Disklavier at Core of Ball State Songwriting Program

Robert WilleyMuncie, Indiana - Fall 2013 - When composer Robert Willey wants to help his Ball State University students capture their creative juices and hone their songwriting efficiency, he immediately fires up the Disklavier piano in his classroom. Willey uses the Disklavier for every step of the songwriting process, starting with basic conceptualizing exercises. 

“I record what we come up in class with during group composition brainstorming, and then email the students the MIDI files. For example, we might come up with a bass line or riff that students can incorporate in a song.”

He also appreciates the Disklavier's unique advantage of recording without microphones. “Were we to record with microphones then the melodies we improvised singing over it would be picked up by the piano mics. It is also much easier to record on, since you just hit the record button when inspiration strikes. We often find that by the time we set up microphones and boot up recording software the inspiration has passed and a creative moment lost.”

Students then spend some time with their skeletal ideas and are able to use the MIDI data to efficiently develop them into complete songs.
Nick Hammer BallState DKV 600x450“The students can edit and repurpose the data during their individual lab sessions, and since it's MIDI rather than audio, they have more options, such as editing individual notes, transposing, and applying other transformations such as inversion, retrograde, and arpeggiation. Since there is no bleed through of vocal experiments from class they can take their time to come up with their own melody, and then bring the new version back to the next class meeting, or record the new piano part played on the acoustic instrument that inspired them in the beginning.”

In then end, it's the unique combination of modern technology with a real, vibrating, acoustic instrument that creates the perfect teaching environment for Willey's classroom. “There is something organic to working with the acoustic piano in combination with acoustic guitar and voices,” says Willey. We're sure his students agree, too! 

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