My New Toy

I’ve been thinking a lot about music lately. Playing music. How I used to, and haven’t lately. I’ve been particularly obsessed with Chopin’s Prelude in E minor (Op. 28 No. 4) which is a heartbreakingly beautiful piece of music. And playing music is apparently good for your memory.

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Casio CDP-200R digital piano

So after much deliberation and reflection, I finally gave in and got myself a keyboard, a Casio CDP-200R digital piano.

I’m quite surprised I ended up with a Casio. They’re usually cheap, crappy synth things. I was expecting to get a Roland, maybe a Korg or a Yamaha. But no, I got this thing. Here’s why:

It’s awesome!

It has weighted keys, something I didn’t think I’d be able to afford. This makes it almost the same as playing a real piano. The keyboard isn’t as nice as the similarly priced Yamaha I looked at, but this thing has loads more fun features, like a synth. I had to think seriously about whether to go with the more realistic keyboard, or get something that was more for playing with.

Let’s be honest, the odds of me practicing enough to become even a semi-professional musician are near zero. This is a toy, a hobby. Anything that makes it fun to play with increases the likelihood that I’ll still be using it semi-regularly when the novelty wears off.

So I got the Casio. Here are the best bits so far:

Weighted keys. They really are quite good. There’s a little bit of bounce at the bottom of the keystroke, but it’s not that bad, and you get used to it. The weight and action is close enough to a real piano that I can’t tell the difference.

Plenty of sounds. The piano sounds are pretty good, as are the drumkits. The brass, woodwind and strings are pretty average heard by themselves, as they always are, but they mix together ok. The inbuilt speakers are a bit crap, but with my lovely Sennheiser headphones, the sounds come through really well. It does the usual auto-accompaniment thing that synths do, which is fun to muck about with, but not that useful, really.

Score and key indicator. The LCD readout shows you which keys you’re hitting, as well as the notes on a music score thing. This is awesome for learning a piece when you don’t read music very well. Like I can’t. This is surprisingly useful.

It speaks MIDI via USB. You can hook it up to a computer via USB and have them talk MIDI to one another. I fired up LMMS in Linux and it Just Worked. w00t!

It can sample. Yep. You can record from a microphone or your mp3 player, or whatever, and then use that as either an instrument, or sample a bunch of things to use like a drumkit. I haven’t tried this yet, but I’m sure hilarity will ensue.

It can teach you to play. I didn’t realise this in the store, and the sales guy didn’t mention it. It has a bunch of songs programmed into it, and it will walk you through the phrases one by one, showing you what keys to play (on the aforementioned LCD display), while it plays the tune. Then you imitate it, and it gives you positive feedback. It even shows you the fingering!

It has 100 different songs ranging from insultingly simple to Chopin’s Nocturne¬† Op. 9 No. 2. You could learn to be a competant pianist just by starting at the beginning and working your way through. This is freaking amazing.

I was immediately reminded of Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, and the book that teaches Nell to do, well, everything. This is a far cry from that book, but still, it’s a step in that direction. How awesome!

So yeah, having loads of fun mucking about with it.

Many thanks to Mike from Billy Hydes music for spending so much time with me and helping me to find the perfect instrument for my needs. I bought a lot of percussion stuff from them back in the day, and they’re still an awesome place, which is great to see.

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