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Do you like a piano or keyboard?

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James Lugo
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Hey guys, 

 

I've been off the map lately, a lot going on. I had a question/thoughts on the topic of how we train our voices and train students. I have a keyboard controller that runs a piano program in protools, sounds nice. That's how I train singers and how I work myself out. This past week I have been in Las Vegas rehearsing for a show I am going to be a sub guitarist for (Rock Of Ages), we've been doing all the blocking on stage but we have been running the parts in a piano room backstage. It has a nice black lacquer Yamaha upright piano. I have to tell you I did vocal warmups with it and sang better then I do with the keyboard. It was real, resonant and inspiring. It was very different then hearing a piano coming through studio monitors. So many of the great teachers I have trained with used real pianos. So I just wanted to get you guys feedback. Also I am moving to Nashville September 1st and really want to reestablish myself as a top tier vocal coach and am considering buying a piano. 

 

So what do you guys think? Who's on a real piano vs keyboard/DAW controller?

 

P.S. On a side note, as a lot of you guys know I got very sick with pneumonia in October 2014, took months to get better. And I really blew my voice out coughing. The journey back has been slow but steady. I have been singing a lot during the process which at times has made it difficult. Well about a month ago I realized I wasn't really fully healing, my falsetto was still not all the way there and it had been 8 months since the onset of the illness. So after 2 doctor visits and 3 ENT scopings over the last 6 months (where everyone said my vocal cords were perfect) I set up an appointment at Duke University Otolaryngology Department. What a great place and I met with the best of the best there. When he scoped my left nostril I saw white sores all the way down to my throat. I was like 'What the hell is that?'. The doctor said it was a severe and chronic sinus infection, that to his eyes looked to be maybe a year old. I had it the whole time and no one saw it. He also said it was so bad that it morphed into a fungal infection that settled on my left cord and made the cord not want to vibrate. Hence that was what was causing my singing issues. So he put me on a 14 day, very aggressive medication treatment, Amoxicillin, Prednisone and the anti fungal medicine Flocasson (sp?), he also had me on 14 days no singing (I only had 2 gigs I had to do, other then that no singing and little talking) and he sent me to an awesome Speech Therapist. It has been 1 month, I started singing for the first time 2 days ago and my voice is f**kin back! Hell yeah. Sounds and feels great. Endless top end again. The reason I tell you guys this is sometimes in life what we think is our greatest deficit becomes our greatest asset, This experience has been excruciating but I have learned more about the human voice in the last 6 months then I did in 25 years of studying and teaching. It wasn't until my ass was on the line till I really felt the full scope of what my professional students have to do to keep themselves in fighting condition so to speak. So in the end all is good. I am ready to sing and teach! maybe with a piano...

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James it is great to have you back.. did my instructions on the mobile interface login help?

Glad your getting healthier as well.

I use a keyboard. I don't think it really makes much difference. I have to use a keyboard because I need to be able to roll it around in my studio. My keyboard is not fixed... it rolls on a wheeled caddy. In a perfect situation, yes, I would love to have a real piano in my studio, but it is just not practical for me. I would suggest a keyboard that you can move around your studio, it is a convenience that has proven to be valuable and get a keyboard with real piano presets in it. Better keyboard systems can sound and feel like a real piano.

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For sounding like a piano I'd prefer a real (good piano), but there are plenty of real pianos that sound worse than a synthesized sound library keyboard of recorded piano sounds based on velocity.

Even if done more electronically, given the relative simplicity of the instrument, (hit keys harder, softer, have it pluck internally) it is easier to simulate digitally the kinds of sympathetic vibrations that might come from having the internals of the piano vibrating against each other, in comparison to like a cymbal on a drumset. With a cymbal you can hit it in any spot (from bell to edge), in any order, at any strength, with any tipped object, or crash with any mass of object, and achieve endless varieties of sympathetic vibrations due to the free form nature of striking an object in inconsistent locations, at inconsistent velocities, and patterns.

Higher quality keyboards have weighted keys, so the response is more 'physical' like a real piano. Piano is a pretty good digital instrument, one of the better ones. If I was forced to choose between owning a really nice piano and a really nice keyboard for any purpose (playing, training voice, piano), I'd pick a keyboard for midi capabilities and portability. I personally find drone notes more useful than plucked percussion notes for interval training. Keyboards can also get pedals for effects, like pitch bending, so you can create unique vibrato and bends where as with a pure piano you're stuck with single notes.

A real piano can do one thing well, so it's gotta do it 'very' well. It will require constant maintenance throughout its life to maintain quality and turning, it will take up a lot of space wherever it is used, and if you ever want to move it, will keep costing more money and risk damage every time. If you're rich enough to get a really high quality piano and maintain one, you're probably well enough off to get both and use both when it most benefits you.

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  The answer to your question purely depends on how serious you yourself are about playing piano.  As a pianist it certainly matters that you are using an instrument that possesses both weighted keys and volume dynamics as to train your touch properly.  However, if I read you right and you are mainly a voice coach trying to teach vocal technique I honestly don't think it's worth the investment of getting the real deal just to look/sound more professional.

 I mean yeah, it will be cool if your students walk in and see this nice acoustic piano but when it comes down to it what matters is what you are teaching vocally; you could literally get the exact same functions needed for teaching voice out of a 100$ Casio as you could a 70,000$ Steinway.   The only conceivable purpose I could see for you spending the cash on a real deal piano is if you yourself are quite serious about being a great piano player and only an acoustic piano satisfies your interest.  

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To be honest I like pre-recorded and ready scales, I have a few that I am used to that touches the aspects that I like, and when I need something different I just program them using midi + Addictive Keys. If I need some reference quickly, I just use the guitar.

 

I am not a fan of using session time repeating a particular progression more than the strictly necessary. And this ensures me that the student will be able to use the scales and repeat them as they see fit at home. Of course, this is thinking of technique, someone that is working on basic musicianship skills will need to repeat the intervals and help to identify and follow them.

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To be honest I like pre-recorded and ready scales,

Good point. That is my preference as well... I should of pointed that out.  I use the piano sometimes just to give a cue for an onset or a siren, but I don't play scales with it... when I need a vocalize that modulates... I turn on the content from "4Pillars"

Not being fixed to a piano has HUGE benefits for a teacher... it allows you to be on your feet and participate with your student... I train with my students, I don't sit on my butt and just watch them train in front of me. And not having a piano allows me to move around and check the embouchure and breathing... and look into the mouth to see where the tongue is positioned, etc... sitting at a piano is actually a huge handicap for voice teachers. 

I need to be a voice coach, not an accompanist. 

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I love the sound of a real piano but it's a little like tube amps (which I also love) - they can be a bit of an overkill... if you can't do without 'the real thing' go for the real thing... but you do lose some comfort along the way.

 

There's something to be said for the ability to control volume via a knob (when you want someone sing in a lower volume?), as well as the mobility of keyboards or electric pianos. 

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Interesting comments. I guess for me I come from a totally different teaching approach. I personally couldn't do what I do and how I approach increasing a person's range with prerecorded tracks. I have a very interactive style and like to move around on a dime in no set pattern for each student based on what they are giving me back at that moment. It is how I was trained by coaches like Nate Lam, Buddy Mix and Katie Agresta. So I guess in a sense all the responses have kind of answered my question. So depending on what my studio size is in Nashville I want to get a real piano. I want to hear a real piano in the room and not the sound of a piano coming off of speakers. It's that damn guitar player at heart. I always want to stand in front a real Marshall through a 4x12 and feel my nuts shake. :)

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James, 

I believe the vibrations coming from an extremely resonate piano, that is perpetually tuned, and is well placed in a well tuned room, will crush any VST. I also can see that as benefiting a more advanced singer. However, if it is a mediocre piano, or one that isn't perpetually tuned, or you are in a room that can't really take advantage of the richer overtones, I see an acoustic piano as more of a pain than a pleasure 

 

I make my living off playing piano, yet I just sold my upright in favor of my Roland FP-7 controller (fantastic action) and Ivory II American Grand VST meticulously tweaked with the right velocity levels and curves. It isn't that my keyboard/software combo is better than a Boesendorfer, but my combo was better than my spinet upright that was taking up room. 

 

From a non singing perspective, there is certainly nothing like the connection of the keys to hammers to real strings of a well voiced grand (or even a upright grand like the Yamaha U series). Last fall I had an audition for Neil Diamond, and one of the tunes I just couldn't get the touch right, and was very nervous going in. As soon as I got to sit down in his studio at his brilliant Yamaha, the touch was no longer a problem and the song just flowed through my fingers, even with a rock n roll hall of famer singing along :) 

 

my opinion: if you have the opportunity to get a wonderful, inspiring acoustic, you gotta do it ;) 

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