The KEYS to the Grand Piano

Keith White
10 November, 2012
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iRigKEYS is a fully-featured mini keyboard controller from IK Multimedia that connects to your iOS device through a special cable or via a standard micro-USB cable to your Mac. I’m currently hooked into GarageBand on my iMac and I’m using iRigKEYS to create short incidental music pieces for a documentary I’m working on. Because it’s so small and so light it’s very quick and easy to set up and doesn’t take up space to anywhere near the same extent as a standard keyboard. That said, it’s not that easy to play, with my AFL-type fingers. But then I’m not a keyboard player. I know where all the notes are and how to play chords, but not in real time. And it’s not meant to be a substitute for a full-size keyboard but rather a handy option when creative ideas sneak up on you.

The keyboard consists of 37 velocity-sensitive keys with programmable velocity levels. The pitch range sits roughly in the middle of a standard keyboard between C2 and C5. Two soft touch backlit buttons take you higher or lower if you wish. If playing all those sharps and flats is too hard for you you can transpose the keyboard in semitones. In other words if the dreaded key of C sharp is required, simply transpose the keyboard up one semi-tone, continue to play in C and let the iRigKEYS do the transposing for you. Very handy if you’re a keyboard hack like me.

Other features include modulation and pitch bend wheels and input for either sustain or expression pedals. A volume knob controls the output level and there are a full range of MIDI functions. if you want to store a group of settings the unit offers four configurable presets for one-button action. Access to all these functions is quite intuitive and doesn’t require previous knowledge of keyboard operation. Well not much, anyway.

I’m now hooking into my iPad with the second cable and again into GarageBand. An indicator light tells me I’ve switched from USB to iOS.  I can use KEYS to play and record notes and there’s a lot more finger space and ease-of-use then playing the on-screen keyboard on the iPad. The downside is that you miss out on the extra features such as auto chord and arpeggio generation.

iRigKEYS $129.95 from the Apple Store.

If you’re into pianos have a listen to the free version (two pianos) of iGrand Piano. This app, also from IK Multimedia, claims to offer “17 different world-class sampled pianos.” I don’t know about world-class but they do sound pretty good. They range from the concert grand to the rock ‘n’ roll upright. You get seven models on purchase, one on registration, and the remaining nine as an expansion pack via in-app purchase. Each keyboard has a range of adjustable parameters; volume, ambience (reverb), brightness and release. You can also alter the sound by sliding the lid open and closed. Transpose and tuning functions let you control the pitch. Key Labels displays the note names of all the white keys. Handy for beginners.

There is a fully-featured MIDI recorder built-in which includes a graphic metronome and a tap tempo option. Three classical melodies are included and the keys highlight as they are played for you to follow. The on-screen keyboard in this mode can zoom out to the full 88 keys or zoom in to a two-octave selection.

iGrand Piano from iTunes store $20.99. Expansion pack  $10.49

These two recent releases from from IK Multimedia add to their already impressive arsenal of mobile musical hardware and software innovations. While no substitute for the real deal they nevertheless offer musicians the opportunity for serendipitious creativity anytime, anywhere. While iGrand for me is a pleasant distraction but an obvious boon for piano students, iRigKEYS is a most useful addition to my multimedia workstation.

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