As a drummer I love to be the guy in the back. I prefer not to be noticed as much. I hide behind my large kit and I’m comfortable to play in front of anyone. Smaller kits…. ok, not so much camouflage but still comfortable enough.
But now with Fizzbin I’m a front man. As we prepare the extravagonzo of our live show I’m starting to realize how much of my roll as keyboardist as well as vocalist keep me standing in one place. Vocal freedom is no problem as it can be addressed with a wireless headset mic. Keyboards have always been a bit of a sore spot though when it comes to giving an active performance (no Keith Emmerson and Rick Wakeman, I’m not talking to you). Even worse, in this day and age a single keyboard can perform the functions that once required walls of electronics and piles and piles of synthesizers (yes Keith Emmerson and Rick Wakeman, I’m talking to you). This puts the keyboardist on-stage with a mere sliver of an instrument in front of him that he is tied to. Not very impressive. Further, if you make that keyboardist the front-man the show could tend to get a little sterile. My goal is to prevent anything of the sort from happening with our performances.
Enter the mobile keyboard. Sure the Keytar was a bit of a joke in the ’80s but revisited they make a lot of sense. Back then the idea was to look high-tech and futuristic. The focus on the guts of the synths was never a huge issue and the Keytar sort of drifted away into minor obscurity. Still the keyboardist got his ass out front and could rock-and-roll with the guitar players. Sometimes having the keyboardist spring into action would even get the bass player moving. It’s a long-shot but still. But I digress…
One of the first pieces of equipment I purchased when I began my studio project was an M-Audio Oxygen 49 keyboard. It has proven to be a great starter-keyboard which works seamlessly with my Mac and my iPad (through the Camera Connection Kit). It is a MIDI controller which means it has relatively light guts. The keyboard only contains a USB connection. There are no actual MIDI connectors which limits its use (or does it ; ) . It’s also quite light making it easy to schlep around while playing.
Looking at the keyboard the first idea I had to make it portable was simple; stick a couple of Guitar Strap End Pins into the body of the Oxygen 49, put a guitar strap on it, connect the keyboard to the iPad via a 10 foot USB cable, plug the iPad into the mixing desk (or keyboard amp) and there you have a Keytar. To help keep the iPad’s battery from draining quickly I included a powered USB hub in the mix.
To support the iPad I concocted a device using some old cymbal stand components and and iRig.
So check out Phase 1 of my Keytar project
Playing the keyboard standing vertically takes a bit of getting used to but I’m starting to get the hang of it. My biggest problem is tapping my right heel to the beat. It makes the keyboard jump around. It also makes my bass jump around so I’d better get over the habit soon.
I’ve recently picked up a Korg nanoPAD2 which I plan to incorporate as the neck of my instrument. I’ll run a second USB cable back to the hub connected to the iPad. I’ve already tested it and both controllers can be used simultaneously. Way cool!
I also plan to paint the chassis of my new old toy. Something a little jazzier than plain grey. I’ll post more as things progress.