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    Keyboard for Teaching Remotely

    Hello, all—


    I do hope you’re all staying safe.


    I’m looking into buying a new digital piano or MIDI controller keyboard for teaching remotely this fall. (All my MIDI equipment is ancient.) Last spring after the lockdown, I got by with a combination of making acoustic recordings from my piano (two rooms away from my remote-teaching setup) and Finale/Garratan-generated audio files. But if I’m to teach an entire semester remotely, I’ll need to turn to the keyboard frequently while lecturing via Zoom.


    I’m curious to hear what you all might have to say about this. I’ve done a little research, and I’ve discovered I want/need 88 weighted keys (no fewer and none of that springy plastic crap!). However, I’m not sure about a few other things:


    (1) Is it wiser to buy a MIDI controller and let all the sounds be generated in my computer? Or should I get a digital piano that can also play without a connection to something?


    (2) Will either kind of keyboard (controller or digital piano) work well plugged into a laptop running, say, Mini Grand or Eighty Eight? I’m assuming I can play on the keyboard, the software will generate sounds, which students will hear if I share my computer audio via Zoom, yes?


    (3) Do you have any opinions on stands?


    Any thoughts?




    Gary S. Karpinski

    Professor of Music Theory

    Department of Music and Dance

    University of Massachusetts

    Amherst, MA 01003



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    • 4 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • Hi Gary,

      Your money will go farther with just a controller, since you have (at least) Garritan on your computer. A MIDI-capable keyboard with onboard sound (like digital piano) is a good "belt-and-suspenders" setup and is what I ended up with. (But I'm an organist, so 61 unweighted keys will do for me!)

      Whether computer sound (e.g., Garritan) goes out over Zoom or not turned out, for me, to be tricky. On Windows, I've had to finagle audio settings for "loopback" to make this happen. During the time I was figuring all this out, I was relieved that keyboard-generated sound wasn't a problem. (Hence, I needed the belt while figuring out the suspenders.).

      Good luck!


    • Hi, Gary.

      Dan's advice is good. I'll add that it's nice to have a good keyboard visualizer. I've used VMPK, even though Garage Band or Logic is generating the actual sound. (The Logic keyboard window does a poor job of highlighting keys, IMHO.) Zoom can definitely transmit high-quality, stereo audio, although (like Dan), I've had to use Loopback to merge my external microphone with the internal computer sound.

      That all said, the "best" solution is to buy a video camera to install over your piano keyboard so that students can see your fingers. (The video would stream into an app that would be seen during Screen Share.) Lots of keyboard tutorials on YouTube have this setup, so you have to realize you'll be competing (on some level) with high-quality productions and educational materials available on the web. You could then skip MIDI entirely, and just route the sound output of the keyboard (or an actual mic'ed piano!) to your audio interface (mixed, of course, with your external mic). 

      So the pure MIDI solution is simpler, perhaps, but when I'm teaching keyboard voicing, I will hang a camera (which in my case is just an old iPhone) above the keyboard (on a mic stand with an iPhone clip in my case). Especially for beginner students, seeing the actual keyboard fingering is critical, in my experience.

      Good luck! I'd be happy to elaborate more on anything.

      Best, Trevor dC


    • Hello Gary,  I do not have any keyboard recommendations, but there is some software you might consider which I believe will be helpful to me for online theory teaching. The best option I've found so far is called "Classroom Maestro":  https://timewarptech.com/shop/music-software-apps/software/classroom-maestro/?v=7516fd43adaa

      It is actually on sale for 1/2 price through the end of this month. The following YouTube video gives a good overview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmLb0-ceUEk

      I recently bought a sturdy inexpensive stand from Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B016N052M6/ref=ox_sc_act_title_4?smid=A3SPLR0MSOYZ8O&psc=1

      David Claman Lehman College-CUNY






    • Dear Professor Karpinski,


      I think I have some answers.


      There are two major brands of 88-key touch-sensitive keyboards, Yamaha and Roland. I, for some reason, am not keen on Yamaha. My preference: Rolland FP series. FP10 is good but out of production. I own FP30. It imitates the touch of an acoustic piano and is relatively inexpensive. Roland models its sound after Steinway.


      My advice is not to save on stands. I suggest buying a solid frame stand, not foldable tube one. It comes with pedals on the lower board--you will have a real instrument experience.


      You can connect the keyboard to your computer via audio input/output. You can also use your keyboard as a midi controller; it will not by itself generate sound (it will only control the midi). You will need an extra app, a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). In that DAW you will link the keyboard controller (your keyboard) with the plug-in--a virtual instrument, VST. These VSTs are very good. I would recommend Hauptwerk digital samples library--a real pipe organ! For pianos, like Boesendorfer with close mikes, East West digital library. The DAW should be compatible with these libraries. I am using Traktion 7 (Waveform 11) DAW with Hauptwerk and EastWest. 


      In Zoom, you should tweak the settings so that you will share the sound (the system sound). 


      Using electronic sound is better than an acoustic instrument in Zoom. Yet, the problem with Zoom's automatic regulation of gain is not solved completely by this choice. I would recommend using cleanfeed software for a separate audio channel during your Zoom session.




      Ildar Khannanov