Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Learning With Yamaha Part Three - Styles

Welcome back to "Learning With Yamaha", where we're following our intern, Aaron, in his quest to improve his keyboard skills with Yamaha instruments and services. In our first installment, we saw how Passport to Music teachees the basics of keyboard playing, then went to the next level, watching Aaron use MIDI files to learn a Beatles song. Today, now that he's mastered the song using MIDI, he learns how styles can improve his performance.

In the last article, I talked about how I learned the Beatles' tune "Here, There, and Everywhere" using a MIDI file on the CVP-509. Since writing that blog, I have continued to practice the song - so much so that I have now memorized it! I know the right notes to play in the melody without looking at the sheet music. I know the right chords to use. I'm pretty sure I could play the song with my eyes closed. But now, being the creative person that I am (and I'm sure you are, too), I wanted to do something different with the song.

People in the past have creatively remade songs by the Beatles. Joe Cocker famously covered "With a Little Help From my Friends." Buddy Rich did his own version of "Norwegian Wood." Earth, Wind, and Fire covered "Got to Get You into My Life." I wanted to something along those lines. So, I turned to the "Styles" feature of the Clavinova and began to look for a new, creative way in which to play the song.

Keep reading to find out more about our intrepid intern's journey into the world of styles, and learn what they can do for your performances. Playing with styles is very different than playing with a MIDI song. While MIDI enables you to tweak a song to your liking, styles let you be your own artist. Each style features different accompanying instruments, drum beats and rhythmic patterns that you can control. You can also play melodies using any voice you choose on the keyboard, while playing with the style. Yamaha's keyboards typically have anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred styles built in, so I started with those (there are hundreds of other expansion styles available from Yamaha MusicSoft and Internet Direct Connection). The styles are all easily accessed by the "Style" buttons on the keyboard. The buttons and styles are organized by genre, so I decided to try "Jazz". I like the feel of 3/4 time, and I thought that it would work well with "Here, There and Everywhere", so I decided to try playing with the Style "Jazz Waltz-Medium".

As I looked over the style section of the keyboard, I quickly realized that there are many ways in which to go about playing with a style. For every style, I had at my disposal a synchronized start/stop option, an auto accompaniment and fill-in feature, three intros, four different groove patterns to accompany what I played, a one-bar break button, and three endings. All of these functions have their own button, and I found that they are very easy to use.

To start, I turned on the "auto accompaniment" feature, the "auto fill-in" feature, and the "synchronized start/stop" feature. The auto accompaniment feature can be set in a few different ways, but I set it up this time to use the "Full Keyboard Mode". In this mode the keyboard's artificial intelligence recognizes what I'm playing with both my right and left hands, and provides me with the appropriate harmonic accompaniment. I found that "Full Keyboard Mode" works amazingly well, but I'd suggest trying a number of different settings to find the one you like best. Some modes make it possible to control styles by pressing only a single key, which gives you less control but is definitely much easier to use.

Also, since I had the "synchronized start/stop" feature turned on, the style accompaniment started when I began to play, and stopped when I stopped playing. The accompaniment worked beautifully with the song, and with the push of a button, I was able to change the groove patterns whenever I wanted so that the appropriate rhythmic accompaniment was always there. With the "auto fill-in" feature on, the style added drum fills every time I switched to a different groove pattern, and at the end of the song, I pressed one of the "ending" buttons, and got a really nice sounding finale.

After trying this out, I'd encourage anyone to use different styles in their performances. You don't even have to do a cover like I did, because with the styles feature you can get even more creative and make your own music. Plus, if you can't find a style that you like in the keyboard, there are hundreds of expansion styles, covering a wide variety of genres, available at Yamaha MusicSoft or through Internet Direct Connection. You are sure to find something that you like.