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I am a beginning pianist (playing for 2 years), accustomed to practicing on very high-end acoustic pianos (Steinway, Yamaha and Fazioli concert grands), which I have access to, but obviously do not own.

I just bought a Casio PX-750, which is an entry-level digital piano, and have some basic questions regarding USB-MIDI performance and software using a Macbook Pro and iPad.

  1. I use the iPad app Tonara, which syncs my playing to sheet music as I play. However, Tonara works on audio input from the iPad's microphone. I usually use headphones with my digital piano. Is there an app or Mac application similar to Tonara, which can use MIDI input? Intuitively, MIDI input should be much easier for an app to sync to score than audio (which is noisy). It should also make detecting wrong notes/wrong rhythms feasible (where wrong is defined as anything contrary to the score). (Please note that Tonara syncs my playing to downloaded sheet music - it is not a transcription app which transcribes what I play. I am not looking for a transcription app.)

  2. Connecting my keyboard to my Macbook Pro and using, for example, GarageBand or Kontakt, I can use sampled pianos to get a much more sophisticated sound than the Casio has in-built. However, there seems to be a change in the mechanics in the piano action, described as follows. Let us say I place a finger on a piano key, and depress it very slowly. So slowly, that it takes 10 seconds to depress the key completely. On an acoustic piano, this would make no sound at all, since the hammer would strike the strings far too softly to make an audible sound. Using the Casio directly, this also makes no sound, which is great (realistic). However, when I use the Casio connected to Garageband/Kontakt through USB-MIDI, as the key nears full-depression, the note sounds very softly (perhaps the softest it can sound), which is unrealistic, since we have a note sounding without the key ever 'striking' the 'hammer'. Is this behaviour normal, or can the software be tweaked to adjust for this?

  • For #2, it is likely a MIDI thing. The keyboard might be programmed to not sound a note when pressed so softly, but when sending MIDI data to your MacBook it has to send some velocity data about the note you hit, so it sends the minimum value which ends up sounding the note in the software. For each note you press, the keyboard sends the pitch value and velocity value (1-127). That's normal for all the MIDI keyboards I have used. More experienced keyboard players might be able to tell you if you can change this in software, but how important is it to not be able to play a note? – Charles Sep 10 '14 at 22:24
  • #2 is important because it changes the 'feel' of the keyboard quite a bit, even when actually playing music (and not just in clinical situations like depressing a key over 10 seconds). Since, in the MIDI situation, even not 'striking' the 'hammer' at all makes a soft sound, the whole playing experience feels somehow lighter (because it now takes less weight on the keys to make a sound). This gives it an artificial and unrealistic feel, compared to the direct non-MIDI output. However, the MIDI-output sounds much better with sophisticated samples, which is why I am interested in it. – Atriya Sep 10 '14 at 22:52
  • well for Kontakt, I believe there is a way to edit the velocity range that the software responds to. Instead of 1-127, try changing it to 2-127 or 5-127 so it will ignore the softest of key presses. I believe you can also edit the velocity response curve, that might achieve the desired effect. The keyboard itself might have some velocity related settings as well, check the manual. kontakttutorials.com/kontakt-tutorials/… – Charles Sep 10 '14 at 22:57
  • Thanks a lot! I followed up your links, and learnt enough to make lots of tweaks. I don't have it exactly like I want yet, but now I know where to look for settings. – Atriya Sep 11 '14 at 3:49
  • I don't understand why you would be interested in simulating the non-firing of a depressed key. I mean, suppose you tweaked the software to do so... I don't see the benefit in that achievement. 10-second key depression is used throughout my entire repertoire exactly never. Midi doesn't have parameters for length of time it took to depress the key, just velocity. – Lee Kowalkowski Sep 11 '14 at 8:44
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With regard to your second question: Whenever you pair a digital piano keyboard with a virtual instrument on a computer, you have to calibrate both the digital piano and the virtual instrument by adjusting velocity curves on the keyboard, and the virtual instrument. Your digital piano and most virtual instruments have programming facility for this.

Careful calibration of velocity curves will result in your being able to play your digital piano into your software virtual instrument with a keyboard response that more closely resembles that of the real acoustic pianos you are accustomed to playing.

In GarageBand, for example, the parameter is called "keyboard sensitivity" and you can adjust it in Preference under the "Audio/MIDI" tab.

Casio in their Privia keyboards provides three different preset velocity curves, plus an "off" setting, but they don't use the term "velocity curve" in the owners manual. They refer to this parameter as "touch response." Changing values on "touch response" might change the behavior of the internal sounds only, or it might also change the MIDI velocity values that are transmitted by the instrument. I'm not sure which is the case with your model.

Every virtual instrument has a different method for calibrating and adjusting velocity curve. You must read your owners manuals for your digital keyboard and your software virtual instruments and look for the touch response, keyboard sensitivity, velocity sensitivity, or velocity curve adjustment parameters and how to use them.

Furthermore, Casio digital pianos have the capability of transmitting MIDI high resolution velocity data, which you can enable in the programming parameters. Some virtual instruments can receive and properly interpret MIDI high resolution velocity data, and some cannot. Again, read the owners manuals.

I'm familiar with the Pianoteq family of virtual instruments for Mac and PC, which has a sophisticated yet easy-to-use method of adjusting and calibrating the velocity curve for the instrument's piano sounds to match your particular make and model of digital piano keyboard, and your playing style. Pianoteq also supports the MIDI high velocity capability (and partial sustain pedaling, which is another matter.) You can download their free demo version and look up the information about calibrating velocity curve in the owners manual to get an example of what I'm talking about.

  • Thanks for that great answer! The 'touch response' setting works for the internal sound engine. Through MIDI, it seems that it can only be turned on, or turned off entirely. Does the calibration need to be done on both the software and the instrument, or only the software? On the instrument there seems only to be the off-1-2-3 setting - no provision for fine-tuning the touch response. Lastly, what do you mean by "enable in the programming parameters". Do you mean it can be enabled in software like Pianoteq? Thanks also for the pointer to Pianoteq! – Atriya Sep 11 '14 at 18:16
  • I meant that various different software virtual instruments have different ways of adjusting the way that the instrument responds to velocity messages. GarageBand just gives you a "sensitivity slider" whereas Pianoteq lets you plot your own free-hand curve on a graph with several data points. For whatever virtual instrument you are using, you need to read the instructions and follow them if you want to calibrate velocity sensitivity. – user1044 Sep 11 '14 at 23:24

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