The School of MUNF School of Music Embraces New Technologies with Yamaha TransAcoustic Upright Pianos

Mike Lawson • News • October 17, 2018

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The School of Music at the University of North Florida recently purchased two Yamaha U1 TransAcoustic upright pianos to help support its latest undergraduate degree program in Music Technology and Production.

In addition to the standard course of study, these students learn about sound design, mixing, composition, arranging and recording.

The U1 hybrid instruments use the company’s exclusive TransAcoustic technology—bringing to life the incredible sonic qualities of an acoustic piano along with non-acoustic sounds. Electro-acoustic transducers mounted directly onto the instrument’s soundboard transform it into one big speaker that can be played in acoustic mode—with real hammers and strings—or in digital mode, layering tracks from electric pianos, a marimba, harpsichord or other instruments.

The TransAcoustic line of pianos also provide the practical benefits of Yamaha SILENT Piano technology, which keeps the hammers from hitting the strings, and instead sends an immersive, binaurally-sampled sound of the CFX concert grand directly to headphones for practicing or performing in total privacy.

Erin K. Bennett, Associate Professor, Piano/Pedagogy, has long been a pioneer in embracing new technologies for music education.

“It’s been exciting to see how the students flock to these pianos,” Bennett said. “The practice room that has one of the TransAcoustic pianos is usually one of the busiest practice rooms in the building. The students love that they can both use it as a traditional acoustic piano for practice, but that they can spend hours in the room getting more creative composing and arranging on it with other sounds or combining the digital sounds with the acoustic ones.”

The second U1 was installed in the Music Technology Laboratory, which includes computer workstations along with recording and sound mixing equipment. While the computers each have undersized keyboards, the room lacked any sort of a real piano. With space at a premium, Bennett wanted to find an instrument that could fulfill a number of flexible needs and functions, including uses not yet anticipated. The TransAcoustic seemed like an excellent fit, with the U1 model only taking up the footprint of an upright piano, not a much larger grand.

But unlike a traditional upright piano, the U1 could also be put into Silent Mode. “This meant that if someone wanted to make a high-quality piano recording in the lab, they could use this instrument that felt every bit like playing a traditional acoustic piano, but record with the sound of one of the company’s outstanding concert grand pianos,” Bennett said. “I wasn’t certain at the time how our students and faculty would utilize the other sounds available on the instrument, but I was happy to have the flexibility and to see where their creativity took them.”

Last semester, that creativity was worked into a concert of the school’s Music Technology Ensemble, directed by Professor Michael Taylor. The group loved having the full string ensemble sound, but they were able to produce it by playing a single instrument—the U1—rather than needing a whole string section.

“The big payoff was getting the sound and the effect of a much larger group but producing that sound on an instrument that was more familiar for the students to play and that required fewer personnel to create,” Bennett said. “This allowed for a more expressive performance.”

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