What is an Arranger Keyboard? (It’s Cool and you’ll Want One!)


Nowadays, there are so many different types of keyboards. There are keyboards for kids, digital pianos, synths, midi controllers that would look like a piano, and large keyboards with various features. If you are a piano player first, you probably only know how to play the piano and not the technical aspects of the features of a keyboard. Since classical grand pianos cost a fortune, there are a lot of alternatives that sound like the real thing. They may not have the feel of a genuine piano, but new keyboards have tons of features to help you as a musician and as a music producer.

One of them is an arranger keyboard. What does an arranger keyboard exactly do? An arranger keyboard is an instrument plus so much more. It has all the features of a digital piano, and the elements of an audio work station combined into one powerful device. If you are a piano or keyboard player and you also happen to be a producer, you should definitely check out what an arranger keyboard has to offer. Whether you are a performing musician or songwriter, you cannot go wrong with one of these powerful devices. With an arranger keyboard, you can replicate and create accompaniment tracks that can react to chord progressions and cues. 

Even without a band, a performer can arrange and cue in musical accompaniment and perform as If there is a full band. Arranger keyboards are recommended for solo performers, as well as music producers. With one device, you can create and track full songs with the built-in sampled instruments. One of the significant advantages an arranger keyboard has over a DAW is the performance-based features that you can use for home recording or live performances.

ARRANGER KEYBOARD FEATURES

If you are wondering what to look for when searching for an arranger keyboard, we will show you some of the fantastic features you should look for when buying one. Arranger keyboards may differ in some aspects, such as the number of keys and other functions. One thing is constant; an arranger keyboard can sound like a full band on and off the stage. Here are some of the features you want to look for when buying an arranger keyboard:

Number of Keys/ Weight

Among different models of these keyboards, they will differ in the number and weight of the keys. Before buying an arranger keyboard, or any keyboard for the matter, choose one that has enough keys to accommodate your needs. Also, consider a keyboard that has the best feel.

Sound Engine

The sound engine is a crucial part of choosing an arranger keyboard. Some of the high-end keyboards have a more powerful sound engine that can produce high-quality samples. Go for a keyboard that has the best classical grand sounds, as well as the most realistic brass, violin, and other sampled instruments. Most of the time, an expensive keyboard will have a better sound engine. However, most of the time, it is not the case.

Factory Presets

Choose an arranger keyboard that is loaded with factory presets that fit your music style. If you are a classical player, pick one with the best orchestra-sounding samples. If you are more on the pop or rock side of things, you can choose a keyboard that specializes in modern pop sounds. Some arranger keyboards will have more than what you need, and that is better. You’ll never know what musical genre you get into in the future. The best arranger keyboard will have a diverse selection of factory presets available in their arsenal.

Effects

Aside from factory presets, another thing you should consider when choosing a keyboard is the effects. You want to select a keyboard that has multiple effects. Not only that, you want a keyboard that lets you manipulate effects with the use of the pitch or modulation wheels to add more expression to your playing.

Sample Rate/ Bit Depth

This specification is more on the technical aspects of things. The sample rate and bit depth have something to do with the quality of how the samples were created. Some of these samples are recorded in world-class studios, which makes the price of the keyboard more expensive. Make sure you choose a keyboard that produces audio that makes you feel the real instrument.

Knobs and Controls

An excellent keyboard should have a lot of knobs to help you manipulate the settings easier. Fewer knobs and settings might attract the more minimalistic people, but you should consider the controls you need. For example—you want a single knob for each effect, so you do not have to go through different steps to adjust that effect in live shows or while recording. You want knobs that can sweep your filters and fade FX in song sequences. An X/Y pad would also be great to have.  

User Interface

The user interface is another thing that could seal the deal. This aspect of an arranger keyboard is based on what you prefer. If I were to choose a keyboard, I would choose one with an interface that has what I need where I want them. I want them user-friendly and accessible. It is better if the UI is like a phone, where you can delete what you don’t need and keep the features you need on the main menu.

USB MIDI Connectivity

Another useful feature to have in an arranger keyboard is a USB MIDI connection. Even though arranger keyboard has tons of built-in presets, It is always nice to mix them up with the sounds you have on your computer. Having more sounds can add more layers to your tracks and when playing live. If an arranger keyboard has this feature, you would not have bought a MIDI controller to record music on your DAW. I prefer to have a compact MIDI controller, but that is only my opinion.

Multiple Tones

An excellent feature for a keyboard is the ability to layer various tones all at once. Having layering features allows the user to bust out their creative side and create and save user presets.

Keyboard Splitting

Some keyboard players prefer a keyboard that has a splitting feature. A splitting feature means splitting two to three parts of your keyboard to use different tones at once. For example, for the lower octaves, the user can assign bass tones, and assign lead tones on the higher keys.

Bluetooth Connectivity

Some Midi controllers can be connected to your computer or mobile device via Bluetooth for more convenience. You can also use this feature to playback backing tracks for practice and live shows.

Input/ Output

Consider the types of inputs and outputs you will need. For recording purposes, it is ideal to have both ¼” jack and USB outputs. Most modern synths and keyboards have the necessary inputs and outputs for playing live as well as recording.

Sequencer

A sequencer is a tool used for arranging a sequence of a song or a performance. Arranger keyboards and keyboard workstations usually have these features. You can also sequence a song with a laptop or mobile device by using its software and apps.

Arpeggiator

An arpeggiator is a useful and productive feature in a keyboard and synth. This feature creates cool patterns for the tones. This feature is excellent for creating rhythms and enhance your songs. Some people call it cheating, but I think of it as another type of style that needs mastering as well.

Octave Shift/ Transposition

Some synthesizers that are shorter and have fewer keys have an octave shifter. This feature allows you to switch on which part of the keyboard you want to play. This feature allows you to transpose notes with a press of a button quickly.

Pitch and Modulation Wheel/ Stick

These features are usually sliding wheels on the left side of a keyboard or synth. These wheels are used to manipulate pitch and modulation in real-time. You can assign the pitch level up to octaves higher and lower. For sound, you can designate which effect type you want to control, such as filter, delay, reverb, slicer, etc.

Removable Media

An arranger keyboard needs to have the option to save and archive your user patches. Some people work for hours to get that perfect sound. Well, it is given that you can keep your user patches on a particular keyboard, but a useful feature is to have a way to export and save your patches on a different device such as a computer. If your keyboard gets damaged and it needs to get replaced or repaired, the patches you have worked on for hours will be gone if it doesn’t have this feature.  Another use for a feature like this is when you need space for new user presets. Even if you have 20 user preset slots, it still won’t be enough for some people.

Recorder/ MIDI/ WAV/ Mp3

An excellent feature for an arranger keyboard is to have the ability to record MIDI, Wav, or Mp3 files that you can use as samples for live shows and recording purposes as well. While most Keyboard Workstations will have this feature, not all arranger keyboards can import from a computer or export to a computer.

Design

The design of the arranger keyboard is another thing to look at. Choose one that fits your style and aesthetic. However, the style must be secondary to function. You must choose the functions suitable for you before deciding based on the design. You should also consider the material and durability of the device. If you will be moving around a lot and use the keyboard for gigs or mobile recording, consider getting a sturdy keyboard.

Vocoder

Like some of the compact synthesizers, some arranger keyboards will feature a vocoder where you can add effects to your voice as you play the keys. It is kind of like a talkbox or harmonizer, but not exactly. If you have ever listened to “Daft Punk,” you’ll get an idea of what a vocoder sounds like.

Upgradable RAM/ ROM/ and Hard Drive

Upgrading the ram or interchanging the hard drive is an excellent feature to have in an arranger keyboard. Having a higher RAM can extend your sampling time. Getting a hard drive upgrade can also help in having more space for creating more songs within the workstation.

TOP ARRANGER KEYBOARDS

  1. KORG PA4X

(Price: $3,900 to $4,300)

On almost any list of arranger keyboards, I guarantee that this particular arranger keyboard will pop up. There is a reason why the KORG PA4X is always on top. It is one of KORG’s most valued creations. Overall, it is a fantastic keyboard that will suit your every need. From the design to how it sounds, there is only one way to describe it; Incredible. Although it may be a little bit on the high-end of things, it will not disappoint. For serious music producers and keyboard players, this is the powerhouse workstation for you.

It is equipped with both realistic and expressive sounds. It also has an intuitive layout and user interface that is perfect for a smooth workflow. Everything is ergonomically designed within reach of the user. It comes in two variants; the 61 and 76-semi weighted keys with aftertouch technology.

Key Features:

  • Over 1,900 sounds
  • Equipped with DNC (Defined Nuance Control) for real-time sound articulation
  • Three assignable switches that can trigger different note articulations
  • 4-way joystick
  • Ribbon Controller
  • Improved guitar sounds
  • Over 580 built-in Styles
  • Chord Sequencer
  • 2 Mp3/ MIDI file players
  • KORG KAOSS Functionality
  • 148 effect types with
  • Four inserts and three master effects for accompaniment
  • One insert and two master effects for keyboard
  • Vocal effects powered by TC HELICON voice processing
  • Adjustable 7-inch TouchView Display

With that many features, there is no wonder why the KORG PA4X is always on top of the list. However, if you are on a strict budget, you can purchase KORG’s lower-end models, such as the KORG Pa900 and the KORG Pa300, for a lower price.

  • YAMAHA PSR-S975

(Price: $2,000)

Considering this product is YAMAHA’s best arranger keyboard, the price is pretty reasonable. It has 61 keys with the initial touch feature. This feature is similar to velocity-sensitivity. However, unlike in velocity-sensitive keys, initial touch produces other characteristics of the sound when you hit the key harder. For example— a hard hit on one of the keys can trigger certain effects such as a stab or staccato. The USB audio playback feature is rare in arranger keyboards. This feature allows you to import your own tracks and samples into the arranger keyboard. The design is very sleek and simple compared to the others.

Key Features:

  • Initial Touch feature
  • AWM stereo sampling sound engine
  • 1090 voices
  • 523 styles with multiple variations
  • Yamaha Expansion Manager
  • Intuitive layout
  • 7-inch LCD screen
  • Vocoder
  • ROLAND E-A7

(Price: $1,400)

Roland really blew our minds with this affordable arranger keyboard. The company collaborated with professional musicians and producers to capture the best sounds and jammed it into this stylish and functional device. If you want diversity in your sound arrangements, The ROLAND E-A7 is the keyboard for you. One of the best features in this arranger keyboard is the unlimited space for user presets. You can have your way to tweak and store your sounds. Another thing that is worth mentioning is the import function. As far as editing and sound design, this keyboard is the best one on the list for that particular aspect.

Key Features:

  • Split functionality
  • Over 1,500 sounds
  • Over 600 presets with unlimited storage via internal memory or USB
  • Chord detection for SMF files
  • 6 Master EQ presets
  • 6 Reverb types
  • 2 Delays
  • Six pads for triggering phrases including one “stop” pad
  • Dual displays

If you are looking for a budget-friendly arranger keyboard that has a lot of diverse sounds, the ROLAND E-A7 is worth considering. However, it lacks a variety in the effects aspect, and it does not include a vocoder.

ARRANGER KEYBOARD VS KEYBOARD WORKSTATION

While these two options share a lot of similarities. A keyboard workstation is a complete version of an arranger keyboard. You get most of the functions on your DAW in this one keyboard device. You can create full-pledged tracks as if you are a professional producer using a soundboard or console. Usually, keyboard workstations are more massive than arrangers because of its complete workstation features. If you are more a composer than a performer, a keyboard workstation is a machine for you.

RELATED QUESTIONS:

  • Can I record full songs on an arranger keyboard?

Yes and No? Yes, because you have so many instruments in your reach. Aside from that, you also have a way of recording and editing them using the same device. No, because you can’t record vocals with an arranger keyboard. Although, you can record samples of vocals that you can put on your tracks to record a full song. So, yes, you can record an entire song in an arranger keyboard. Another option is to record vocal tracks using your computer and export it to your keyboard workstation or arranger.

  • What are the other types of keyboards and Pianos?
  • PIANO

A piano, also known as an acoustic piano, is commonly used in classical music by composers like Beethoven and Mozart. The classical grand piano is bulky, so it might not be an ideal choice for a bedroom music studio. 

However, if an acoustic piano what you need for your home studio, make sure you provide enough space for it. If you don’t have enough space, you can still get the “Grand Piano” sound from virtual instruments and most modern keyboards. Piano players, however, prefer the feel of the weighted keys of an actual grand piano.

  • DIGITAL GRAND PIANOS

Digital grand pianos are modern types of grand pianos. They are much smaller than acoustic grand pianos. If you are composing a pop, rock, jazz, or funk song, digital pianos can get the job done. They usually have more versatility when it comes to sounds and presets suitable for different genres. The digital piano plays back high-quality recordings recorded from acoustic pianos, instead of steel strings hammered like an old-school piano.

  • SYNTHESIZER

Synthesizers are fascinating instruments with sounds from the 80s and modern music. A synthesizer produces modern electronic sounds that suites electronic, pop, EDM, house, dubstep, and rock music. There are two types of synthesizers, analog synth, and modular synth.

Modular synths are usually more prominent and get their sound by connecting it to different modules. The various modules manipulate the sounds by connecting them using wires.

Analog synths are usually smaller, depending on the number of keys. Their sound modules are built-in and can be edited and controlled by knobs and buttons.

  • MIDI KEYBOARD CONTROLLER

A keyboard Midi controller is used for live gigs and for recording at home. These are most common for home music studios. Midi controllers do not have any built-in sounds. The sound has to come from a source software.

CONCLUSION

Most producers often overlook arranger keyboards because nowadays, you don’t need something as expensive and bulky to create music. All you need nowadays is a laptop or even just a mobile device. However, if you are a piano player as well as a songwriter and producer, I suggest you check one of these arranger keyboards and workstations. You would probably like the features and the convenience of songwriting using one of these. If you get bored with making music on your computer, with a keyboard arranger/workstation, you can mix the process up a bit. Using a workstation keyboard can improve your workflow,

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