ANSWERS TO SOME FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
The piano I use is a Shigeru Kawai SK-7 semi-concert grand which was hand-made in Japan using wood which has been aged for 30 years. My early videos featured a Steinway model O which was 6 feet in length. It was a beautiful (and brand new) piano, but I was not satisfied with how it recorded, so I wanted a piano with a richer low end. I looked for a Steinway model B, and was introduced to the Shigeru Kawai brand at a store in California. I was immediately impressed with how the piano felt, because it has a carbon fibre action which allows for unprecedented control. At 7.6 feet in length, the sound was marvellous too, so I switched, and have never looked back.
Competitors of some of the world’s major competitions are offered Steinways, Bechsteins, Bösendorfer, Fazioli and Shigeru Kawai pianos to play on for the finals, and they all choose Shigeru, which I'm sure is because of the amazing action. Of course, all of the pianos mentioned are absolutely fantastic, but Shigeru uses newer technologies, not only in the action, but the agraffes, boxwood bridge caps and temaki bass strings as well, which really makes a difference.
In the U.S. every new Shigeru owner receives a complimentary visit from one of the technicians from Japan, who regulates the instrument for its environment. My piano not only records well, but stays beautifully in tune despite hours of use every day. In addition to my own composing and practicing, my daughter practices on it for two or three hours per day.
I was very proud to become a Shigeru Kawai Artist in 2016.
Viscount organs in Italy is the largest manufacturer of organs in the world, and in the past I have owned three different models. The model I have now is their top-of-the-line Unico 700 (known as the Regent series in the UK). The organ uses Physis technology which replicates the exact characteristics of organ pipes and allows for minute adjustments such as the diameter of each pipe, the amount of chiff, pipe placement and wind and bellows simulation as well as much, much more. Although I practice a lot using the internal sounds, I use Hauptwerk for recording, which is dedicated software that allows me to play on world-famous instruments which have been expertly recorded and stored as sample sets.
The 39 pipes that you see are not real, but conveniently conceal an array of eight pairs of speakers which allow me to distribute ranks of pipes to different areas. I also have a pair of speakers behind me which play the ambience of the church or cathedral in which each organ was recorded. The speakers are mostly Yamaha HS8's, as well as Viscount speakers, the organ's internal speakers and a Presonus subwoofer.
The organ is hooked up to a Mac Pro with 12 core processors and 128GB of ram. All of the organs (I have a lot) are loaded from SSD drives connected as a RAID system. I assign the stops, pistons and crescendo pedals to each instrument in Hauptwerk, so that my organ essentially becomes that instrument.
I use two Behringer UMC1820 audio interfaces which are hooked together as an aggregate device using Mac OS, and allows me to have 20 physical outputs. It’s a good job I don’t have any neighbours because the sound can be absolutely immense.
The Visount Unico 700 was made for me with an English specification, meaning that all of the stops are what I would expect to find on an English cathedral organ such as a Willis or a Harrison. It was also very important for me to have a pedalboard with an RCO specification rather than an AGO specification. American pedalboards are designed very slightly differently, but different enough to hit wrong notes when you're not used to them.
My organ also came with upgraded A.W.K. keyboards which are hand-made by Viscount. Not only do I love the traditional wood look and feel, but they have what is called a tracker touch, which ties in with the internal sounds and gives the performer a very similar experience to that of playing a mechanical action instrument.
It also comes with a remote control which allows the user to play through any pieces stored in the sequencer. The stops change accordingly, so it’s a very nice feature.
I had to wait a long time for the organ to arrive in Thailand because the factory in Italy was hit very hard by COVID, but the wait was certainly worth it. Although there's nothing like a real pipe organ, this instrument is an organist's dream for home and studio use.
Being an organist who enjoys early music, I also have a love of harpsichords. However, harpsichords constantly need to be tuned, and although I am a certified piano tuner, I really dislike the tuning process. Harpsichords need to be tuned every time they are played, so it was necessary for me to get a digital instrument. I chose the Roland C-30 which is a great little keyboard with a good feel, and the built-in harpsichord samples are probably the best that I’ve ever heard. I have several harpsichord sample sets but they don’t compare to the ones inside that little keyboard. It features both Flemish and French-style harpsichords, as well as a very nice celeste, fortepiano and single rank of organ pipes. A foot pedal allows for changing between the front and back sample sets, which essentially makes it a two-manual instrument.
TABLET & MONITOR
I use a 12.9 inch iPad Pro which is a perfect size, and is virtually the same as traditional 12 x 9 music books. Using a tablet for reading music is a complete game-changer, and the convenience of having all of my music is a single device, far outweighs the preference of reading from paper. I can easily mark up my music using the Apple Pencil, and ultimately I’m helping to save a few trees. I’ve used an iPad for my music since they were invented and actually used a very large tablet made by a company called Freehand (now out of business) more than ten years ago.
Until recently I always used a Bluetooth Foot pedal to turn pages, specifically the AirTurn Duo, but I also have two other generic Chinese-made units that function just as well.
I use an app called ForScore to read the music and it is absolutely fantastic. I’m probably one of the first people to have ever used their app, and now it seems that everyone uses it. It is however only available for iPad.
The app also allows me to turn the pages using a face gesture. This is not only genius, but is indispensable to an organist who doesn’t always have a foot available to turn the page.
On the organ you will see three ViewSonic TD2223 22" touch screen monitors. I use the one in the middle for composing the music, as well as reading from it during performances, and the ones to my left and right are for viewing which stops are engaged on the virtual organ inside the computer. The touch screen feature allows me to interact with the organ software, and change sounds on the organ simply by touching the screen.
I use the Compass Pro by Twelve South. It’s expensive but is very well made and has always worked well for me. It’s nicer than using the music rest of the piano, but more importantly, I avoid using the piano’s music rest so that there are no reflections back into the microphones.
I use the PM40 Piano Mic System by Earthworks Audio, and there is simply no better way to record a grand piano. I use a Steinberg UR-RT2 audio interface with Neve transformers active and record 96kHz 24-bit files which are dropped down to 48kHz, 16 bit for YouTube, and 44.1kHz, 16 bit for digital distribution on streaming sites.
I use Dorico Pro to compose everything. Having used Finale and Sibelius in the past, I can say that Dorico is by far the finest notation software available. It is now available for iPad which allows me to work on my music up in the mountains. The scores produced by Dorico look really beautiful, and the software is an absolute joy to use. The team who design it are not only brilliant, but are very helpful and friendly, and happy to solve any problems a user might have.
I use Cubase Pro for recording, and always use the latest version. I am not one of those people who waits a while before before updating my software, and in fact, I’m usually the first in line on the day of a new update. My favourite sounds are made by Spitfire Audio, and I have almost everything they’ve ever made. I have all of the Native Instruments sounds as well as most sounds made by Steinberg. I use a variety of plugins for mixing and mastering, but my favourites are made by FabFilter.
I sometimes use WaveLab Pro when mastering, but find that I can do most of what I need with Cubase.
I came from Logic Pro, which is a powerful program, but switched to Steinberg products because they are a company that cares. If you have any questions or need help, there is always someone there for you. Nobody will help you with Logic Pro unless you go to user forums. Also I find that Steinberg products make more sense to me and are more intuitive, as well as being incredibly powerful.
I mix and master using Focal Solo6 BE monitors as well as a Focal Sub6 Subwoofer. My room is acoustically treated with products from Auralex Acoustics to minimise all unnecessary reflections. I also use a Kawai VP1 keyboard controller which has the best feeling action of any controller on the market. It actually has a hammer action inside so it feels like a real piano.
I always begin with a blank page in Dorico, and usually don’t know what I will write before I sit down. The composing process can be quite fast, and simple pieces such as “Indira’s Waltz” are completed in about three hours. Faster, more complex works can take two or three days. Usually, I spend more time learning and practicing the piece than I do actually writing it.
I write all of the notes first and then play the piece over and over, making changes as I go. My composing sessions usually don’t go beyond four hours or so, because I know when to walk away and let things settle. Coming back to the music with a fresh perspective is always important (as well as a fresh set of ears), and invariably I will have new ideas or wish to change certain things. Once I am happy with the composition and performance, the last things to be added are dynamics, articulation, tempo markings and fingerings.
To keep a consistent sound, I have preset reverbs and EQ that I am happy with. I add very gentle compression and in some cases a limiter. In addition I sometimes use a maximiser to bring up the volume and finally the output is dithered to render it down to a 16 bit file. The sound you hear on the videos is 48kHz. I create MP3 files at 320kbps, and although my preference is AAC files, many people can’t play them so I go with MP3.
The WAV files are encoded at 16 bit 44.1kHz. For a while I did offer very large high quality files, but there was little demand for them. Some people love the higher fidelity, but the truth is that most people don’t understand about these formats and usually don’t have the necessary hardware to play them anyway.
My store is powered by Shopify and is a very safe environment. None of your payment information is stored on the servers and everything is encrypted. Your files are delivered to you usually a few minutes after completing your purchase. If you don’t receive anything, please check your spam folder. I am always here to help and you can email me anytime. I usually reply very quickly, but please bear in mind that I live in Thailand, and if you don’t hear from me right away, it's nighttime, and I’m probably sleeping. Once you purchase from me, you will always have access to your product(s), so if your computer blows up in the future, get in touch and I’ll send your music again.
When you receive an email with download links, you have a download limit of two. This is to protect my work from being shared. If your limit goes to zero or you can’t download, then get in touch and I’ll help you out.
The links will NOT download to tablets or phones. If you click on the link from your phone, you will not be able to download the file but the system will think that you did, and your download count will decrease. It is important to download to a computer first and then send the file to your preferred device. Again, I’m happy to help with any issues that you might have.
If in the unlikely event, your PDF looks strange on your screen, this is due to a computer issue and restarting your computer will almost certainly solve the problem. The same is true of any printing issues - a restart of both the printer and computer will solve 95% of all issues.
If you want to send the file to your tablet, you can email it to yourself, send by SMS or better yet, use a cloud service. I store all of my current music on my desktop which I can then access via iCloud on my iPad.
Although I used to mail printed books all over the world, since I moved to Thailand it is no longer possible. The mail system here is very unreliable, and the only way to send books safely is via DHL or FedEx which is cost-prohibitive. They charge more for shipping than the book is worth. And to be honest, because I am “chief cook and bottle washer” I just don’t have time to go out and mail the books. I do understand those who prefer a printed book, and my suggestion has been to send it to a local printer who can print it off for a reasonable fee and maybe even put a spiral binding on it too.
Although there are some print-on-demand services such as those offered by Amazon, they do not spiral bind. A book from Amazon will never remain open on your music stand and will only lead to disappointment and frustration. I would rather you had a good experience with my music. I must also add that if you haven't yet changed to reading your music from a digital tablet, it's something that you really should consider. The convenience that it offers far outweighs any displeasure that you may feel about reading from anything other than paper.
For concerts in Europe and Asia, please contact me for details.
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I receive many requests for online lessons, but after teaching for more than 25 years I am officially retired from that profession and prefer to spend all of my time writing new music. I have written five books which include most of what I taught in lessons which you might find helpful.
I do not receive any compensation for the products which I have mentioned above, but I am always happy to speak about equipment and software that I use and that I like. I am sometimes approached by companies to endorse their products but I always choose not to participate. Most notably, the apps which supposedly 'teach' piano. If you want to learn a few chords and bang out a pop song, they're ok, but if you're serious about piano, you must have a good teacher.
I do occasionally work on commissions. Please email me for further information.
I’m often asked to create covers of particular songs or pieces of music, and although I have created a few covers in the past, this is not something I will continue with, because I prefer to focus on my own works.
DID I MISS ANYTHING?
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