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The Yamaha DGX-220 MIDI Portable Keyboard
Musical Nirvana or Mayhem, You Choose

Francis Vale

I am an avid music lover; in fact I am totally promiscuous.  I will avidly listen to and enjoy most anything that’s well played, be it rock, jazz, classical, emo, death metal, you name it. But, I can’t play a single note. 

Put a page of sheet music in front of me and it might as well be written in Manchu. Those lines, blobs and squiggles marching across the paper strike me as some mysterious cipher that only a privileged few get to understand. So when I was offered the opportunity to review a Yamaha DGX-220 Portable Grand digital piano I thought, hey, it’s time I became part of the secret musical fraternity.

 

 

The DGX-220 MIDI portable keyboard with its 76 full size keys is an amazingly sophisticated piece of technology. In the well-written manual I learned it has a 32-note maximum polyphony, which to me meant absolutely nothing. Digging further, I discovered the DGX-220 could play up to 32 notes at once no matter what functions are used.

For example, when you select auto accompaniment, the reservoir of available notes is reduced, and if you exceed the available note supply, the earlier played notes will be cut off and the most recent notes get priority.  I tried humming a 32-note polyphonic tune to educate myself about this, but I just made strange faces that scared away the neighbors.

It was when I saw the DGX-220 Panel Voice list that I finally realized this ersatz digital Steinway wasn’t in Kansas anymore. In fact, Oz began to look downright black and white. I saw Grand piano voicing as an option; well, I expected that. But “Cool! Galaxy Electric Piano” was not on my reasonable expectation menu. Ditto, “Venus Electric Piano.” I counted 12 different piano voices, including six regular piano and six electric piano settings.

From there, things quickly spiraled down the musical rabbit hole as I tried to keep up with this mad hatter’s bag of electrical tricks. You want organ? How about thirteen variants, spanning such well-known church going faves like, ”Cool! Organ”, “Purple Organ”, “Bright Organ”, and for you small scale worshippers, “Chapel Organ”. If you can’t find harmonic salvation on this list you are decidedly doomed. But you could pick up your spirits, and maybe a monkey sidekick, and select one of the DGX-220’s five accordion voices. 

If ivory-keyed piano music is not your musical bag, then the DGX-220 will help you find your inner Jimi Hendrix (10 different guitar voices), or Ray Brown (8 different bass voices), Jascha Heifetz (12 different string voices), Mahalia Jackson (4 different choir voices), Dexter Gordon (11 different saxophone voices, including a what’s-it-doing-here bassoon), Miles Davis (7 different trumpet voices—love the tuba!), Count Basie (6 different brass voices), or Matt Molloy (7 different flute voices).

But wait, all you musical Ginsu fans!  There’s more!

You also have 7 different synth Lead voices, including a who-could-ever-forget Sawtooth lead. Then go play with the Synth Pad and its 5 settings. And where would a Grand Piano be without a percussion backup?  Solos are for pussies. So dig into the 8 percussion styles, including those mojito-rocking steel drums. Naturally, you need drum kits to keep things in time and in line, so choose from one of their 11 possible voices.

Should you have extra time on your hands after exploring all these possibilities for musical mayhem, you could try Yamaha’s XGlite Voice/XGlite Optional Voice list, which adds 360 more choices, with something for every above voice style category--Not to mention those 48 added sound effects in case your podcast opus needs a squeaking door, braying horse, starship cruiser, crashing car or other such to get it right. John Cage would have freaked out in joy had he been around to lay his hands on a DGX-220.

But where would you be without a musical style list if you can’t make up your febrile composer mind? The DGX-220 gives you 150 automated styles to choose from, all the way from 60’s guitar pop to a Scottish reel.  That should be enough to get you ready to use the DGX-220 to make your Net block buster recoding, which can include a total of 6 tracks: 5 melody tracks and 1 style track, and each track can be recorded individually. Use the keyboard’s USB port to squirt the memorized recording into your computer.

Still suffering from musician’s block? Have a look at the supplied music database list and its 267 selections, or listen to one of the 70 songs on the furnished CD ROM. Because too much of anything is never enough, you can also download songs (SMF format 0) off the Net onto your computer and upload them to the DGX-220.

And all I wanted to do was to learn to play something like chopsticks without embarrassing myself.

Altogether, this sonic potpourri adds up to 489 voices, 30 built-in songs, 150 auto accompaniment styles, 9 channels of reverb, and 32 polyphonic channels.  If you suffer from attention deficit disorder, the DGX-220 may not be the best choice…

I figure that if you worked out all the musical permutations the DGX-220 offers, you run up to somewhere in the range of all the atoms in the known universe, maybe even a couple more--And you can find the DGX-220 selling on-line for as little as 302 bucks. As remarkable, the DGX-220 is just 46” wide, 16” deep and weighs a scant 18 pounds. When they talked about the revolution being televised, they got it all wrong. It’s probably being listened to as you read this.

For all its complexity and musical possibilities, kudos to Yamaha for making all the mind-bending capabilities of the DGX-220 easily accessible and controllable. Most setup selections boil down to using just four mode buttons, Song, Easy Sound Arranger, Style, and Voice, and a data entry wheel or keypad for directly choosing a particular selection within a mode group. From there, you choose other options, like dual voice mode that will play a second voice in addition to the main voice you selected.

A Split Mode button lets your OCD symptoms get even more out of control, as you decide what voice you want played to the left of the keyboard split point. You could, for example, press the ACMP button and use the left hand side keys to control auto accompaniment.

If you also have a right brain/left brain power struggle thing going on, the two camps can happily duke it out on the Yamaha’s split mode keyboard; although if you feel the urge to suddenly start cross-dressing you may have some explaining to do.

If it gets totally out of control, hit the chord free mode and smack down that free thinking left hand and just play simple one hand melodies with your logically driven right. Although mind that left keyboard half, as your right brain can still sneak in a few freewheeling chord licks.

The GGX-220 has all kinds of easy instruction goodies for formal music idiots like me. Pick a lesson song, decide if you want single or two hand practice, look at the note with its matching key as shown in the display, and begin.  If you suffer from performance anxiety the DGX-220 will patiently wait until you play the correct note.  But to become a truly authentic 19th century German piano teacher experience, it should have an automated ruler that snaps out and raps your knuckles when you tarry too long. 

The DGX-220 still gets in its critical licks, though, because it evaluates your performance when you’ve completed a song lesson. It ranks you from excellent to OK.  There is no piss poor grade, as apparently Yamaha wants to be politically correct and not bruise your tender sensibilities. 

Instead, there is a repeat and learn button that will back up the lesson four measures from the point at which you hit the switch. It will then keep on repeating those four god awfully played measures until mommy says you can finally eat your now ice cold supper.

If you get past all that, you can move on to arranging and recording your own songs. Press the Easy Song Arranger button, choose some hapless song, select a style, instrument voice, and melody and do a mashup.

As other members of the household may not have your musical sophistication to appreciate hearing Fruhlingsstimmen done in 70’s disco style using Distortion guitar, the DGX-220 mercifully has a headphone jack.

Does the DGX-220 all make sense?  You bet!  I cannot think of another 300 dollars you can spend that will give back so much fun, pleasure, and provide such a truly great music learning experience.

Bravo, Yamaha.

21st, The VXM Network, http://www.vxm.com

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