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How important is polyphony?

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How important is polyphony?

Post by Pianoted on Mon Jun 21, 2010 1:21 pm

This word sounds a bit strange to me, but I gather it means the number of notes a piano can sound simultaneously without cutting off notes. I read somewhere that if the number of notes played exceeds the given polyphony, the piano/keyboard cuts off the extra notes, usually the ones first played.

Does this only refer to digital pianos or keyboards, can a normal piano have a low polyphony?

So how important is polyphony and what do you guys recommend as the least polyphony a piano/keyboard should have?

Is it only important in heavy classical pieces, Rachmaninoff or something like that, to have a high polyphony? I'd like to learn both classical music, like Fur Elise, Canon, Mozart etc. and contemporary music like Beatles, Abba, Elvis and Sinatra (jazz) to name a few.
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Re: How important is polyphony?

Post by VictorCS on Mon Jun 21, 2010 4:14 pm

It's just digital piano's who suffer from this. If you dont have an sustain pedal, 10 keys at once is the most you will be able to press at once tho. Not that many pieces has all fingers playing at once.

A normal piano has 88 keys, so basically what you need is atleast 88 "polyphones", but most modern digital piano's today have 128. You might wonder why it's higher than the amount of keys, that's because you usually can layer sounds.

Everything over 88 should do it ^_^
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Re: How important is polyphony?

Post by Pianoted on Mon Jun 21, 2010 4:42 pm

Thanks for the reply, VictorCS. This means that you can't play a duet with another player on a digital piano, or what?

I'm not well informed about those things, but since we have only ten fingers I'm wondering if we could want for example 32 notes to sound at once.

One situation where I imagine that could happen is if you're playing chords with both hands very fast, like 1/32 notes (four times faster than an eight note.) But I don't know if that ever happens, maybe in some complex classical pieces?

When you play the last two chords you might want to have the first two still sounding. But that can only be done with pedals, you mean?

Again thanks.
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Re: How important is polyphony?

Post by yokewong on Thu Jul 22, 2010 8:49 pm

Polyphony is a musical property that allows multiple notes to be played simultaneously. Piano, harpsichord, and organ are polyphonic instruments. Piano has a complete sound generating mechanism for each key. Each individual hammer and string is correspond to each note. A normal piano will not have a low polyphony.

One of the early polyphonic keyboard/ synthesizers was the Prophet 5. It had five voice polyphony. In this case, you can only play 5 simultaneous notes at one time. Later, it was increased to 16 voice, 64 and then 128 voice polyphony. Most keyboards or digital pianos come with at least 64 voice polyphony. You have 10 fingers and you can only play 10 notes at one time. Maybe more if you roll you fingers to the next note.

If you are buying a keyboard or piano with at least 64 voice polyphony, that should be plenty for you to work with even with heavy classical pieces like Rachmaninoff.

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Last edited by yokewong on Fri Sep 02, 2011 6:53 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: How important is polyphony?

Post by Pianoted on Thu Jul 22, 2010 11:34 pm

Thank you Yoke Wong for this reply, appreciate it.
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Re: How important is polyphony?

Post by VictorCS on Fri Jul 23, 2010 10:13 pm

When you press the sustain pedal on a digital piano, there usually will be more than 10 keys playing at the same time, or if you have two voices at the same time ( you can layer instruments on digital pianos ).

But with todays technology you wont run out of keys if you're not playing something insane never before heard Razz
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Re: How important is polyphony?

Post by Pianoted on Fri Jul 23, 2010 11:16 pm

So I don't have to worry, as IŽll mostly be playing Twinkle, twinkle and other such monotonic stuff. Very Happy

There is another aspect of polyphony, which I read about somewhere. That if a digital piano has the stereo feature it uses two times the number of notes actually, as each beat really equals two notes (one for each speaker.)

Not sure if I've understood it correctly, but according to this a 128-note polyphony DP only features 64 pp, 64 pp corresponds to 32 pp and so on.
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