Category Archives: Piano Reviews

A behind-the-scenes look at the arrival and unboxing of the Bösendorfer Appassionata Piano!

The Bösendorfer Appassionata has arrived from Vienna, Austria, and here is a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the unboxing of this unique combination of instrument & art.

This grand piano is the one-of-a-kind, and is designated as “#23” in reference to Beethoven’s beloved Sonata. It also features the high resolution Disklavier player/recording system. Find out more about the details of the piano here.

Or join us on Friday as we bring this amazing instrument to the Premium Piano Salon at Jordan Kitt’s Music in Fairfax (RSVP Here!).

Yamaha CSP Review

Yamaha CSP Review

Yamaha is a giant of many industries, but it’s best known for its massive portfolio of instruments – pianos in particular. For over a century, it’s made everything from concert pianos, to classy uprights, to cheap plastic keyboards for beginners.

Yamaha’s $4,700 CSP-170 is one of the companies newest digital pianos, and perhaps one of the most versatile digital pianos on the market.

Along with its cheaper sibling, the $3,500 CSP-150, it borrows elements from all over the company’s piano family. It uses sound samples from Yamaha’s flagship CFX and Bosendorfer Imperial concert pianos and comes in an attractive upright body. It’s real claim to fame, however, is its ability to teach you songs using LED lights like one of those cheap plastic keyboards. Even cooler, it’s not just built in songs either – it can analyze songs in your library and create basic sheet music for it through the magic of technology.

You don’t often see those kinds of smarts on a piano of this form factor. After all, console pianos are a piece of furniture as well, even when they are digital. All those lights and buttons and doodads aren’t very attractive on what should be a classy centerpiece.

The lights are practically invisible when not being used – especially if you opt for the glossy finish.

Yamaha gets around this with a few clever tricks. For one, the l lights are hidden behind a black strip above the keys, which is completely inconspicuous when the lights are off. Second, there are only three control points on the unit: a function button, a volume slider, and a power button. Everything else is controlled via an intuitive Android and iOS app.

Before we delve deeper into the smarts, it’s important to note the CSP-170 is a solid digital upright even without any of techy features.

It uses Yamaha’s ‘Natural Wood X’ keyboard action, which the best Yamaha has to offer outside of its pianos with real acoustic actions (the CSP-150 features a very similar action, except the keys are all plastic and no wood).

It’s not my favorite keyboard action in the price range – I prefer those on Roland and Kawaii’s pianos – but that’s subjective, and it’s still one that feels far more realistic than what you usually get on a digital piano. A longer pivot length than most digitals means you can play further back into the keys with less fatigue, and the keys handle quick repetitions better than some real uprights.

Browse around piano forums and you’ll see thousands of messages debating piano actions. You can learn on any decent weighted action, but a good digital action will help you better transition to the real thing. Often, the only reason people upgrade their digital pianos is for an improved action, as you can always buy a better sound engine by hooking up a PC, but you’re stuck with the action you’ve got.

Yamaha’s sound system is impressive on paper. There are four speakers positioned strategically for a more enveloping sound. Yamaha pumps 180 watts into those speakers, allowing the CSP to get much louder than you’d need in any normal home – and many venues. Importantly, they also reach far down into the sub-bass, providing a tactility to the lowest octave you rarely get on digital pianos. When I used the CSP-170 as a giant speaker for my smart device, it easily filled up the whole home.

(Here too the CSP-150 differs, only offering two speakers and 60 watts of power.)

This is all fine and dandy, but the first time I played it, I was only impressed with the sound output, not the piano tone itself. Yamaha is known for its relatively bright and clear piano tone, yet the primary two piano voices both sounded so warm to as to be almost muddy. It might’ve just been my room acoustics – it was less pronounced when using headphones – but I expected better given this is Yamaha’s flagship sound engine.

Thankfully, there’s that app I mentioned.

Plugging in an iPad mini running Yamaha’s Smart Pianist app opened up a wealth of options and controls that were far more intuitive and comfortable to use than the usual tiny display and controls on most keyboards.

The first thing I did was check if I could make the sound a bit brighter. Lo and behold, there’s a ‘brightness’ option in the sound settings portion of the app. Dragging the brightness slider up and turning down the default reverb – artificial reverb on top of your room’s own acoustics can further muddy things up – made the tone oodles clearer, and far closer to the Yamaha studio grand I practice on during my lessons. I usually practice with a piano sound engine on my PC with my own keyboard, but I felt no need once I’d tweaked the 170’s sound to my liking.

And there are a lot of tweaks, including various mechanical noises, sympathetic resonance, a binaural recording setting for headphones, and the ‘openness’ of the lid. You can even change the tuning and volume of every individual note, should you be looking for a particular sound. None of these options are particularly unique among the competition, but Yamaha’s interface is the most intuitive I’ve seen.

But the heart of the CSP-170 is in the music learning features. Unlike some other pianos with guide lights, the CSP-170 use waterfall-style “stream lights” that help you time when you need to hit the notes, not just see which notes are next. As I wrote when I reviewed the similarly luminous One Smart Keyboard Pro, I think these features are no replacement for traditional sheet music – but they can be a useful aid to motivate younger learners and total beginners, or help with speed up rote repetition for those further along.

The app itself doesn’t display any Synthesia-style falling notes and defaults to the sheet music. There’s a solid selection of built-in pieces – including practice items from common lesson books – and you can download more from the internet.

My only real problem with the stream lights is with their colors. Red is for white keys, blue is for black keys. It’s somewhat redundant, as the lights already have different shapes matching that of the keys.

The lights don’t normally look like this – it’s just a cool loading bar for a firmware update.

I would’ve much preferred each color represent your left or right hand. Sometimes when following along with the built-in music, I wouldn’t know which hand to use for the next note, especially if the melody jumped around a lot. Still, it’s a handy feature to have, and one that’s completely optional.

I’m more enamored with the CSP-170’s ability to analyze music in your library and create chord progressions for it. Though it can’t pick out the melody lines yet, it works surprisingly well with the popular tunes I tried – pretty much anything that wasn’t too harmonically complex. You can view the chords as either sheet music or as a list of chords – great for any guitar players following along. You can even bring in singers, thanks to a microphone port as well.

See the CSP options at Jordan Kitt’s Music here.

or, read the rest of the review here.

Ever see a robot play a piano?

Automatica – Robots vs. Music from musician Nigel Stanford is a follow up to 2015’s viral video, Cymatics – Science vs. Music which showcased a brand new synthesis of music, art and physics.

For this latest visualization, it explores how close we are to seeing AI robots performing instruments and blending in with normal human activity.

Stanford is seen rocking out with his KUKA robots, where the mechanical arms move with accuracy down to 0.03mm, and are programmed with a software called Robot Animator that allows them to strum a bass, scratch on a turntable, and tickle a synthesizer.

Stanford also shared, “I’m sure that in the future it will be possible for AI to write great music but it shouldn’t concern musicians or anyone else for that matters.”
Read more here

Yamaha CVP-701

Yamaha Clavinova CVP-700 Series Digital Piano Review

Review: Yamaha Clavinova Ensemble CVP-700 Series
by Stephen Fortner via

AS THE NEWEST and most advanced of Yamaha’s Clavinova Ensemble family of digital pianos, the CVP-700 series combines two design goals. The first is to provide an utterly realistic experience for piano purists who tolerate no compromises in sound and keyboard action, but require such digital conveniences as freedom from tuning and the ability to turn down the volume. The second goal, that of creating a “keyboard as musical entertainment center,” involves providing a huge variety of sounds beyond those a piano can make, sophisticated automatic accompaniment that makes you a one-person band, a roster of easy-play and educational features, and more. Bottom line: These new Clavinova Ensembles hit both of these goals with such high marks that I might as well have just told you that the Tesla Model S is both a “green” car and a sports car. So let’s buckle up and drive.

Yamaha Clavinova CVP-701
Design and User Interface:

I spent several days with the new Clavinovas at Piedmont Piano Company, in Oakland, California, and at PianoForte, in Chicago. Four models ascend in price and number of features: the CVP-701, CVP-705, CVP-709, and CVP-709GP. The cabinets of the 701 and 705 are more like a traditional upright piano, while the 709 sports a contemporary “floating” design. The 709GP has a compact baby grand–style cabinet but is otherwise identical to the 709. If you don’t like long reads, here’s the review: These things rock. Buy the nicest model you can afford and start getting happy.

Still with me? Then let’s deal with the most important aspect of the user interface first: the black ‘n’ whites. All models feature fully weighted, graded actions — the keys’ resistance subtly decreases from heavier to lighter as you ascend the keyboard — with mechanical escapement simulation and textured, faux-ivory key surfaces. The GH3X action of the entry-level CVP-701 uses synthetic keys; all other models feature Yamaha’s Natural Wood X (NWX) action, which, as its name implies, has white keys made of real wood. Coming from a synth-and-organ background, I gravitated toward the feel of the 701, which I found to be a bit quicker for performance techniques such as glissandi and single-note “machine gun” trills à la Billy Joel. For pianistic realism, however, the upline models are indeed a bit better, with a finger-to-music connection that, when paired with the main piano sounds, provides an uncanny sense of real hammers striking real strings.

One quibble is that none of the CVP key actions sense aftertouch: pressure applied to a key after it’s been struck and held. (Their underlying sound engines, however, can receive it as a MIDI control message.) You could argue that anything this high-end should have aftertouch — as does Yamaha’s pro-oriented Tyros 5 arranger workstation, which has a lot in common with these Clavinovas. On the other hand, I can see the case that something altering the sound after you’ve struck a key might confuse many customers seeking a realistic acoustic-piano experience. There are other ways to add synthesizer-like effects such as pitch-bend or wah-wah, including the assignable buttons as well as the left and center pedals when they’re not doing una corda and sostenuto; and a ¼” input lets you plug in an extra switch or continuous pedal. Still, experienced players might like to add, say, vibrato to a string or horn sound by just digging into the key a bit harder.

The CVP-701 is the only model that lacks a touchscreen. This means that it actually has a busier front panel, with more physical buttons for things like sound and accompaniment selection, as well as “soft” buttons flanking the color display on three sides. On all other models, categories and subcategories of sounds and styles (acoustic vs. electric pianos, pipe vs. electric organs, different musical genres and subgenres, etc.) are neatly presented on the touchscreen. So are educational features, such as the score display and guide lights (more on these later), with physical buttons geared more toward things you’re likely always to need to reach for quickly: real-time control over your style variations, song recording and playback, and the like.

The CVP-709’s home screen shows the active accompaniment style, left-hand and two right-hand keyboard layers, keyboard split point, and active song. Across the bottom are icons accessing most-wanted functions, including chord modes, score and lyric display, and system menus. There’s always a learning curve to anything that offers the depth of features of the CVP-700 line, so it helps that the displays employ consistent graphical logic and hierarchy about which functions are a level “up” vs. “down,” where you are now vs. where you were a moment ago, and so forth. A hardware button always gets you back to the home screen, which displays an overview of the sounds, accompaniment styles, and, if applicable, the Song you’re currently using.

Before even touching the accompaniment styles or any other bells and whistles, the CVP-700 series lets you play three sounds live from the keyboard: one in the left-hand part and up to two in the right. Professional synth workstations may offer more key zones and flexibility in this regard, but this seems like the Goldilocks amount for a home console instrument of this sort. The left/right split point is adjustable, and you can set a separate split point for where the leftmost key zone begins to trigger chord changes for the auto-accompaniment.

The Piano Room button takes you to this screen, which puts a piano sound in a virtual acoustic space. The Piano Room button overrides any splits and layers and puts a concert grand Voice (you can opt for other keyboard instruments) across the whole key range. Visually, you can place this piano in an acoustic space such as a stage or cathedral, adjust the effect of lid position on the tone, and more. You can also choose from a curated list of accompaniment styles from inside the Piano Room.

The CVP-701 has a rolltop-desk keyboard cover; other models embed the display and controls in a hinged fallboard that has a soft-close mechanism to prevent slamming.

Here’s a brief glossary to help you understand the features and organization of the Clavinova CVP-700 series.

Voices: Yamaha’s term for a single sound; e.g., piano, violin, guitar, synth, etc.

Styles: Fully arranged automatic accompaniment setups spanning virtually every musical genre imaginable. They play multiple Voices (drums, bass, guitar, etc.) and follow your chord changes.

Variations: Four versions of the active Style, which you can switch in real time and which progress from minimal to busy.

One-Touch Settings: These quickly assign voices to the left- and right-hand keyboard parts, designed to sound good with the active Style.

Music Finder: A “one-stop shop” that sets up your Voices, Styles, and other settings based on names that are similar (but not identical) to actual songs. Such a name is called a Record, but you still need to play the chords and melody. Which brings us to . . .

Songs: Recording of real tunes from the real world, with chord changes, melody, arrangement, and orchestration. Most song files downloaded from yamaha can display the score and lyrics onscreen, as well as support Clavinova features such as . . .

Guide Mode: When working with a song, LEDs above the Clavinova’s keys show you which note to play next. What’s more, the instrument can wait for you to find the correct note before resuming playback.

Registrations: The highest level of organization, these save almost the entire state of the instrument, including your Voice, Style, active Song choices, and any tweaks you’ve made to default settings.

The CVP-700 series’ own demo mode proclaims that it’s a piano first and foremost, so let’s start there. Two main concert grand sample sets are the prima donnas: Yamaha CFX and Bösendorfer Imperial. Both of these are the basis of several Voices (Yamaha’s term for sounds), each of which has Natural and VRM versions. Natural refers to careful multi-mic sampling, to capture the sampled pianos’ nuances; VRM stands for Virtual Resonance Modeling, which adds a user-adjustable simulation of the sympathetic vibrations that occur inside an acoustic piano between undamped strings. You’ll likely hear a difference only when playing exposed solo passages without active accompaniment, but the attention to detail here is remarkable.

Suffice it to say that both sampled instruments sound incredibly true to their genuine acoustic counterparts, and beyond that, are the most detailed, realistic, and playable piano sounds I’ve heard in any digital instrument of this kind. The Yamaha CFX sounds clear and sweet; the Bösendorfer Imperial is more dense and woody. Any unwanted digital artifacts, such as audible sample looping and breaks between velocity layers, are either nonexistent or may as well be, note decays are sustained and natural, and key-release samples are present and adjustable.

Non-piano sounds in the CVP-700 series cover everything imaginable; I have room here to discuss only the highlights. In the electric piano section you’ll find various Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Clavinet (think Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”), DX7-era digital EPs (think “Law & Order”), and even the Yamaha CP electric grand of Peter Gabriel fame. All are excellent, with bark and attitude increasing as you play harder, and many include such added effects as chorus and phaser to cop an authentically vintage vibe.

The premium EP specimens are labeled as Cool, which is one of a handful of Voice Characteristic prefixes that flag something special. In this case, Cool means only that they’re the machine’s featured electric keyboard sounds, but marketing speak aside, these tags do have some meaning. Examples: Sweet is the prefix for acoustic instruments with sampled-in vibrato, while Live is for sounds sampled in stereo. One to look out for is S. Art, for Super Articulation. These add performance gestures on appropriate sounds, such as guitar slides, fall-offs or “shake” trills for a funky horn section, and the like. You can trigger these with key velocity, the left and center pedals, or, in some cases, by playing the keys legato instead of staccato. It takes a bit of practice to master, but can add a ton of realism to a performance.

In the organ banks, Voices tagged Organ Flutes provide authentic simulation of a classic tonewheel organ (e.g., a Hammond B-3) and rotating speaker (i.e., a Leslie). A dedicated screen offers full control over drawbars, rotary speed, and the signature ping of harmonic percussion. As a veteran Hammond enthusiast, I was surprised by how good this sounded, given that the CVP is not an organ-specialist keyboard. A plethora of gorgeous church and theater pipe organs are on hand as well, as are classic transistor organs of the 1960s.

Since the first Motif synthesizer debuted in 2001, I’ve felt that Yamaha keyboards slay any competition when it comes to guitar and bass sounds — acoustic or electric. They’ve reached a new pinnacle in the CVP-700 line, whether you’re after nylon or steel strings, punk or funk, understated upright or Seinfeld slap. Many of these sounds are enhanced by the aforementioned Super Articulation. With a little attention to how guitarists voice chords, utterly realistic performances are well within reach.

Bowed strings, brass, and woodwinds are likewise impeccable, with many variations encompassing both solo instruments and sections, not to mention plenty of Sweet and Super Articulation support — more of both from the CVP-705 up. Whether you want to play a melancholy cello solo, a dramatic Hollywood string swell, the horn hits from “Uptown Funk,” or anything in between, something will hit the target.

A selection of chorus and scat vocal presets offers a good deal of interest, with some of the latter actually going round-robin through different syllables with each successive note you play. For my tastes, these stray into “because you can” keyboard-demo territory, but there’s no questioning the care of the execution.

Synthesizer Voices are seemingly bottomless in their variety: retro analog leads and basses, 1980s-like evolving digital soundscapes with lots of internal animation, Prince-style stabs and comping sounds, lush pads, and far too much more to list. I come from a multi-keyboard and cover-band background, and I’d proudly use most of these sounds on any gig where I’d normally bring a high-end professional synth like a Yamaha Montage or Kurzweil Forte — they’re simply that good. More important for the potential Clavinova buyer is that when learning popular songs at home, it’s a lot more engaging if you can not only play the correct notes but also actually sound like the record. For that, the CVPs offer an incredible sonic toolbox.

User editing of Voices is pretty basic, covering things like vibrato, brightness, harmonic content (aka filter cutoff and resonance), and application of effects. To be fair, that’s a synth player’s complaint; this will be a non-issue for 99.9% of home digital piano seekers.

Acoustic and electronic drum kits, as well as Latin and World percussion, deserve high praise, but as it’s chiefly the accompaniment section that will be playing these sounds, let’s go there.
Accompaniment Styles

Auto-accompaniment has its roots in the home organs of the 1970s and early ’80s, including Yamaha’s own Electone line, and the Lowrey Cotillion, which Australian pop star Gotye serenaded in “State of the Art.” Today it shows up in all kinds of keyboards, beginning with simple rhythms in sub-$100 portables. An “arranger” is a keyboard that offers multi-instrument orchestration, chord recognition, and real-time control of accompaniment behavior, essentially turning your left hand into a bandleader. The CVP-700 series builds in the most advanced, realistic, and musically diverse arranger features on the planet, bar none. This is in part because the accompaniment is using the same excellent sounds you play on the keys, with the CVP-709 and 709GP adding a handful of Audio Styles that incorporate real audio recordings of ace session players serving up things like rhythm guitar parts.

The Style Control section is your command center. Within a single style, you can switch among four main variations, which get progressively more “busy” as you go. This is musically useful — for example, you might like the third chorus of a tune to deliver more emotion than the first and second. You get three similarly progressive variations for intros, another three for endings, optional drum fills if you switch variations, a manual “break” (usually one bar long), and the ability to have the accompaniment start or stop in sync with your touching the keys. Of course, you can set whether a variation change happens the instant you hit the button or waits for the next bar to come around.

This is all pretty standard arranger fare. What makes the Clavinova CVP-700 series stand out is the sheer quality and musicality of the styles themselves. The most recently crafted and therefore most sophisticated factory styles are flagged by the prefixes Pro and Session, and you get more of each kind as you climb the CVP models. Even the legacy material is solid, but the newer stuff sounds more than ever as if there’s a real band in the room with you.

While playing the CVP-709, my favorite was “70s Scat Legend,” which all but convinced me that Yamaha had trapped Tower of Power inside the machine. Jazz styles range from understated grooves evocative of organ trios to classic bebop to raucous hard bop. Big-band styles passed muster with some swing dancer friends I tried them on (believe me, they’re picky), many making good use of those buttery “String of Pearls”–style sax sections.

Though I don’t expect to see a CVP take center stage at Burning Man, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and credibility of the electronic dance music styles. EDM culture is fickle, and subgenres go in and out of vogue quickly, but there’s something here for everyone, and all of it is serviceable.

Lest I let you think that everything is more or less rock-band instrumentation, still more styles are devoted to classical music and piano-centric accompaniment. Likewise, World styles range from familiar Latin montunos to Jobim-esque bossas to recognizably Asian or Middle Eastern to things so esoteric you’d need to be an ethnomusicologist (or from the actual region) to fully understand them. Yamaha’s programmers have really done their homework.

The point of auto-accompaniment is not to merely follow your chord changes, but to do it well. Musicians who’ve used budget or older arranger keyboards know it can be easy to throw your virtual players a curve that makes them clam for a beat or so. The CVP-700 line all but eliminates this problem. There’s still a technique to “calling” smooth changes, involving the left hand moving ever so slightly ahead of the beat, but my confidence on the CVPs was at an all-time high, even though I’m not a regular arranger player.

A huge part of what helps here are the various chord-recognition modes: fully fingered, as well as easy options that let you trigger a major chord with one finger, add a key to make it a minor or seventh, and so on. Another mode always treats the lowest note held as the bass. Even slicker, a couple of AI modes work contextually, factoring in the chords you’ve played to judge where you’re going. I mostly stuck to the regular full-fingered mode, and the Clavinovas were generally spot-on at interpreting my intentions. Neither triad inversions nor chords thick with jazz extensions gave them any trouble, even at fast tempos.

Rounding out the accompaniment features are the four One-Touch Settings, which grab pre-selected left- and right-hand Voices for playing over the active style. A link button locks these to the four main style variations, letting you go from an organ solo over your first verse to a guitar solo over your chorus, and so on. You can change the default Voices and save your edited style in user memory.

If you can’t find the perfect style among the Clavinova’s phonebook-thick options, the Style Creator offers extensive facilities for rolling your own. Here, you can assign Voices to parts, set the time signature and groove/swing amount, and more. Styles can be assembled by mixing and matching chunks of other styles (intros, variations, etc.), or you can play-in every detail of your custom style to a metronome. For fine-grained tweaking, there’s even a full-featured MIDI event list editor. Importing of MIDI and SFF (Style File Format) files is also supported. Perhaps only a fraction of Clavinova buyers will ever dig this deep, but this kind of customizability is on a par with studio-class synth workstations, and it’s nice to know it’s there.
Song and Education Features

For starters, the CVP-700 models can capture everything to an inserted USB stick — what your fingers play, what the accompaniment styles play, even audio from a connected mic or line-level source — as a stereo audio file (WAV on the CVP-701, WAV or MP3 on the other models). They can also capture all keyboard parts as multi-track MIDI data, which you can then edit onboard or in your computer. If you use Style playback in your song, the Style’s parts are automatically recorded to MIDI channels 9 through 16. If so inclined, you can also play-in every track manually, choosing your Voices as you go. An event-based editor works like the one in the Style Creator.

For singing along, you can apply (and record) effects such as reverb to your vocal, including harmonies the Clavinova will generate. Different harmony presets (number of background singers, musical style, etc.) track your chord changes just like the accompaniment Styles. The quality of these harmonies is on a par with dedicated vocal processors from companies like TC-Helicon.

Those aren’t uncommon features in higher-end arrangers. What distinguishes the CVP-700s is how they can teach you to play. The CVP-701 comes preloaded with 65 songs, the other models with 124, and thanks to Yamaha’s partnership with publisher Hal Leonard, you can download more titles from a huge library at Those optimized for the Clavinova (the website makes this obvious with a “Choose Your Instrument” menu) support its learning features. No other keyboard maker has this vast an ecosystem of content.

Learn any song by following the bouncing ball on the score display. The Clavinova will even wait for you to find the right note. These features include a strip of LEDs above the keys that show you the next notes to play, and a nifty sheet-music display on which you literally follow the bouncing ball. You can set this up to show just the right-hand melody, the grand staff, chord symbols, and/or lyrics for songs that have them. Most important, in what’s called Guide Mode, the Clavinova will stop the song/accompaniment playback if you make a mistake, and resume when you find the right notes. This can be made even more forgiving with the Any Key mode, which tracks rhythm but not melody, and the Your Tempo mode, which tracks you in rubato fashion if you need to slow down and think. Karao-key mode advances the song based on mic input and any key press, and is meant for singing along.

I can’t over-emphasize how well all of this works. Sure, it’ll keep your seven-year-old focused on “Für Elise,” but I’ve used Guide Mode to woodshed cover tunes for gigs I took in spite of having too little prep time, and it’s been a lifesaver.

Related to but distinct from songs is the Music Finder, long a Yamaha staple. In the Music Finder, Records are presets that call up a Voice-and-accompaniment package for playing “in the style of” popular songs — complete with names that suggest the originals without infringing on their copyrights.

The USA Edition content package for CVP-700 series keyboards sold in the U.S. adds licensed Music Finder Records for an accompanying Best Songs Ever songbook, a Style Guide that uses those tunes to teach you how to work the Style Control section like a pro, interactive tutorials narrated by a human voice, and more.

Every model but the CVP-701 has an old-school VGA output for mirroring the display (or a lyrics-only karaoke scroll) to an external monitor. I’d like to see a more up-to-date connector used here, but there are always adapters.

Yamaha Clavinova CVP-709GP
More Features

Even on the entry-level CVP-701, the onboard stereo speakers are loud and clean enough to be heard over a roomful of guests, and don’t get crispy at high volumes. This gets only better as you ascend the line, the 705 adding a more powerful two-way system and the 709 and 709GP going three-way plus subwoofers. All models offer ¼” stereo output jacks for connection to an external sound system.

Just a couple of menu levels deep is an extensive mixing console providing volume, effects send, and stereo panning control over every part, with separate pages for your live keyboard Voices, all the Style tracks, all the song tracks, and so on. Audio effects are generous and high-quality, with graphical interfaces that bring up a suite of plug-ins for professional recording software.

All CVP-700 models can stream audio files from a USB drive and, for karaoke or practice, pitch-shift the audio into your vocal range and “cancel” the pre-recorded vocal. Sometimes the effect isn’t total, and unlike MIDI, the more you transpose real-time audio, the weirder it may sound. Still, this is heavy-hitting processing, especially for a home instrument.

With the exception of a few global system settings, anything that can be edited or changed can be saved in user memory without affecting the factory defaults. There are section-specific user areas for things like Voices, Styles, and Songs, but the most comprehensive memory slots are the Registrations. These essentially save everything about the current state of the machine, including any setting tweaks you’ve made about the mix, what the pedals do, and so on. If you’re entertaining an audience all night and have done a lot of custom prep work, one Registration per tune on your set list is the way to go.

The control panel on the CVP-709 allows most settings to be edited and saved to memory.


As long as this review is, I’ve only scratched the surface of the Clavinova CVP-700 series. Overall, they are, hands down, the best-sounding, most feature-rich, most technologically advanced instruments of their kind. While this is truest of the top-of-range CVP-709, the 701 gets a special nod as the sleeper value of the bunch. It offers most of what matters about its siblings — the smallish non-touch screen is the most visible compromise — for a lot less money than any of them.

As for the competition, your needs will determine whether there is or isn’t any. If all of the CVP-700s are beyond your budget, Yamaha’s Clavinova CLP line offers various options for a more traditional but still excellent “console” digital piano; the Casio Celviano family does a great job here at even lower prices. More upmarket, I love Blüthner digitals for their pure piano sound and daring design, but they can’t touch the Clavinovas for non-piano sounds, accompaniment, or educational features. If you want the same Yamaha CFX concert grand sound as in the new CVP line, but in a “straight” digital piano that visitors will swear is an acoustic upright, the Yamaha NU1 punches way above its price. All that said, if you need one instrument that provides both the pianistic excellence that will please traditionally inclined performers, students, educators, and parents, as well as enough electronic coaching and downright fun factor to keep beginners and casual players interested, the Clavinova Ensemble CVP-700 family simply has no peer.

Stephen Fortner has been a keyboardist since early childhood, and has played professionally since age 14. He was technical editor of Keyboard magazine from 2006 to 2009, its editor in chief from 2009 through 2015, and remains a regular contributor. He has since founded Fortner Media, a content and strategy firm serving the musical-instrument and consumer-technology industries. He can be reached at or see the original article here.

For more information or to see, hear and play one at Jordan Kitt’s Music, go here…

Yamaha Clavinova

Time Magazine names Yamaha Clavinova one of the 50 Most Influential Gadgets of All Time

Time Magazine names Yamaha Clavinova one of the 50 Most Influential Gadgets of All Time
You could argue the Minimoog did far more for music tech, or that the Fairlight was cooler, but visit average U.S. households from the 1980s forward and you’re most likely to encounter the Clavinova. Yamaha’s popular digital piano married the look and compactness of a spinet (a smaller, shorter upright piano) with the modern qualities of a modest synthesizer. With a plausibly pianistic weighted action and space-saving footprint, it’s become a staple for parents looking to bring maintenance-free musicality—you never have to tune it—into households, all without sacrificing huge swathes of living space.
Read more here…

Player Piano

It’s no longer your grandfather’s player piano

Was this your last recollection of what a player is? While it might be entertaining, probably not what you’d envision in your own living room. At least not for more than a weekend.

Yamaha has been at the cutting edge of player piano technology for over a quarter century, transmogrifying the cartoon of our childhood memories into an elegant, subtle work of art that can recreate the favorite songs of your most beloved artists right down the velocity of the original keystrike.

Introducing the Disklavier: true acoustic pianos that incorporate fiber optic sensing systems, high performance solenoids, and state-of-the-art computer technology. These pianos can very accurately record piano performances and play back with all of the expression and nuance of the original performance. These instruments have many capabilities that provide a wide range of entertainment and educational uses.

The Yamaha Disklavier E3 combines technology with tradition to open up a whole new world of musical possibilities to explore. The E3’s innovative features help you find your own customized way to relax. When you pick up the remote control, you are instantly ready to enjoy new music over the Internet or listen to an old favorite from your personal CD collection. The E3 also comes with built-in speakers as well as exclusive Yamaha CD’s, allowing you to start listening right away without a complicated set-up process. And no matter where you live, when you connect the E3 to the Internet, you gain access to a treasure trove of musical performances from the finest musicians in the world.

To learn more about Disklavier pianos, click here.

Tech CEO on Yamaha Disklavier: The One Item I Cannot Work Without

Mark_IV_Disklavier_Party sm web

The Yamaha Disklavier (Phil Libin not pictured)


Evernote’s Phil Libin began playing piano at age 41. Now, his company is more harmonious, too.

By Phil Libin, Co-Founder & CEO of Evernote

A new intern here recently asked me, “What’s the one item that you can’t work without?”

Can’t is too strong a word, but I did get something a few months ago that is helping my work more than I expected: an acoustic grand piano with a robot crammed into it, the Yamaha Disklavier E3.

Am I a musician? No. Do I know how to play the piano? Not exactly. Do I use the Disklavier at the office? No way. So how does it help me work? Well, here’s the thing: It’s an acoustic grand piano. With a robot crammed into it.

I spend about an hour a day sitting in front of the piano, teaching myself music theory and trying to play the sad theme from the end of the Incredible Hulk ’80s TV series. Trying to learn a big new skill, at the age of 41, is exhausting. And astonishingly brain stretching.

The Disklavier presents a completely new axis of learning. You can play, see your mistakes played back, download lessons and videos, play again. You can feel synapses firing and new connections being made. The best part is being completely stymied by a particular segment, giving up in frustration, and then coming back the next day and playing it through on the first try.

When you learn a new skill, you learn new patterns. And then you start seeing these patterns interwoven into the familiar world. The impenetrable becomes less so. Things you always knew, you now know better.

For instance, many musical pieces follow a common structure: a short preamble to set the stage, followed by a tonal phrase or “tonic,” then elaboration of a theme, and finally a return to the tonic at the very end. That return makes the piece feel psychologically complete. It provides a satisfying finish.

I never really grokked this until I started fiddling around on the piano. Now I see it everywhere: in speeches, in magazine articles, in successful software design, in compelling presentations, in a well-planned dinner menu. And now that I see it, I can make use of it. A small increase in my musical ability–from nonexistent to imperceptible–has given me a bigger lever with which to try to move the world.

Plus, I feel the effects at the office. I’m smarter than I was a few months ago, with new ways of seeing things, a new mental vocabulary, and greater cognitive dexterity. I feel more creative than ever, and I get more done every day.

Read more here.

The sad truth is, some used pianos are better off like this…

piano on fire

A bar owner celebrates the Summer Solstice each year with the burning of an older upright piano. While sad that a musical instrument of this complexity and craftsmanship is departing in such an incendiary way, the truth is that many older pianos that not been properly cared for are no longer capable of providing the beauty of tone and touch that make a piano such a joy to play. That’s why you should always rely on a respected dealer or technician from which to acquire a used piano, vs. Grandma’s or the neighbor’s old Kimball, which may, depending on many factors, be better off this fundraiser burning party. See Jordan Kitt’s current selection of Certified Used Pianos here…

Here is the story via the Journal Sentinal:

Julie and Dale Bladow looked on with even more interest than the rest of us. It was their piano that was about to be cremated.

Respectfully, of course. With all the dignity you can muster in the backyard of a saloon. And — this is the dangerously delicious part — while being played amid the smoke and flames. A final song or two, and then great balls of fire.

A crowd of maybe 75 assembled Sunday afternoon on lawn chairs and picnic tables outside the Roxbury Tavern, which is northwest of Madison near Sauk City. It was time for the 11th annual burning of a piano to mark the summer solstice.

Julie and three of her four children played this Kimball spinet, purchased used by the family about 1982. But the kids grew up and lost interest, and the piano was pulled from the living room during remodeling of their home in Mazomanie.

“We put it in the garage for what we thought would be a couple of months. It ended up being 13 years,” Julie said.

It’s a common story, said Tom Gresser, 72-year-old owner of Roxbury Tavern. Lots of people have pianos they don’t play anymore, though admittedly not all want them incinerated as a spectacle.

“Usually, we have more offers than we can accommodate. We could burn a half-dozen pianos a year,” he said.

The tradition began with Tom’s worn-out piano. He didn’t want to pay someone to haul it away. Someone suggested burning it, so they did.

You may be getting the sense that Roxbury is not your typical bar. Its motto is “Cognitive dissonance since 1989.” Early on, Tom took out the televisions, pool table and jukebox. He wanted this to be a place of conversation. He banned smoking before Wisconsin passed the law, and he doesn’t allow cursing.

But, damn, I just had to witness this piano burning party. It’s actually a fundraiser for Northwest Dane Senior Services to help older people maintain well-being and independence. Executive Director Paulette Glunn told me not everybody is crazy about the idea of torching rather than tickling the ivories, so they just say “hot piano” in their promotions.

Last year, they burned dueling pianos. They’ve never done a grand piano, but there’s always next year. Tom put a cheap Radio Shack microphone inside the piano one year to amplify the crackling until the heat got to it.

Music for Sunday’s event was presented by The Dang-Its. At 5 p.m. they packed up their instruments before anyone got any ideas about diversifying the musical fire. The band joked that attendance for the party would be even higher if the bar burned a banjo.

It was time for the main event. Larry Collins, a retired Presbyterian minister and jazz musician, took the microphone and delivered a brief eulogy of sorts. He said there’s a tradition in France of burning worn-out pianos as an honorable send-off, which may or may not be true. Wikipedia says something about the Royal Air Force doing it.

Larry also explained why a turkey wrapped in foil was placed atop the piano. There’s a burning ordinance banning bonfires. “So we put a turkey on top and call it a cookout.”

A few logs doused with an accelerant were placed against the back of the piano and ignited with a flaming section from The New York Times. Larry sat down on the bench and began to play, starting with “On Top of Old Smokey,” a bit of “Fire and Rain” and the beginning of “Summertime” until the keys stopped working.

“I think it’s about time to get out of the kitchen,” he said, backing away from the growing fire. “It’s not the heat that I worry about so much. It’s when those strings snap. When they get hot they can be almost like whips.”
Read the full story here