arranger, keyboard, Korg, synth, Triton

Arranger or Workstation?

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Keyboards synthesizers are great for songwriting. You can test out your arrangements using a reasonable approximation of most instruments. The right synth can also provide little seeds of inspiration. So, even though, most of my song end up being played on guitar, composing on a synth has definitely open things for me.

I am looking for two things when choosing a songwriting keyboard: a vast range of sounds and inspiring “combi” presets. The former is to be able to demo complete songs with reasonable imitations of band instruments (guitars, pads, strings, pianos, etc.). The later is for these times when I’m looking for inspiration and just need a place to start. A few years back, this led me to choosing the Korg Triton workstation.

However, I have heard from many songwriters that arranger keyboards make better songwriter companions than full-blown workstations. Apparently, they are quite popular in Nashville, but I must say, I would not be cut dead using one. They all have this very “Casio” look to them with integrated speakers and colored buttons. I dunno…

What about you, would you give arrangers a chance?

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8 thoughts on “Arranger or Workstation?

  1. Howie says:

    ______________________________________________________I would not be cut dead using one. They all have this very “Casio” look to them with integrated speakers and colored buttons. I dunno…
    ——————————————————

    Are you serious? Sorry, but your comment reeks of elitism. They don’t ALL have coloured buttons and integrated speakers (as if this were some impediment). Maybe you need to get out more and actually put your hands on a modern high-end arranger from the major manufacturers (i.e., Korg, Yamaha, Ketron, Roland, etc.). You will, however, need to venture further than Toys ‘R Us or Wal Mart.

    These days, the line between Workstations and Arrangers is so blurred as to be almost invisble.

    Briefly, as far as songwriting goes, and depending largely on the genre of music in which you work, arrangers can be likened somewhat to a ‘point and shoot’ camera in the sense that you can generate and develop your musical ideas on the fly. Workstations, on the other hand, are what the name implies – they require more ‘work’ in programming sounds, arps, etc. And it’s as well to remember that all top end arrangers now have capabilities that were the domain of workstations not so long ago.

    Also, let’s not forget that the single most important feature of any keyboard, high- or low-end, is between your own ears.

  2. Hi Howie,

    I think you are totally right: i’m just being silly 😉 However, I think there’s some psychological thing going on here. Of course, Korg’s PA line and Yamaha’s Tyros do not look “unprofessional” (they even look better than some workstations), yet you rarely see anyone playing live with them. In fact, I have never seen anyone do that.

    Call me crazy, but I still think there’s a stigma attached to any type of instrument that plays itself. Kind of like lip-sincing…

  3. Howie says:

    You’re correct in saying that there’s some sort of stigma attached to arrangers. But this is entirely down to a general ignorance which is fostered by comments such as “instrument that plays itself”. I’m afraid you’re part of the problem.

    I know by that statement alone that you’ve never played an arranger. You can take it from me, who gigs with a Korg i30 arranger, that these keyboards most certainly do not do anything by themselves. You know, I’ve had people come up to me and say “oh, you only press a button and it plays a tune”. So I invite them to press a button and play me a tune. Guess what, I haven’t had any takers yet.

    I’ve played keyboards of all types in bands for close to 50 years and believe me, an arranger demands as much attention to accuracy in playing as any keyboard I’ve ever encountered. If I play a wrong note, the whole ‘band’ plays a wrong note or chord. If I mis-time a ‘fill’ the whole timing of the song is thrown off. The amount of time required in “tweaking” and setting up arrangements is staggering. I have over 150 songs in my repertoire in many genres; rock, ballads, latin, jazz. etc., and each is carefully put together over several weeks.

    Don’t be misled by these salesmen who crank out “In The Mood” in the key of C ad nauseum in mall music stores and try to flog you the idea that anyone can play an arranger. It ain’t so. It’s a craft, like any other musical endeavour – it takes practice, practice, practice to do it properly.

    Do yourself, and others you discuss this subject with, a favour. Visit some arranger keyboard forums online. Better yet, go to a ‘proper’ music store and spend some time with an arranger, and have the salesman go through what the board is capable of. I think you’ll come away with a different point of view, and maybe even a wonderful instrument with which to express your musical ideas.

  4. Howie,
    Actually, it’s not just arrangers. Stephen Kay down at <a HREF=”http://www.karma-lab.com” rel=”nofollow”>Karma Labs</a> is often faced with people who have never used Karma and think it is just an “arpegiator”.
    I like his approach. Instead of getting upset, he quietly works on getting the technology inside professional workstations such as the OASYS and the new M3. Then, he let musicians do the talking. And talk they talk 😉
    For your information, Stephen worked on the Korg range of interactive arranger (such as the i30). He actually got the idea for Karma while working for Korg in Japan.
    It’s not ignorance, it’s just a personnal preference. I can give you a hundred reasons, but I know they don’t make sense 😉 As I said it’s just silly.
    Actually, I’m quite tempted to try one. Before buying the Triton, I was tempted by the one of the PA range. I’m just not willing to pay full price for one (in Canada, they are just as expensive as full worktations). Mhhhmm…hitting EBay right now…

    Take it easy…

  5. I still think that arrangers are just for one man band performers who plays around alone… not for production purpouse at all. Finding inspiration from a sound is a good point of view, but find inspiration in an arrangement will produce a sort of copy of other people works…
    Even to play live in a band, an arranger don’t find its placement for sure… even if they have incredible sounds like tyros or similar they can’t compete with workstation or synth in these two areas.
    That’s for sure that a big musician can play anything having good results… but check composer and performers websites and look if they have an arranger in their rigs…
    Regards, Lorenzo

  6. Lorenzo,

    Regarding sound quality, correct me if I’m wrong but doesn’t the Korg PA serie share the same “HI” synthesis as with the Triton and Karma boards? Wouldn’t it then provide the same theorical sound quality?

    Also, funny enough, but in Asia, arrangers are apparently quite popular. There is no negative stiga attached to them over there 😉 What about Italy?

  7. Howie says:

    If you re-read my earlier comment you’ll see that I’m not accusing you personally of ignorance, I do accept it’s a matter of your personal preference. I am, however, saying that your generalising comment adds to a widespread ignorance of the validity of arrangers.

    Not meaning to jump in ahead of Lorenzo’s reply to your last point, but I do think there’s a much greater acceptance of arrangers in Europe and other parts of the world than in North America. Do a search on YouTube and most of the stuff that pops up originates in Europe and the Middle East.

    Cheers, Howie.

  8. I own a Korg PA1X-Pro and I think it’s great. The sounds are right out of the Triton engine and it has a lot of cool features that enable you to construct a professional sounding arrangement of your song. As a songwriter I appreciate this. The comment that arrangers are favored in Europe and elsewhere is right on the money. In fact, the PA-1X Pro is made in Italy.

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