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Barry Baker Building an Orchestra - The Easy Way Using Your "Record" Feature

Greetings! Here we are again with another serving of alphabet--actually, digital--soup for the soul!

You may have heard the term, "multiple track recording" or "multi-tracking," which refers to the process of recording yourself playing a song, then going back and overlaying additional parts and different sounds until an elaborate musical tapestry has been created. It used to require an entire recording studio to accomplish such "one person orchestrations." But, with the technology inside your Kawai digital ensemble piano, you can do it right at home...and it's easy!

Sadly, I can tell you that many digital piano owners do not exercise their ability to build an orchestra through recording, because the process has been traditionally thought of as an "intricate skill." However, you'll see that accomplishing this with Kawai models CP117 and higher is not challenging, but downright basic and fun! I like to think of this as building an orchestra, one part at a time. Let's experiment together...

We'll begin with the basics: On any Kawai digital piano--except for the entry level CL25 model--you can record yourself by simply pressing the "Record" button on the panel, then playing the keyboard. To listen back, press the "Stop" button, then the "Play" button. Pretty simple, huh?

But, if you've never recorded yourself, try it. It's really fun--and educational! I've observed many newcomers to this process vacillate between a reactionary cringe and a smile as they review their first performance! The truth is, it can be an eye-opener to hear yourself perform in the "third person," undistracted by the process of note pushing while trying to listen. However, you will get accustomed to hearing yourself and, ultimately, appreciate the many benefits.

Now, let's continue with the concept of crowning you "orchestra conductor" by transforming your piano recording into an orchestral arrangement. We're about to record multiple sounds by layering them on top of one another.

Earlier, I referred to this "multi-track" recording process as a potential "challenge"--at least that's the commonly held perception. Multi-tracking is not normally considered basic material. And it's true that many "studio" instruments can get quite involved when you reach this level of recording. In fact, Kawai allows for the more curious members of our user community to get extraordinarily involved with the "Advanced Recorder" features found on CP models 117 and higher.

However, in keeping with Kawai's hallmark of user-friendliness, there is an alternate way of multi-track recording on CP models that completely avoids in-depth maneuvers. Here we go! Having just powered up the instrument (again, a CP model 117 or higher), I'll press the "Record" button and begin playing "Amazing Grace" on the nine foot Concert Grand Piano (click here to listen) sound that is automatically called up.

For now, I'm playing the first phrase of the song, then pressing the "Stop" button to finish the recording.

Next, I'd like some background strings to play a role in this arrangement. I don't want the strings to play every note that my piano part is playing--I'd just like the strings to occasionally chime in with some background chords. (Since we're discussing strings and piano, I shouldn't confuse the issue with the figurative term, "chime!" Okay, I'll stop harping on this. What? Too much fiddling around?)

Look at the display screen. You'll see the sound name, "Beautiful Strings." It's part of the instrument's standard settings upon powering up. Beautiful Strings is controlled by the "Right 2" Part button in the Sound section, as indicated in the screen. (The "Right 1" button is responsible for the Concert Grand Piano sound.) I'll go over to the Sound section (to the right of the screen) and press the "Right 2" Part button which will activate Beautiful Strings on the keyboard. You'll see the button's red light come on.

Since I had just finished recording the Concert Grand Piano sound, I'm now done with the piano on the keyboard, so I'll turn off that sound by pressing the "Right 1" Part button in the Sound section. You'll notice the button's red light went out.

One more button to push now: Press "Record" (as we had done earlier to record the piano part), and the instrument will be awaiting your first note to begin recording your new part on the Beautiful Strings.

All you have to do is play some simple chords to back up your piano part. And with the Beautiful Strings sound, you can do this in the octave below middle C, up to a couple octaves above. It's pretty easy to sound "pro" with this setting. But avoid the temptation to play lots of notes. As you experiment, you'll discover that less is generally more.

Now, when your first note is played, you'll be recording the new Beautiful Strings sound while simultaneously hearing the playback of the former piano part (click here to listen) .

Having finished recording our Beautiful Strings part, I'll press the "Stop" button in the Recorder section.

Let's go to the next plateau--yet another sound, for a third layer.

In the display screen you'll see the sound name, "Ballad Flute." It's another sound that's part of the instrument's standard settings upon powering up. As the screen indicates, the Ballad Flute is controlled by the "Solo" Part button. So, over in the Sound section, I'll press the button labeled, "Solo," which calls up the Ballad Flute on the keyboard.

And since we're done recording the Beautiful Strings sound, I'll turn it off by pressing the "Right 2" button in the Sound section.

Now, I'm ready to play the Ballad Flute for our recording, so I'll press the "Record" button once again. (As you can tell, it's all repetition from here on out: The mechanics for recording additional sounds to this arrangement are the same each time around.)

The instrument is currently awaiting my first Ballad Flute note to begin recording. I'll improvise a simple flute countermelody (click here to listen) atop the piano's melody to Amazing Grace. This improvised flute part could be a series of notes derived from the chord structure of the song or, simply, the melody line, to reinforce the piano's statement. When I begin playing my flute part, I'll be recording while I simultaneously hear the former piano and strings parts playing back.

Having completed our new flute part, I'll stop the recording.

If you ever want to re-record a part that didn't work out so well on the first try, you may do so without affecting the other recorded sounds. For example, to re-record the flute part I just played while keeping the piano and strings as they are, just press the "Record" button. Then, at the bottom of the display screen, you'll see the word, "Solo," which is the part that was used for the flute. Press the button beneath the screen that corresponds with "Solo," and you'll notice that part's status has changed from "Play" to "Record," as indicated in the screen (above the word, "Solo"). You're now ready to re-record the flute.

I could add yet a fourth sound to this arrangement by repeating the same procedure, this time using the "Left/Split" Part button in the Sound section. However, in thinking about it, three sounds are enough for me in this instance. As I said before, less is more. Always apply the beauty of restraint when orchestrating.

So, to listen to our final product, just press the "Play" button.

I suggest stepping away from the piano as you listen for a different perspective. While reviewing your creation, notice what sounds good and what doesn't. Did you play too many notes in some places? Was there a section that sounded empty? Were there conflicting harmonies or timing problems? And I'll bet you noticed some parts that surprised you with how wonderful they sounded. That's the beauty of multi-tracking.

We can orchestrate up to four sounds using this easy method of recording. However, venturing into the "Advanced Recorder" (the button below the disk drive) allows for recording up to 16 tracks--and an arsenal of editing features that will satisfy the multi-tracking connoisseur.

In today's example, all we used to accomplish our multi-track recording were two buttons in the Recorder section ("Record" and "Play/Stop"), and three Part buttons in the Sound section to add each sound ("Right 1," "Right 2," and "Solo"). That's it! Five buttons! Incredibly simple for the seemingly advanced nature of the task, wouldn't you say?

And a great "hidden" benefit to exercising this multi-track recording procedure is that it hones the skill of improvisation. Not to mention timing, harmony, and orchestration. I encourage you to experiment with all of your favorite songs. Be daring and adventurous! Use your imagination. Soon you'll be adding all sorts of musical seasonings to spice up your creations.

So, have a blast, and don't forget to save your completed recording!

And now, for the most complex part of this entry. I'll leave you with our awkward--yet inviting!--signature acronym: IYWKP ("Indulge yourself in the wonders of your Kawai piano!"

— Barry Baker

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