Hugh John looks at a new generation of keyboard technology from Yamaha
Technology and music tuition have long had a fruitful partnership - as any student who has practised scales and arpeggios in the company of an unforgiving metronome will testify.
But that sort of inflexible teaching aid - useful as it was - has been superseded by more flexible, interactive support. Software such as Music Minus One and Band in a Box has given young musicians the opportunity to play along with "virtual" musicians and to adjust chord sequences, pitch and tempi to their own abilities.
Digital technology is now being used across the web to provide a new generation of teaching tools, and programs such as Gigajam and SmartMusic Studio offer teaching materials and tuition online. Many of the electronic keyboards in Yamaha's new range, introduced this autumn, incorporate both onboard and online support.
The Yamaha Education Suite (YES) features in all new Yamaha electronic keyboards. This set of tools helps learners to develop their playing skills. Exercises encourage them to play the correct notes, then to play them in time and, finally, to play along with an accompaniment. Each lesson can be attempted single or double-handed.
YES is complemented by Performance Assistant Technology. This can generate chords and backing in a variety of styles. It is certainly useful, although Yamaha's claim that "even if you've never played the keyboard before you can instantly sound like a pro" is at best fanciful.
However this new internet software is a significant advance in music technology. Internet Direct Connection allows IDC-enabled keyboards to gain access to Yamaha online directly using either a wired or wireless broadband connection. A PC is unnecessary as the connection and downloading protocols are controlled from the keyboard's LCD screen. Once downloaded, songs and materials can be modified on the screen.
If you don't have broadband or prefer using a PC, log on to www.digitalnotebook.com and visit the Digital Music Notebook site.
This alliance of music publishing houses offers digital delivery of a wide range of sheet music, instrument tuition plug-ins and graphics - and soon videos will also be available.
The catalogue is in its infancy and, while extensive, is by no means comprehensive. Jazzers will be disappointed, for example, to find just one Duke Ellington number. That said, there is plenty of modern(ish) material from Coldplay, Christina Aguilera and Queen.
Prospective buyers can browse by style, author, level of difficulty, period, key or even holiday. Downloaded music and plug-ins cost around pound;3 a hit, but there are some freebies. Before buying, you can preview the first page of the sheet music and listen to accompaniment. Sibelius, whose Scorch internet technology powers the site, should be complemented with an interface that is easy to use. It features tempo control, loop and record functions and the ability to render songs in various genres.
This marriage of new and traditional technologies can only stimulate students.
"Music presented in this form is a sure way to engage young students who are fascinated by the net," says Alistair Jones, education liaison manager at Yamaha. "Music can be manipulated for keyboard lessons and for performance. Schools don't need to worry about copying and copyright issues."
Any bids for a clockwork metronome?