Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Learning With Yamaha: Part Two

We're back with the second episode of our "Learning With Yamaha" series. In our first installment, we saw how Passport to Music can help you get started learning to play, and today Aaron goes to the next level, using MIDI files to learn Beatles songs on the CVP-509.

As a musician who performs regularly, I am always trying to expand my repertoire—my mental database of songs. It serves a musician well to be able to play as many songs as possible; you never want to be on a gig and hear the bandleader call a song that you don't know, or be unable to play something the audience requests. I'm a firm believer in using technology as a tool to help you learn songs and develop as a musician. Fortunately, the CVP-509 comes equipped with such technology.

Using the Clavinova and MIDI song files, it's possible to learn thousands of songs very easily. The Clavinova comes ready with a few preset song files that you can play instantly, but you can also purchase MIDI song files from Yamaha MusicSoft or download them directly to your keyboard using the Internet Direct Connection feature. Either way, you can choose from a huge collection of songs, in every genre imaginable. The selection stays pretty current, and it is likely that you will find whatever songs you're looking for on the sites, including many of today's hits.

Personally, I am a huge Beatles fan. One of my favorite tunes of all time is "Here, There and Everywhere", but I've never attempted to play it on piano, so I decided to find a MIDI version of the song and try to learn it. I found the song file easily using Internet Direct Connection, and downloaded it directly to the Clavinova. I first played the entire file through to make sure it loaded properly, and to get a feel for the arrangement. Then, I set off to learn how to play the song.

Because the song is a MIDI file, I was able to "remix" the song, so to speak. I felt that the tempo was too fast for me, and so right away I slowed it down to make it easier for me to hit all of the right notes. I then transposed the song from the key of Bb to F because I wanted to be able to sing along with what I was playing. Next, I called up the score on the display so I could read the music as I practiced along with it.

Using the Clavinova, though, I didn't even need to read the score from the display. The Clavinova features a set of lights on the keyboard that will indicate the right notes to play as the song progresses, and I found this to be very helpful when trying to learn the melody. Pressing the button on the keyboard labeled "Track 1-R" and waiting for the indicator light to go off, I muted the part in the song that the right hand plays, but the guide lamp continued to direct me to the right notes. Then, pressing the button labeled "Track 2-L" and waiting for the indicator light to go off, I did the same thing for the left hand. I played along until I felt comfortable with the part. Then, feeling confident I could put it all together, I muted the parts of both the left and right hands and followed the lights along with the accompaniment.

I then turned to the keyboard's "Guide" function to polish my performance. This function is neat because it allows you to practice in some other interesting ways. To turn the "Guide" function on, simply press the button with the corresponding label. One option is to put the "Guide" into "Any Key Mode." This mode helps you understand the timing of the song. The guide lights will still flash along with the melody, but the accompaniment will wait for you to play the song in rhythm. It allows you to hit wrong notes, provided that you are rhythmically accurate with what you're supposed to be playing. The "Follow Lights" mode is similar - in this mode, the accompaniment will wait for you to play the right notes, according to the lights, and the accompaniment will play along with them in perfect rhythm. You also have the ability to loop a certain section of the song so that you can play it over again as many times as you like.

In just one afternoon, I was able to play a whole new song, and I had a lot of fun doing it. Maybe my next challenge will be to play the song in all twelve keys. A lot is possible with the MIDI song files from Yamaha MusicSoft. I'd definitely recommend exploring the different possibilities for yourself – they'll help you get more creative with your learning of music.

Be sure to check back for our next article, and see how Aaron handles learning to use play along styles.

- Aaron

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