Most pianists find themselves playing electronic keyboards from time to time. To my mind, the way we think about that makes a difference.
Of course there are “keyboardists” ~ that’s what they do. That’s how they describe themselves. And that’s fine! My take is somewhat different.
Having spent several years in the “pianist” niche, I think of myself as a pianist who also plays keyboard. Some pianists are reluctant to go there.
My first experience playing a keyboard was with the Norman Luboff Choir. We used a keyboard for the first half of each concert. For Monteverdi and Schütz, a small organ sound was needed. Mendelssohn required more sound. And there was one more piece for which we used a large pipe organ sound.
The large sound worked well in the high and middle ranges. But something was missing in the bass register. No rattle, the kind that happens with the 16′ or 32′ bourdon stops. A large pipe organ should rattle your soul, your chair, the walls and the floor ~ in other words, your entire being.
As things turned out, we only performed the piece twice.
A recent production of the Fantasticks in which I played used two keyboards and a drum set wedged into the available space.
The harp part worked well on keyboard. In fact, the keyboard provided a much better outcome than an acoustic piano would have. Glissandi on an acoustic piano tear up the skin on your hands very quickly!
This particular keyboard had unweighted keys, which turned out to be a help. Less weight was required to play glissandi. In addition, I discovered that using the palm side rather than the back of my hand worked great.
Result: 36 shows, skin intact.
Another situation involves the Valley Light Opera, a group that performs Gilbert & Sullivan each Fall. This year the group changed rehearsal spaces. The new location has one acoustic piano ~ other rooms are equipped with keyboards.
So far, so good, except for last night’s rehearsal. We moved to a different room for the first time in order to rehearse with the set. The keyboard there was a disaster! (I’ll spare you the details… long list!)
Using keyboards in this rehearsal space is a necessity ~ much better than nothing (most of the time)!
Other situations in which a keyboard has been useful:
- playing a concert for a woman who was bedridden with ALS
- outdoor church services
- producing a harpsichord sound ~ I find it so much easier to play a keyboard than to adjust to a harpsichord, which is completely different in key width/length and action. Harpsichord technique is specific to the instrument, not at all the same as playing the piano.
- piano class situations ~ students use headphones
- beginning piano students can do very well by having a keyboard at home
One note about a major difference between keyboards and acoustic pianos: the keyboard has only one pedal, and it slips around constantly.
Acoustic pianos have much more sound capability ~ variety in dynamics, differences in articulation, shadings of sound produced by subtle differences in finger pressure, etc. The damper pedal has levels of engagement. There are two additional pedals ~ sostenuto and una corda. Playing Debussy on a keyboard, when the sostenuto pedal is needed, just wouldn’t be satisfactory. The choices would be to blur all the sounds or let the bass notes disappear.
Keyboards are quite useful and sometimes necessary. I play the keyboard like a pianist, not the other way around. And I will always think of myself as a pianist.
What do you think? How do you handle this question? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
While you’re here, please take a look at my new E-book ~ “Goal-oriented Practice: How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer” ~ about making steady progress without getting stuck!
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