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Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Making Music Part 1: I fell in love with a dying keyboard

Like many, I tried to learn an instrument from a young age, and also like many, I was terrible. I've always been a more image-y kind of guy. My instrument was the piano, but neither my parents nor the teacher could really motivate me to play. I even had a nice electric keyboard, but I rarely turned it on to do anything but laugh at the synthesized orchestra hits.

One day, I stumbled on a YouTube video of a guy called Jake Shimabukuro playing ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ on a ukulele and felt deep in my gut that this was a feat I had to accomplish.

So I bought a ukulele, found the tab, and it was the first thing I learned. To this day it’s still the most complicated piece I can play (mediocrely), though I'm in the process of transcribing Chopin’s nocturne op. 9 no. 2.

From then on, learning to play was a challenge I'd gladly face. Ukuleles are plain fun to use even if you're just pumping out musical gibberish, and taking it seriously presents a very unique kind of challenge, like learning a new language.

During uni I felt like rekindling my piano skills to see what I'd retained. But my uni dorm was small. Really small. Enough room for a bed, a desk and chair. There might have been space for an extra person, if they were standing and the door were closed. A keyboard would not fit.

After a little searching on eBay, I spied a keyboard with a few octaves missing (four instead of the normal seven) and snatched it up. Only when it arrived did I see that not only were there fewer keys, but they were smaller too. Truly the ukulele equivalent of a piano.

And it's gorgeous. Boasting nine instruments (including the world's simplest drum machine), it can be played out and about for the low low cost of six DD batteries. But the sound, oh the sound. The beauty that pours out of this machine is something hipsters can only dream of emulating.

I had no idea what I had bought but it was perfect. I didn't care that I'd retained nothing from my childhood because just pressing the keys was, and still is, a joy. The way the tones crumble when you press too many keys at once and how the circuitry is slowly coming apart produces a sound I find absolutely heartbreaking.

It may not be long for this world, so I quested to save it while I still can.

Over the last week I've been learning Ableton Live, a surprisingly approachable music program, sampling the whole keyboard to make digital versions of all the tones. With help from friends and tutorials, I’ve managed to get past the interface, learned the magic words, and come to terms with the software.

So here it is. It took me a couple of days to clean, trim and master, but if you'd like to play a digital version of my keyboard, now you can too.

Dropbox Link

Now that I can make any sound I desire, nothing should be able to stop me from writing my own songs, right?

Subscribe for part 2: If music is the food of the soul, I can only make baked beans.

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