch sensitive digital piano rather than the mechanical ones?

Some people say if one wants to take the standard tests, or more ambitiously to competitions, the mechanical ones are the way to go.

Appreicate your inputs! Thanks!

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#690541 - 01/04/05 07:27 AM Re: How does a digital piano work?
signa Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8483
Loc: Ohio, USA
if you want to play classical music at more advanced level, a weighted keyboard on either a digital or acoustic piano is essential. the point is that you will have hard time to control your touch/fingers on any keyboard without weighted keys, which i know because i started playing a keyboard like that first. so, if you want to be an advanced pianist some day or even enter some competitions, you will have to have either digital or acoustic piano for training your skills on.

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#690542 - 01/04/05 11:59 AM Re: How does a digital piano work?
JeanL Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 12/05/04
Posts: 11
signa :
Thanks for answering my questions! So a weighted keyboard is important.

The other day I heard someone said touch sensitive digital pianos give beautiful sound, but one won't be able to produce such nice sound on an acoustic piano with the same touch. I thought it would be nice, then the pianist can focus on the emotions and "heart", more than on the techniques.

\:\)

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#690543 - 01/04/05 04:16 PM Re: How does a digital piano work?
signa Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8483
Loc: Ohio, USA
JeanL, no problem!

some digital pianos or even some keyboards have a 'touch' or 'touch sensitive' button, which is basically a sensor for your key press/touch. my Yamaha digital piano has such a touch button which allows you to select from 3 different 'touch' level - light, medium and heavy. this means that if you select 'light' touch, you need less force on your key strike to produce the same level sound than that of 'heavy' touch. it has really little to do with the sound you produce on an acoustic, but only means that if your fingers are trained in a 'heavy' touch, it may make you feel easier to play on the keyboard of an acoustic piano with lighter key feel. in fact, the touch one feel over keys of a piano is very personal. some people like playing on a lighter feel keyboard and some like the opposite. if you have played long enough, you will finally get the feel of your own over the piano you play. such a sense of 'touch' might make no sense to you when you are a beginner player, but would make a huge sense to you when you have some advanced techniques. so, don't worry about it at the beginning, it will come naturally to you later. the important thing for you now is getting or playing on a piano (digital/acoustic) and start to feel the weight of keys first.

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#690544 - 01/04/05 08:24 PM Re: How does a digital piano work?
JeanL Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 12/05/04
Posts: 11
Thanks signa! Now I understand. Practice will be the best way to actaully feel it. \:\)

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#690545 - 01/05/05 05:25 AM Re: How does a digital piano work?
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3214
Loc: Virginia, USA
My daughter and I have been practicing on an unweighted digital keyboard.

At our lessons, the acoustic piano was so much harder to get sound out that it was really distracting. It's like the difference between a computer keyboard and a manual typewriter. Oh, sorry, you've never typed on a manual. Well, us oldtimers remember them.

Now we bought a digital piano with weighted keys. Though it isn't a top of the line model, it is very realistic feeling.

This week we went to our lesson and had the opposite problem. The acoustic piano made much more noise for the same keypress.

Now what I have to do is adjust the volume control so it is close to the real piano. I've had it turned too soft and have been playing too loud, apparently.
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gotta go practice

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