28 November, 2016
The parts of a traditional piano have changed very little for hundreds of years.
The keys are black and white in color, just like when classical musical greats like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Sebastian Bach were alive.
But now an electronic, piano-like musical instrument replaces those keys with surfaces that react to touch.
A start-up company called ROLI began selling the electronic keyboard in 2013. The keyboard is known as Seaboard. It does not have the same white and black keys as a piano. Instead it is made from soft, rubbery materials.
Roland Lamb is the inventor of Seaboard and a jazz piano player. He says he invented Seaboard so he could create different kinds of sounds with the instrument.
"I wanted to be able to express more from the keyboard and create the kinds of sounds and modulations that people could create on a bass or a guitar or a saxophone. And I was sitting at the piano and thinking why can't I strike a note and then slide it and move it."
The way a person touches the keys on a Seaboard affects the instrument's sound. This new technology enables the player to create sounds that traditional pianos cannot make.
Marco Parisi is a classical pianist. He likes Seaboard very much and says he is always learning something new he can do with it.
"This is the most expressive instrument I ever played. And to be able to use my piano technique and make that expressive changed my world."
Roland Lamb notes it would be harder for him to go back to playing a traditional piano.
But Seaboard is not Lamb's only interesting musical invention. His latest creation is called Blocks. It is a small, black box with a screen like a smartphone. When a person presses on the box in different places, Blocks produces different sounds. Pressing harder or softer changes the intensity of the musical notes.
Lamb says the best thing about Blocks is that it is easy to use. Colored images on the screen represent different kinds of sounds. Blocks can record combinations of sounds. And people can buy and combine other devices to use with the small box.
Lamb says he designed Blocks so that almost anyone can make top quality music.
"Now I know the possibilities that one can access through new technologies and new sounds."
Several world-famous music artists use Blocks. They include Grimes, Steve Aoki and RZA.
RZA helped demonstrate how to use Blocks at a special event ROLI held in New York in November. The performer had high praise for the device.
"Music is something that you feel," he said. "Whether you know how to make music or not, or play music traditionally, when you start playing with this, you will find your voice."
I'm Pete Musto.
VOA's Deborah Block reported on this story. Pete Musto adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
We want to hear from you. Have you ever wanted to learn how to play an instrument? What kind of music would you make if you could? Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.
Words in This Story
piano – n. a large musical instrument with a keyboard that you play by pressing black and white keys and that produces sound when small hammers inside the piano hit steel wires
jazz – n. a type of American music with lively rhythms and melodies that are often made up by musicians as they play
modulation(s) – n. gradual movement from one system of musical tones based on a scale to another
classical – adj. relating to music in a European tradition that includes opera and symphony and that is generally considered more serious than other kinds of music
technique – n. the way that a person performs basic physical movements or skills
screen – n. the usually flat part of a television or computer monitor that shows the images or text