Introduction

Many of us would love to perform music, but only a few have the synapses to accomplish the task. A common manifestation of the problem is late-in-life piano lessons. You struggle through an succession of simplistic pieces and then run into the same brick wall you encountered as a teenager. And then, what to do with the piano?

Electronic keyboards like the Yamaha PSR E423 provide an effective alternate path. With a keyboard you do the fun things like picking selections, choosing instrumentation and accompaniment and determining tempo and phrasing. A judicious use of technology eliminates the hard part — performing two complex, simultaneous actions with your hands. The amazing thing is that the end result actually sounds like music.

Electronic keyboards have several features that amplify your abilities:

  • In addition to good piano sounds, you can create interesting voices that represent individual instruments and orchestral groups.
  • The keyboard can create harmony automatically, following the bass chords. Combining this feature with the previous one, you can generate a rich sound by playing a simple melody line.
  • Yamaha keyboards have a simplified method for defining chords — you play the base note for a major chord and an adjacent key to specify minor, seventh or diminished chords. This approach is much easier than trying to instantaneously remember sharps and flats in a chord.
  • Accompaniment styles are like having a backup band. Styles provide more context and variety than even an expert player could achieve on a piano.

Beyond these performance advantages, keyboards have practical advantages:

  • The cost is amazingly low. The E423 retails for less than $250.
  • The devices are compact and weigh only a few pounds.
  • You can practice with headphones, an important concern if you live in an apartment.
  • The keyboard connects to a computer, opening an endless set of possibilities for performance and even music composition.

The articles of this blog are aimed at people who have limited musical ability (like myself) but nonetheless enjoy playing (and maybe even performing). I will concentrate on the PSR E423, but most of the material could be applied to any low-end Yamaha keyboard. Some of the articles will deal with basic issues, such as where to get music and how to make MP3 recordings of your performances. Nonetheless, the main focus of the blog will be how to extend the capabilities of the keyboard with a computer.

I love my E423 — it provides more functionality and entertainment per dollar than any electronic device that I have purchased. Nonetheless, after a year or so some limitations have become apparent:

  • The total of 173 internal styles seems like a lot at the beginning, but you find yourself using Arpeggio (#170) for every sensitive love song. There is an infinite variety of styles available for free on the Internet, but only one extra style may be loaded into the keyboard at a time. This involves a Byzantine and time-consuming procedure, and there is no way to preview the style. Furthermore, the style file must be less than 50 kB, something of a fatal flaw.
  • Style files may have up to four variations, but the keyboard recognizes only the first two.
  • The number of song presets is limited to 16, an inadequate number if you perform multiple programs.
  • The keyboard can record only five songs or MIDI sequences. Furthermore, there is no way to transfer them from the keyboard to a computer.
  • The MusicSoft Downloader (the only software supplied with the keyboard) is poorly designed and inflexible. For instance, when you back up a keyboard configuration (songs, styles, presets,…), you must reload the same configuration. There is no way to save multiple setups.

Clearly, the internal memory and software of the E423 has been hobbled so that the keyboard does not compete with the more expensive models. One option is to spend $1000 for a keyboard with more internal features and styles. The other option, the subject of this blog, is to take advantage of the USB port on the back. Attach a computer and let it do some of the work. With some freeware and low cost (~$50) software, you can quickly and easily access an almost unlimited variety of styles and make presets for every song in your repertoire.

Yamaha E423 keyboard controlled by an HP netbook.

Figure 1. Yamaha E423 keyboard controlled by an HP netbook.

I will discuss a wide variety of techniques and shortcuts, some of which involve several setup steps. I have added an index page to help you find specific topics. My ultimate goal in this effort is to create software that will unite most of the computer functions useful for the E423 with a clean and logical interface. I expect that will be about a 1-2 year effort.

Footnotes

[1] Yamaha PSR E423 and MusicSoft Downloader are trademarks of the Yamaha Corporation. This site has no affiliation with the Yamaha Corporation.

[2] Find out more about KBD-Infinity: Home page.

[3] If you have comments, please contact us at info@kbd-infinity.com.

[4] Download the KBD-Infinity Instruction Manual: kbd-infinity.pdf.

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