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Topic: Changing Keys and Patches on Keyboards

  1. #1

    Changing Keys and Patches on Keyboards

    Two questions for pro keyboard players:

    My training is in piano. And that was so long ago about the only alternatives to the piano were the organ, the harpsichord, and those newfangled electronic versions of those instruments. Synths were developed when I was a kid and by senior year in high school, you could actually buy one for a few thousand dollars (still a lot of money in those days) but you had to use a patch chord to program it.

    I was never a strong player and I don't play much now because of carpal tunnel syndrome and similar injuries. So I really never have played a gig where you had to change patches. And I have no idea how using computer based samples has changed things. My first question is: how much time should I allow for patch changes. I have two electronic keyboard players in my orchestra. They seldom play together. Most of the time, they alternate numbers. (Or one plays the verse and the other the choruses, etc.) I'm wondering if there is a simple way to easily do it - like a foot switch that would cycle through all the patches in the show, in order. I don't need to know the specifics of the equipment. I'm just trying to determine whether I've allowed enough time for the musician to get the right patch loaded.

    My second question is about changing keys. I was never a great player, but I always found the key of C boring, so I never shied away from trying other keys. I once wrote a piece in C# (Db) which I loved because it had such an unusual sound and it was fun to play on mostly black keys. When I began orchestrating my musical, I found that a lot of the keys I had chosen were bad for other instruments (Eb and Bb instruments especially). It was not so much the technical considerations (i.e. how difficult is was to read) but what it did to the sound. I also found that some of the less commonly used keys would put the singers into difficult vocal ranges. So I changed a lot of keys to make it all work. I still have one number that's a problem, however. In order to get the part where the brass and reeds play into an acceptable key and keep the singers in a singable range, I had to write the piano section in the key of -- you guessed it -- C# and this number (unlike my earlier composition) is very difficult to play well in that key.

    Setting aside for a moment the obvious consideration that anyone who ends up playing this will be a better player than me, it does make my score rather unbalanced. The piano part is easy to moderately difficult and then I have this number which requires a bit more skill. My gut tells me that this is where a performer will stumble on a bad night -- and it's the close of the first act, so it's a bit worrying.

    I am wondering if there is an easy way to transpose on pro keyboards. I remember I had a cheap one (about 15-20 years ago) that had big transpose up and transpose down buttons right on the keyboard. Or is this something I need to worry about at all?


    Allegro Data Solutions

  2. #2
    Senior Member Steve_Karl's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2004
    Pittsburgh, PA 15206 USA

    Re: Changing Keys and Patches on Keyboards

    Patch changes:
    A sequencer can often do it between notes depending on the patch.
    Any player familiar with their instrument could do it in a one bar rest with no problems I suspect, and most likely between chords if they're good with their instrument.

    Every keyboard I've had hands on with can transpose.
    Older Ensoniqs and Yamaha, and also Yamaha s80, s90 and s08.

  3. #3

    Re: Changing Keys and Patches on Keyboards

    Thanks for the feedback.

    But I'm not sure I know what you mean by "A sequencer can often do it between notes depending on the patch." I don't want a sequence or pre-recorded stuff playing during a live performance. I was assuming that the keyboard player would be connected to a laptop running something like the stand alone versions of NI Akoustic Piano, or Kontakt, or other VIs -- which seems like a bit of hassle.

    It would be nice if you could download the sounds to the keyboard and switch between them with buttons on the instruments -- but with such large samples on computers, I've got a feeling it won't be possible. I had hoped there would be a simple way to do this via the keyboard (like key switching).

    But again, the mechanics of it are not as important has knowing how long it will take to switch and, by your description, I think I have allowed plenty of time.

    As for transposing, is this just found on instruments with their own sounds, or is it possible on MIDI controllers as well?

    Allegro Data Solutions

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