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I've been playing piano for more than 40 years -- started out with classical, but I've been playing in a praise band the last 10 years or so.

We recently purchased a Kurzweil PC3X keyboard for the band, and we love the flexibility it provides and the different sounds we can get.

But there is a very different style of playing on piano compared to keyboard (especially in a band) -- the piano is typically a rhythm instrument; the keyboard is often more of a "sustained note" instrument.

So -- any suggestions for how an experienced piano player can learn different techniques for playing the keyboard?

Thanks, all!

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Well, no matter what you do, you're never going to get full piano action on a synth. The one you've got has fully-weighted hammer-action, so that's about as close as you can get. As for making the transition, I'm not sure what you're looking for. You say synths are not a rhythm instrument, but they most certainly are! –  Michael Martinez 2 days ago

6 Answers 6

The main factor that can affect your playing when moving from a piano to a keyboard is whether or not your keyboard has weighted key action, or is merely "touch sensitive". This, coupled with the fact that keyboards have volume controls (sometimes more than one) on not just themselves, but also on the sound system they're connected to, can make performing with dynamics tricky. On a piano, you can gauge how your dynamics are balancing with other performers, but on a keyboard this is a little more difficult because of the fact that you may not always directly hear what you play at the volume the audience or other members of your band will. Similarly, you'll find that levels might be different at different venues, so you cannot count on consistent playing to actually produce consistent results. Also be aware that different voices/instruments on the keyboards may vary greatly in how they respond to dynamics.

Something I still personally have to watch is damper pedal usage. I really don't like playing entirely without a pedal, because it makes me feel like my playing is sometimes too choppy. However, using a pedal with a keyboard, be especially aware of how it affects the various instruments/voices differently. Strings, for instance, generally don't naturally decay in volume like pianos do, and so one can wind up with a mushy mess if pedaling just like piano. However, to give a proper effect for some instruments, abrupt playing by trying to avoid the pedal may not sound right either.

Related to this, certain bass elements may get lost more easily on instruments like string or organ than on piano. Either moving down an octave with your left hand or opting for a walking or moving bass line rather than staying on repeated notes can help with this.

My main advice would be to suggest rehearsing in your performance venues when possible and recording yourself doing a few different things from a distance while rehearsing with your group so you can gauge how you're sounding as part of the ensemble to the audience. Monitors and headphones don't always give the most accurate impression.

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Are you playing "synthesizer" or "keyboard"? The two are often different.

In many praise songs, especially singer/songwriter style, the piano player does what's called "padding" - basically providing rhythmic and chordal texture for the ensemble. Assuming that you have knowledge of music theory, this is really not too hard to learn. Typically the piano player will read chords off a lead sheet in this instance.

For practice, look up lead sheets to praise and worship songs on the internet, and play and sing along (even if you can't sing - in my case)

If you're playing synthesizer (i.e. strings or synth sounds), things are a bit different. Sometimes there may be written parts, or you may still be expected to improvise. In this case, its better to provide more chordal and less rhythmic background, often to the tastes of the director.

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Sorry, I think I may not have been clear. This is not a question about playing from lead sheets vs written music, I'm wondering if there are differences in keying techniques for piano vs keyboard. For example, as you point out, the piano often provides both rhythmic and chordal texture. This works well because of the piano's strong attack and weak sustain. A keyboard (at least string sounds, etc) provides a more continuous sound -- so are there different techniques for playing or for choosing which inversions to use for the chords? (I hope I'm explaining myself better...) –  ScottSM Jun 7 '11 at 5:01
    
Well I don't ever play strings on keyboard a whole lot, but: There's not a whole lot of difference in actual keying technique, but as far as chord voicings, I would usually play octaves, fifths, or other sonorous intervals in the bass, so you can get that nice fat bass string sound. Then usually do block chords or whatnot with the right hand staying relatively close to middle C. Some dissonant intervals that might sound good improvising on piano may not sound good with string sounds. I'm afraid I can't offer much more than that. Maybe discuss the sound that the ensemble members want? –  Chase Meadors Jun 7 '11 at 5:57

Try out a bunch first. In my opinion, the feeling of the keyboard is much different and less desirable than that of the natural feeling of a piano. I'm not saying this will be the case for you, but before you invest definitely go to your local music store and take a few keyboards for a few runs.

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A common failing of excellent piano players who find their way into a band - church bands commonly (which I think is what you mean) - is that they want to play piano. Beautiful, complicated stuff.

This has it's place but is not the norm any more than you'd have an electric guitar player soloing all over the place while your acoustic player demonstrates amazing fingerstyle techniques.

Typically your acoustic guy is strumming chords in a nice rhythm, your electric is doing simple chugga-chugga or some nice single-note melody, and the keyboard is padding along or filling in some gaps with twinkly stuff.

Then you've got to make sure you don't overfill in one area of the spectrum and leave others empty. You might play keys much higher than a regular piano since the acoustic is covering the mid-range and the bass is covering... well, the bass.

Keep it simple, less is more, etc. You can't really play too little unless you're filling between songs.

I suggest you watch pop acts play, of different genres, and see how they fit it together.

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On your keyboard, each different voice selection will call for a different technique. If you don't have weighted keys, the piano will feel pretty strange to you, of course. I tend to stay away from acoustic piano on any key board that does not at least approximate a real one.

But the pad sounds you reference are a different story. Any organ sound or other pad just doesn't call for the same sophistication. I sometimes find myself pressing harder than necessary, as if the board were responding to my touch like an acoustic piano. So go easy on your touch and save your wrists and small joints from eventual discomfort.

As for some touch sensitive sounds - electric pianos, for instance - you will just need to spend time with the board to see what works. Again, less is more. Your training on a more sophisticated instrument will only do you good, as long as you are hunting for a new technique that does what you need.

You have played in this band a long time, so you know how sensitive the bass player can be about doubling. The timbre of a piano is so dissimilar to most bass sounds, it is not a big issue for an acoustic instrument. With your keyboard, you will want to stay out of the bass's wheelhouse, and even cut the low frequencies of the board's EQ to make sure you are contributing in a unique portion of the band's sound scape, and avoiding the boomy bass effect that can result from doubling the bass with your keys playing any pad sound.

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A piano has an orchestral sound imprint and thus is really mostly a solo instrument. With a digital keyboard, the main question you will be facing is what role you play in the context of your band.

The principal advantage and disadvantage is that you are the "joker" who can produce any kind of sound. For cover bands imitating a number of originals, this flexibility may come in handy.

However, if you are basically a substitute for orchestral rent instruments, you are not a definitive part of your band's sound.

Unless your band is focused around you, that can become problematic. If you are not playing as a joker, you'll actually be using very few sounds from your keyboard. Once you figure out which of those really make it in your band, you might consider replacing your keyboard mainly with one that does only one thing, but does it really well. It may even be something like an "electric piano" (Fender Rhodes style or similar) with actual mechanical action rather than sensitivity curves and stuff. An accordion is also a limited sound box but probably makes less sense for a good piano player since it is neither percussive nor offers the per-note dynamics that are the hallmark of piano play.

You'll find that a lot of famous band keyboarders are known for a particular sound rather than being flexible orchestral replacements. The guys who are virtuosi with all the abilities of electronic keyboards, in contrast, tend to be studio musicians rather than band musicians. They have a professional rather than a public image. One of the most well-known generic off-line music producer is Frank Farian who employed a number of stage actors (Boney M, Milli Vanilli) to sell his music.

But that's not what you want to be doing in a band. You want to find your place in the band rather than filling in whatever may fit into some particular sound arrangement.

The ubiquity of digital keyboards and expanders makes it harder for keyboarders to find their proper space than it once may have been.

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