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Posts Tagged ‘hardware’

Piano keyboard markers for learning to read music

December 7, 2012 Leave a comment

At some point in time I wanted to learn sight reading. Inspired by the idea of fretboard markers [1,2] that helped me memorize guitar scales (I made one myself using office supplies), I made a keyboard marker that combines the features of an actual staff commonly used for children and a turned staff based on Wikimedia’s turned keyboard for note names and midi numbers. I suggest using Blu Tack or something similar to stick it on the area immediately above the keyboard (double sided tape or glue will leave a mess).

CDP-200R with staff markers

CDP-200R with staff markers. The dark vertical lines point to the notes that are in the lines of the staff.

The size of the markers are based on a Casio CDP-200R which is supposedly standard size. That’s as far as I can remember (exact numbers had long been forgotten now).  The whole image/page takes an A4 area (landscape layout) and should be printed with that settings. The image file’s resolution is 300 dpi (3508 x 2480). I aslo made a PDF version available (58.1 KB). The markers come in 4 variants on the same page.

Piano keyboard markes

Piano keyboard markers. Print, cut and stick to your piano keyboard. A PDF version is aslo available.

For a while it was helpful, but you need disciplined practice to fully appreciate it. As I hardly have any time to “read” music and I’m usually too tired when I get home, so I mostly play by ear and (muscle) memory, I’m removing it from my keyboard now. As for software assisted learning, I would recommend Prestokeys which is now much more exciting with Windows touchscreen devices getting more common (it’s icon can be seen on the desktop screenshot of my Windows 8 tablet in a previous post). For learning pieces, in a graphical and less mentally challenging way, I use Synthesia with the aid of a monitor mounted on top of my keyboard (I used a netbook in the past). For simultaneously learning pieces and music reading, there is also Piano Booster. And for ear training, there is GNU Solfege.

Happy music learning!

Numbered references

  1. To be added when remembered :P
  2. Fret Daddy: http://www.fretdaddy.com/
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Categories: Music making Tags: ,

Gifts I’ve received for supporting the next generation You Rock MIDI guitar

November 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Back from Hungary to my hometown, I found these on my mail box:

You Rock Guitar gifts

A lifetime’s worth of plectrums, stickers, and funky earphones — gifts I’ve received for supporting the development of the next generation You Rock Guitar in Kickstarter.

A few months ago I decided to support the development of the You Rock Guitar Pro in Kickstarter. So I decided this time to give a little review about the You Rock guitar (YRG)…

I’m an owner of the early version (YRG-1000) of this guitar as I’ve seen it before in thinkgeek and knew that it is a great concept. First, it is a MIDI device. Any app you know that will work with a MIDI device can be controlled by this. It does not require special drivers, just like many MIDI keyboards. It can use either USB or 5 pin DIN connection. In my opinion, it is the poor man’s replacement for the Roland Gk-3 plus GR-50/55. It is also probably my first possession that introduced me to the wonderful world of MIDI that eventually snow balled to DAWs, soundfonts, VSTs and all that digital music production stuff. It can also be played as a stand alone “electronic” guitar (though considering its size and how much circuitry and memory can be crammed into it, the built in sounds may be as cheesy as Windows GM) and as a game controller (though the leading guitar games use 5 button toys… anyway that widens their market as it will also include imaginary guitarists and this makes a room for developing  a more real midi guitar game).

Unlike other MIDI guitars, the YRG does not use a separated switch per note on its fretboard, hence it looks much cleaner and more guitar like. Since the strings are not segmented, sliding up and down the fretboard becomes possible as in a real guitar. The strings use a sort of touch sensor instead. As there’s no need to push the strings like switches (I’m assuming this is how it’s done on other MIDI guitars based on how they look), tapping on the fretboard is much easier (even compared to a real guitar). But since they are not real suspended strings, they can not be bent, although with little practice, the whammy bar can be substituted for the same effect.

What prevented me from using the YRG-1000 more often is it’s not so responsive strings for the right hand. If you’ve play a real guitar, you have to pluck harder than usual for the YRG-1000 to produce a sound. That was undesirable for a self proclaimed guitar virtuoso like myself. It limited it’s playability as you lack control on the notes softness or loudness. The greater force required also made finger picking less comfortable. It’s sensitivity/responsiveness is the main feature I wished that they continue to improve. Anyway, Inspired Instruments claim to have improved this part in the second generation YRG.

Although, my contribution to the kickstarter project is minimal, I strongly believe that it is worth supporting. MIDI guitars are far behind MIDI pianos, despite the fact that there are probably more guitarists as guitars are more convenient, size wise and price wise. A cheap guitar is not as bad as a cheap piano (whether acoustic or electric). Having a MIDI device, whether a piano or a guitar, is like having an instrument for all instruments. Looking at youtube videos of the Roland GR/GK series may give you an idea of what can be done with a MIDI guitar.

I won’t be buying right away when the YRG Pro is released though. Primarily due to my room running out of space. I’m also the type who waits for feedback from initial buyers. And depending on how much it turns out, I’m not sure yet whether a Roland GR/GK might be a better choice. And there are also shipping and import tax considerations in my location. It will be made of wood. That’s heavier. I’m also worried that the neck might no longer be detachable. One thing I really like with the YRG-1000 is how it easily fits in a normal school bag. I also personally don’t know how playable is the Gen 2 YRG. The YRG Pro will be using the same Gen 2 pickup, so maybe its improvements wont matter to me and I might instead settle for a Gen2.

Anyway, I think the picks and earphones are not bad as rewards for a little gamble on technology. And these little stuff, although commonly taken for granted, are very practical. I might make backing interesting projects a new hobby just for the fancy gifts (and the greater good), even without motive of acquiring the actual product being developed. I may still have doubts about the YRG Pro in this particular case, but it is still fun to have supported the Inspired Instruments team in a small way.

Categories: Music making Tags: , ,

Adding a remote monitor on top of a MIDI piano

September 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Previously I discussed my experiences on extending my digital piano’s MIDI connection via USB extender. There is still one device though that would be convenient on top of my piano, a display monitor.

As the situation is, I already have a heavy powerful laptop (actually used as a “desktop”) that is on most of the time for work and procrastination (and blogging). But it is not located close enough to where my digital piano is, and I can’t rearrange the room yet. Booting an additional computer for a 5 to 20 minute piano session does not seem attractive, especially when there is an idle one somewhere in the house. Carrying the laptop around also does not seem an attractive option. I want things to be as easy as possible to prevent musical inspirations from fading away. I know. I’m crazy. Just like many musicians are.

Back to the topic, I wanted to place a display monitor on top of my piano to emulate having a computer close to it. It would be convenient for controlling the MIDI recording or for Synthesia piano lessons. Wireless mice and keyboards are quite trivial now, so a remote display is as good as a remote client computer. And as I see it, wireless video transmission is still in “beta” stage and quite expensive too.

I thought of several options, getting a slim LCD monitor, preferably with touchscreen capability, or a USB pocket projector projecting on the wall behind my piano. The standard monitor option would be tricky as I already have an extended desktop on my work laptop, and I have no plans of moving it away the laptop. Unlike in a desktop PC, I could not simply plug in video cards into a laptop’s motherboard. For most laptops (that I know of), the only way to add a third monitor is to use a USB to display adapter. As for the pocket projector option, I can not imagine a convenient location for the projector. The best projector position would be blocked by the piano player.

Eventually, I recalled these 10.1 USB LCD monitors made by Liliput, but while looking at them I also found out about Toshiba’s usb mobile dispaly and Lenovo’s ThinkVision LT1421. I chose the ThinkVision which is more compact, although it didn’t have a power switch like Toshiba’s. I can tolerate disconnecting USB cables though. It also has a faster response (8ms)  compared to Toshiba’s (16ms).

Another motivation for getting the ThinkVision (or Toshiba’s), is that it can be used while on travel. Unlike a standard monitor, it is easily portable (more portable than a Thinkpad). It will have many uses for me when working remotely as I am most productive with  two screens.

The next step is to extend its USB connection. Unlike MIDI data, video data is much heavier, so I needed a higher throughput connection. There is a DisplayLink USB 2.0 extender that is not yet widely available and just seems to be a standard USB 2.0 CAT5 extender. Adding 3 meters more to its 1.8 meter cable works. But to go beyond the 5m limit, I had to use a repeater compliant to USB 2.0.

I was able to obtain a 5 meter Trendnet TU2 EX5 repeater. I haven’t seen any reviews about it but it was available in a local dealer and it is USB 2.0 compliant claiming upto 480MBPS transfer rates. It is also cheaper than the USB 2.0 CAT5 extenders I can find.

It works! But unlike with the simple 3m extension, external power is now needed. This is provided through the second USB “plug” in the Y cable, which I plugged to a USB charger. I had to remember which USB plug goes to the computer during my initial test, so I marked it. No video output comes out if these USB plugs are interchanged. It actually looks dangerous when there is no power provided and I’m using the 5m extender. The picture gets distorted and I hear a high frequency hum, like a capacitor is about to blow.

Now, with just an easy wireless keyboard and mouse, software tweaks, and the already extended MIDI connection, my digital piano and semi remote workstation are now united as a more convenient DAW station.

Categories: Music making Tags: ,

MIDI connection over a USB extender

September 8, 2012 Leave a comment

The weird layout of my room and the limited space on top and behind my digital piano had prevented  my workhorse laptop at the opposite wall and my Casio CDP-200R from being digitally unified for almost two years now.  So I was using a much smaller netbook instead, on a makeshift cardboard mount. MIDI files I recorded were shared to my other laptop wirelessly via Dropbox. I was getting tired of this work around. I don’t often use that netbook so I had to wait for it to boot each time I want to record something. A netbook is also not powerful enough for DAW work, and is not convenient due to its small screen.

I ended up looking on M-Audio’s MidAir wireless MIDI transmitter and receiver, which would have been a neat solution. The problem though is that the CDP-200R does not have the traditional MIDI port MidAir uses, but has a USB port instead. It most likely internally converts MIDI to USB like many of the new “MIDI” devices today do, making it convenient to connect to a computer (no need for an adaptor or module), but unfortunately, not with other MIDI devices that use the traditional round 5 pin DIN MIDI connector. I tried looking for a reverse adaptor, one that will take USB output from a device and convert it to a 5 pin MIDI standard, but such a thing does not seem to exist and it’s hard to filter out the well known opposite (MIDI to USB adaptors) from search results. The MidAir might be a hundred plus dollar dust collector for my peculiar case.

Another possible alternative is a wireless USB hub, but so far I have only seen a lot of bad reviews for the existing products, so it’s yet another dust collector candidate. Reviews mention that it does not work like its wired counterpart requiring special drivers, client software, authentication and stuff, and transmission is not very reliable. For music playing, any interruption of the transmission would be unacceptable.

Since I couldn’t use a wireless MIDI (or USB) connection, I settled for a wired USB one. An unmodified USB connection is not designed to go beyond 5 meters.  Beyond that you need a repeater (for another 5 to 20 meters) or an extender (can go up to 50 or 90 meters). USB extenders use network cables (CAT5/5e/6, Ethernet, RJ45) in between the USB device and computer’s USB port. Extereme extenders that use optical fibers can go from half a kilometer to 10 kilometers (now you can read your USB stick from another city!).

The extender I used, made by IOGEAR, is USB 1.1 compliant so I had to check that my digital piano is not restricted to USB 2.0 before buying (here’s how to). Thankfully, it is not, as Windows’ device manager showed (view by connection). The extender is claimed to work up to 198 feet (60 meters).

It worked! I used it with a 5m CAT6 cable. No drivers were required and it really seemed that I simply extended my piano’s USB cable. I tested it with Syfonone and my favorite 20+ MB piano soundfont. There is an acceptable amount latency, which was not really surprising, and is similar to the latency of a directly plugged USB MIDI device. I notice that the audible mechanical sound made by my piano keys are a tiny bit earlier than the digital sound coming from my computer (I had an earphone cable extender, what a messy setup). I’m also not using any ASIO device/software, just the built in soundcard. Anyway, the latency was acceptable to me. I can play Bach’s prelude in C major without any problems (the only classical piece I’ve managed to memorize). Once the sustain or reverb kicks in, the mechanical sound of my keys are no longer noticeable when playing many notes (legato).

Of course, the best solution would have been rearranging my room, but knowing myself, that would take years to happen. It is also nice to know that there are alternatives. I will still wait for M-Audio to develop a MidAir that takes in USB-MIDI output. Perhaps they will make a special connector someday. Let’s hope.

Categories: Music making Tags: ,