Digital Piano Chromatic Abruption

By Xah Lee. Date:

If you run a scale of adjacent keys with left hand on a digital piano, then you'll notice a abrupt change of sound color between adjacent keys.

I thought this only occurs on keyboards that use a sampled method to simulate the piano sound. For a wave generating machine, obviously it is able to implement a gradual change of sound color parameter to run through the keys.

My Kawai MP9000 digital piano for example, has the worst change of color between adjacent keys. On piano 1 (grand piano), it happens between G♯ and F on the bass section. (most apparent on the second appearance of G♯ counting from the left) Other piano sounds has this change in other places.

I just borrowed a Roland JV-1010 synth module from a friend. I tested the piano sound from 1 to 20, and they all have this abrupt change of color except about 2 of them. I was quite surprised. Perhaps these sound libraries did this on purpose. Perhaps the gradual sound parameter change method cannot simulate the sound of acoustic piano as closely, and must introduce this abrupt timber change.

On acoustic pianos, when i learned for the first time about its abrupt change of its string length/quality on different section of keys, i thought one can detect abrupt sound color change when the string changes. But, surprisingly, this is not the case. Of the various opportunities i accessed a acoustic piano over the past 10 years, i have not found any abrupt sound color change.

Can anyone explain why digital pianos has it?

On the Roland JV-1010 synth module, the piano library #1, it happens first on the second appearance of D♯ to E. Very obvious for a person with a pair of working ears. Other sampled sounds or digitals have this problem in other positions. (most frequent in the bass section, and often more than one place.)

I played with synths about 14 years ago and since haven't touched them until recently. I was quite taken aback, that after all these years of technological progression, that incompetence of this magnitude exist in sampled sound products.

I imagine it's because instead of making one sample for every note on the piano, they just sample at few points and interpolate them over to save effort. How sloppy, and considering the blatant noticeability, how incompetent are the manufacturers.

But coming back, i would blame this stupidity to pop musicians, who “gig” around with loud speakers and no ears. If these so-called musicians or electronic keyboard consumers would find this abrupt change of timber unacceptable, i'd say manufacturers would have long eliminated them.

Often you read these folks discussing online their opinions on how such and such brand/model of digital piano sounds, asserting their liking meanwhile not forgetting to mention how it is a personal thing, as if the subject proper requires fine taste and culture. The fact is that digital pianos that use sampled sounds are no comparison to real acoustic piano sounds, period. Not to mention this in-your-face abrupt timber change that none of these so-called musicians ever noticed or mentioned in their whole-hearty powwows on the subject.

I regret to say that i find most “musicians” morons and their opinions moronic. If you go down to a local music shop (e.g. The Guitar Center, and you see all these slackers in all types of tasteless garbs some holy and hairdos and little manners or cultivation amidst loud noises of drums and guitars and synths and whatnot. In my mind i picture these the typical gigging musicians. It's, like, get some schooling, dude! One read the user-reviews at, e.g. and one of their suggested question for opinion submitters is: “If it were lost or stolen, would you buy it again or get something else?” and thus every “review” of every instrument contains a mention of this unpleasant scenario. Gee, how tasteless can that be.

I figure these kinda things must be the ambiance of average “gigging musicians”, whom with their tastelessness walking around with a “artist” image of themselves, and must tote their heavy equipments daily to sleazy joints such as night-clubs to earn their living and gain their livelihood.

Now, for classical performing pianists i have a different point of view. However, often they fall into the conservative twits type, with gentries and patricians background of affectations and heightened sense of etiquette, with their hateful debates on the fine points of pianism or the instrumentation of some la die kunst der fuge. When it comes to progress or improvement, especially away from tradition, these people are almost always of the backwater type. (for example, acoustic pianos is on its way to the graves, but these class of people refuse to realize that, while they confab on ivory keys and Steinways and type of woods etc. The reason piano-fortes such as grands exist in its form to this day with its wood-fascination and weighting-a-ton only because of the affectations of the affluent, not solely because its musical quality. Modern synths, in terms of economics, performance, and *musicality* too, beat the acoustic pianos by quite far, if not for tradition-for-tradition's sake.)

Now, if you have a digital piano of recent make, such as the Yamaha p80, 120, 200, Roland fp3, or other brand/model, i challenge you factually to tell me that it does not have this abrupt change of timbre problem.

Now, if now you are swayed by me that the abrupt change of timbre is hatefully inelegant now that i've emphatically brought it up, i hope you are by now abhorred by the fact, and next time when you are chatting with your music buddies or when you need to buy a digital piano, make a scene of it. Eventually, we hope this flaw will not be with us in a couple of year's new models. (first, bring death to the sampled piano sound genre. For, let synthesized sound be synthesized sound. After all, the sound came out from electrified membrane, not hit-and-run strings. Synth tones of piano-like sounds are in many respects superior acoustically to acoustic piano sounds, if one just drop the conditioned or “nature” prejudice.)

Just remember, when your hand run down to the lower parts tonight, there's this giant imperfection of what otherwise could have been.

in continuation of my previous report…

on the Roland fp3 digital piano, abrupt timber change occurs on: (counting from left)

when playing the chromatic scale, it's like the keyboard has been split into multi instruments. How fantastically asinine.

Note: There are 2 products i know of that is supposed to remedy this situation. One is called GinaPiano, came out in 2001. It is supposed to be over 1 gigabytes all-out sampling of acoustic piano. (as opposed to digital pianos, which typically just sample few notes with a few dynamics range, and interpolates them) Quote from its description:

Over a gigabyte of rich, stereo samples result in the most realistic sampled grand piano available anywhere. GigaPiano encompasses multiple velocities, rich soundboard resonance for damped staccato, as well as undamped pedal down samples for unparalleled playability. Recorded by Grammy-winning engineer, Larry Seyer, this is the piano that everyone is raving about

However, as of 2008, the product seems dead. The other solution is pianoteq ( Pianoteq seems to be a software synthezier using the technique of Physical modelling synthesis. That is, using a mathematical model to formulate parameters that emulates the key physical parameters of how a instrument produces sound. Hugh Sung, a pianist, has a video on youtube recommending it. (

Piano Keyboard Action