Electronic Musical Keyboard
Reading music notation has always been a problem for many people and our Making Notes series should go a long way towards helping the understanding of traditional notation. Another alternative is the Klavarscribo method but, despite the appearance of graphic and simplified stave VDU displays for micro computer music programs, nothing innovative utilising high technology electronics has been offered. Not until the Casiotone 701!
The 701 has two outstanding features — its ability to 'read music' and also to be able to 'program' your own music. Some preparation of the music is in fact required (see photo) and consists of a series of vertical lines of two widths, divided into rows that form three sections. These bar codes hold digital information (very much like the strips on many supermarket goods) for melody pitch/rests, their duration and accompanying chords. They are manually scanned from left to right, starting with the top row and working down the rows in order, which connects at the instrument's rear and looks like a rather fat biro. The music printed on the reverse of the supplied cards (about A4 size) shows the melody and chords names (guitar style), as well as simple instructions for loading the program and suggestions for instrument sounds and rhythm.
The programming capabilities of the instrument let you enter your own melody and chords from the keyboard and both this method and reading with the light pen will synchronise the instrument's rhythms, arpeggios and auto bass to melodies and chords on selection of a rhythm preset.
The 701 is a polyphonic instrument that has 20 preset sounds and 16 drum rhythms that operate in three modes. In Normal mode, it becomes an eight-note polyphonic instrument over its full five octave keyboard — up to now, Casio have used four octaves maximum. In Figured chord mode, the left hand two octaves play your four-note chords, leaving the three upper octaves for melodies or chords (also up to four notes). Left hand information is constantly scanned by the instrument's digital micro system so that with 'memory' on, the notes played are held on after release of keys. Casiochord is the third mode and provides an auto accompaniment from the rhythm selected and note(s) pressed in the lower two octaves C-B (labelled clearly with red and green LED indicators).
The three most used chords of major, minor and dominant seventh are obtained by playing the correct chord root as the lowest note for major and simply adding any second or second/third note for minor and seventh. Minor 7th, major 7th, diminished and augmented chords are also possible. Once a rhythm is started, the accompaniment chords play in a suitable syncopation to it and a walking bass joins it all up nicely, leaving you to add the melody.
In this section there is choice of an 'octave down' and a useful arpeggio accompaniment that runs up and down two octaves of the 'figured' or 'auto' chord. There's also an 'accompaniment tone set' switch that programs the sound for the accompaniment independently from the melody by simply moving the switch on and off. Whatever instrument is selected at the time will be stored leaving you to change to another sound for melody if you wish. Changes can be made frequently during a piece if you are agile enough!
A choice of 16 rhythms are available from eight push buttons and a channel select switch, including: Bossa Nova, Samba, Swing 1&2, Disco Rock, March, Boogie, Waltz, Jazz Waltz, Rumba, Beguine, Tango and Mambo. The rhythms are derived from bass drum, side drum, high and low bongoes, clave, hi-hat and cymbals. The bass drum sound has a very short decay that is adequate but lacking in body. The cymbal does sound like filtered White Noise! The rest of the sounds are quite usable. Bearing in mind the big improvement in analogue drum sounds of late, Casio still have some way to go although the variety of rhythms makes them fun to use. 'Start/Stop' and 'Synchro' buttons are provided, the latter starting the rhythm when the left hand is played. An LED shows every beat prior to play and then changes to new bar pulse indication. Two rotary controls set 'Tempo' and 'Balance' of accompaniment with melody. There are two sound effects buttons that can be manually triggered for high and low filtered downward pitch sweeps — giving a 'Star Wars' flavour to your music! In addition there is a 'drum fill' touch plate on the front of the keyboard panel that gives some interesting solo breaks.
Twenty preset sounds can be selected here from 10 select buttons and a channel select switch, including: Jazz Organ 1&2, Flute/Piccolo, Tibia/Full Tibia, Diapason/Woodwind, Pipe Organ/Brilliant Organ, Piano/Electric Piano, Vibraphone/Marimba, Celeste/Chime, Oboe/Bassoon, Funky/Wah Brass. I have listed all of the presets because some compromises have obviously been made. First, many of the sounds have a distinct 'organ' tone and this reduces the potential offered by 20 presets. Nevertheless, the organ sounds are quite pleasant, especially jazz organ and pipe organ. Some instruments definitely need more top (which is filtered off quite sharply) — the vibraphone in particular lacks the 'padded stick against the bar' feel. Some are simple octave/filtered variants of their partner e.g. flute/piccolo. Funky and Wah Brass are not anything of the sort and you'll notice Casio's nice string sound is not evident. I do like the flute, piccolo, electric piano, oboe, vibraphone and organs (although the latter lack top mixtures at times). There's plenty to experiment with considering presets are not the big feature on the 701.
The basic effects of sustain (about two seconds) and vibrato can be applied to the presets, with fixed delay and two degrees of depth/speed for vibrato to choose from.
So far I have discussed the controls that appear on the first half of the panel from left to right. The second half consists entirely of the programming 'memory play' controls. Entering music with the light pen is as follows. First, the control mode has to be selected. We can either be recording a melody, chord sequence, using melody guide, or be in normal play. This latter mode is required plus 'Memory Play' and 'Memory Store' buttons on. A three-digit display shows 000. The light pen is moved left to right along the coded lines in turn. At the end of a line there is a 'peep' for a correct entry or a low 'pop' for an error, which is also displayed e.g. E03 = error on line three. A correct entry shows P03, indicating pitch entered for line three. The length of notes and rests is entered next e.g. L01 etc. Finally chord sequences, shown as C01 etc. A complete entry gives 000 back on the display.
To playback, the MS (Memory Store) button is released and then the Memory Play button will start, stop or continue the digitally coded music. The 701 then gives a perfect rendering of the chosen music — it's 'Jingle Bells' on the example shown (and played on E&MM Cassette No 5) — with your selected drum pattern (yes, it gets it right for all the presets!), three-note chord and bass line accompaniment plus the melody. Selection of the preset sound for both melody and accompaniment can be changed as already mentioned. With the rhythm switched off using the 'start/stop' button, you'll hear the melody only and at any time the tempo can be set to play the music faster or slower. In addition, you can play along with the music using up to three notes on the keyboard. As if that was not enough, the LEDs (green for black notes and red for white notes) light up the melody line notes.
If you wish, you can practice the 'timing' of the stored melody by using two fingers in turn on the dual 'One Key Play' buttons.
Switching to 'Melody Guide' mode gives you the opportunity to learn the melody (with or without the music) by playing the note indicated by the illuminated LED. As soon as you do this, the next note's LED lights and so on.
In 'Record Melody' mode (i.e. to play your own melody), the bar code is wiped off the memory with Play, Reset/Delete buttons pressed. Melody notes are then played (speed is not important) whilst the 3-digit display counts the notes (to a maximum of 345). Entry of the correct rhythm is done by pressing Reset and then using the One Key Play buttons until the melody is completed. An editing facility in Record Melody mode once again lets you correct, delete, and insert notes (or rests) using Back, Forward, Delete, and Rest buttons. Incidentally, a note will only last up to six seconds playback no matter how long it is held on record.
Next, in 'Record Chord' mode up to two plays of one chord per bar can be entered in sequence for that piece. The desired chords are played with the left hand in the lower two octaves in Fingered or Autochord mode, whilst one or two taps on the 'One Key Play' button enters the information for each bar. Once again, the instrument does not store rhythms — you set this on playback.
Several more features in this section point to the instruments of the future, with one touch button giving programmable Accompaniment Start, Repeat, 1st Time Bar with Return Point, Rests and End. The latter is important otherwise the sequence will finish and the clock will merrily count on to 345, ruining your repeats!
High and low output jack sockets are provided for external use, although the built-in speaker gives a good six watts or so. There's a mono phones socket at 8 ohms, footswitch sockets for rhythm start and sustain plus the light pen socket. The instrument is housed in a smart brown veneer case or black metal cabinet with wood end cheeks. Two books of music plus a wire music stand come with the 701 and a library of popular music will become available in due course. The approximate cost will be just under £500 and it is expected to be available from January 1982. A hard case and pedalboard are optional extras, as are the footswitches.
To sum up, the Casiotone 701 is certainly an instrument that opens up home music making for all the family. There's so much playing to be tried on the instrument and, hopefully, all the while you'll be learning to read music and getting to know your chords and harmonies. Note my comments about the presets, although once you start to make music with this machine I doubt whether you'll be bothered!
Review by Mike Beecher
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