Monday, March 26, 2007

Why The Casio Keyboard is Coming Back

(Full disclosure: I’ve never even touched a Casio Keyboard).

There comes a time in a songwriter’s life where they realize that more is more. They realize that an acoustic guitar and a voice, or a banjo and a voice, or two voices, two guitars, and a bass and drums, or even the wet rubber squeegee and acorn shell approach just doesn’t cut it anymore.

In the age of Do-It-Yourself music, a songwriter with tight pockets and a vision will often grow bitter trying to keep up with the lush arrangements of The Flaming Lips, Belle and Sebastian, Beck, The Beatles, the Beach Boys, Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned and Enya. The baroque orchestral arrangements of those musicians can seem like a dauntingly impossible hope when a songwriter's musical network consists of their-self, their girlfriend, their four-track, and the musically limited openmic’ers they’ve met who, just like them, only really play guitar.

If you’re a songwriter and have reached this point in your writing I suggest it’s time to turn to craigslist or yardsales to find a cheap used multi-instrumental piece of shit keyboard. You might actually spend nothing by doing a quick search beneath your bed or your girlfriend’s bed where that keyboard they asked for in ’89 is dustcovered and waiting.

Grab it, dust it off and plug it in. You’re about to add a dumpster full of sounds to your repertoire.

The keyboard I found in my girlfriend’s bedroom was a Yamaha PSR-300. I nicknamed her pisser 30-oh. Her hot red power button and even hotter yellow pre-recorded demo song button fired me up. As I poked around on the electronic interface I was filled with eighties anticipation. In no time I set to finding the perfect sounds to orchestrate the voices in my head.

Quickly I found that none of the guitar sounds were worth using, except maybe the bass guitar. The bass guitar, when used in conjunction with an actual plugged in electric guitar played at equal volume makes the bass sound almost real. The actual plugged in electric adds the sound of plucking to the clean smooth sound of the keyboard bass thus rescuing it from sounding like smooth Weather Channel jazz.

Highlights of the Pisser 30-oh include Pipe Organ 1. I’ve used this sound in many different songs and during live music jams. It has no drawbacks. Neither does the Glocken for that matter. The Glocken is awesome and is worth the 20 bucks you may have spent on the keyboard. All of the mallets are cool and have no trouble finding their way into songs. The accordion is great although in non-French sounding songs it has to be pushed to the background in order to sound realer than fake.

Other good for background sounds include the choruses, which sound nothing like choral music, the violins and the cello, which are best on the low end of the keyboard, and the trombone which sounds perfect in conjunction with actual trombones. Also note: the electric organs are a versatile mix between Reggae, Motown, radio soap operas, and 60’s retro pop. They’re good enough to use as front sounds when played right.

Some of the drumbeats are worth using too but they’re difficult to arrange and they sound pretty awful. On second thought the drums are amazingly bad. I did use the kick bass drum and the snare drum in one song but I hardly listen to that song anymore. I also like the robotic “One, Two, Three, Four” option.

The other major drawback of the Pisser-30-oh is the placement of the hot yellow demo song button. It sits exposed to the wind on the far right side of the keyboard. So when you place glasses of wine down on the keyboard, or your notebook falls over during an exciting piece, these things tend to land on the hot yellow button thus kicking on the worst eighties synthesizer song of all time. The song is so loud and fast and terrible that it immediately ruins whatever mood you might have been in and makes you wish you were willing to spend 30 minutes cutting the rubber yellow button off.

With all this said, if you can make multi-instrumental friends you’ll make better music. The keyboard is definitely a temporary solution, and don’t let a Yamaha keyboard stop you from using the Little Tikes xylophone you love to slam on, don’t let it stop you from learning the trombone and the violin, don’t let it stop you from doing the mouth trumpet.

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