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As a complete beginner, I would like to learn to play the following melody:

enter image description here

My budget is VERY restricted, so am thinking connecting a midi keyboard to GarageBand may be my most accessible means of recreating a deep church organ sound.

My question is would a 25 key controller be enough to play this melody or do I need more keys?

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  • Strange rhythm, should it be a 6/8? is this a Gregorian chant? Feb 1, 2021 at 16:07
  • Might be worth checking out yard sales, Craigslist, etc. for a used digital keyboard (of proper length). You might find a good bargain. Feb 1, 2021 at 19:39
  • I've been composing music for years. I've never bought a keyboard having less than 61 keys. Sixty-one keys is, in fact, the sweet spot for "garage-band" environments. Your more important choice is *weighted keys," but that may not be within your budget. When I shopped my last controller, I was looking for a semi-weighted keyboard, but they're very hard to find now. I settled on this, which is all I'll ever need. The feel of the keys is better than most. Feb 2, 2021 at 16:26
  • @CarlWitthoft Indeed, possibly anecdotal, but I know someone who just picked up a full range 88-weighted key keyboard for $300. My own keyboard cost 5 times that, but I bought it new. So you can find good deals if you look around. I would stress that if you're planning to really learn the instrument, then weighted keys should be the low bar. Learning on non-weighted keys can be negative training for if you later move up to a real piano. Feb 2, 2021 at 17:55

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Seems to me a visual about ranges would be instructive.

We can use vocal ranges - soprano, alto, tenor, bass (SATB) - as a rough standard for a "full" range along with several keyboard ranges...

enter image description here

49 keys would seem to be workable especially if transposed by octave any passages too high or too low. But a lot of the 49 key models I see are toys or have small scale keys. Go to 61 keys might make sense for more full size key options as much as to get the extra octave range. Prices are under $150 for new.

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  • Nice, visualisation helps to imagine the ranges better. I would add that short scale keyboards normally feature octave up/down transpose button, but they won't really allow to perform pieces for two hands which don't fit in their range. Feb 1, 2021 at 21:54
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The lowest note, in the last bar, is G. Go up one octave to G in top space of bass clef, then another octave to G on 2nd line of treble clef, then half an octave to the highest note, D, in the 2nd line of music. That takes us to two and a half octaves, or around 30 notes.

So you've run out with a 25 note controller! And it might be that the low G isn't actually at the very left of the controller, leaving you needing even more!

A 61 note midi keyboard would set you up for most future stuff. I found one (working) at a car boot sale for £15. Your budget ought to cover that, I'd hope!

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  • Thanks Tim, though unfortunately all car boot sales are now suspended until further notice! Will keep searching...
    – Jonathan
    Feb 1, 2021 at 16:47
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25-key (2-octave) keyboards are suitable for inputting MIDI melodies (or percussive rhythms), with assumption that you accept the necessity to use octave transpose buttons frequently and/or record shorter segments. Perhaps they can be used for performing some very limited range parts (e.g. melodies or bass lines you compose yourself with the instrument range in mind), but in principal they are meant to be a compromise, providing keyboard feel while taking less space and costing less.

The piece you quote could not be even played on a 37 key (3 octave) keyboard. The lowest note is G2 and the highest is D5. Small keyboards typically cover full octaves from C to C, so you would need 4 octaves to play it. It would fit if you transposed it e.g. by a major 2nd down... but if the piece is meant for singing, that might not be a good solution. You will very quickly find other pieces, even on a beginner level, that don't fit in 3 octaves.

49-key (4 octaves) would be on the edge of usability for learning and performing on an entry level. Possibly you would be able to play lot's of beginner repertoire, maybe sometimes skipping some notes, or transposing them. 61-key (5 octaves) would be a better choice for longer run. For reference, standard piano keyboard has 88 keys (8⅓ octaves).

You write that your budget is tight, but you should consider also quality of the keys. Mini keys and synth action keys provide less control of dynamics, which is something you should be practicing when learning to play piano. Full size weighted keys are much better but also expensive. Semi-weighted keys might be a reasonable compromise for entry level practicing. I would say that 49-key semi weighted keyboard might be better practice instrument than a 88-key synth action.

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  • Oh, definitely don't go for mini keys. Anything smaller than the standard key size is likely to be unsuitable for anyone but small children, more of a toy than an instrument. I've heard of people opting for a smaller keyboard because they just have small hands, which is maybe a valid excuse, but I also know of tiny-handed players who still manage to play a full-sized piano quite well, and if you want to play for audiences, you might not get to choose your own instrument, so it's best to learn on a full sized keyboard. Feb 2, 2021 at 18:07
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Yes, you can make this with 25 keys, if you transpose the 2nd phrase (end of 1st line and beginning of 2nd line) an octave down and the final bass tone an octave up.*1)

The melody has a range of a 7th (about 13semitones) - the accompaniment and melody have a range of 2 octaves + 1 whole tone=27: you'd need 2 keys more!

*1) imagine e.g. a band or orchestra playing the tune in 2 sections divided in upper and lower parts (violins and cellos, cornet and euphonium). This is often done by arrangers. Yes, and sung by woman and men voices, girls and boys - of course.

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    Thanks for the information. Would you agree with the previous comment that 61 keys would allow for better progression? As a self-teaching I need to make things as simple as possible!
    – Jonathan
    Feb 1, 2021 at 16:33
  • Yes, and especially for all other songs your are going to play. And then I would ask the church to spend the money to you until you are able to give it back. (you will do this 100 times only in your activity and engagement there!) Feb 1, 2021 at 16:39

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