Point of a Keytar: A keytar is a synth instrument like a traditional stand-mounted keyboard synth, but tied to a strap and carried like a guitar. It is mainly performed live and on stage. Unlike stand-type keyboards, the critical area is small and portable.
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Yamaha’s Sonogenic Keytar is an instrument of equal parts, and Party Trick’s
Keytar is almost by definition charming and goofy. Why not? They are portable pianos suitable for pageantry. A rack of meticulously manicured synthesizers comes with a kind of gravity that doesn’t exist when you slam the keys against a musician’s body, making that person a part of the show as the music. It creates everything just a little bit more fun.
Yamaha is expanding the fun with the new $500 Sonogenic SHS-500 keytar. For better or worse, the company offers an instrument for those who want to sound like a severe musician without having to practice for a few years.
To be clear, the Sonogenic is helpful for gigs and more serious work in a pinch. It’s light and comfortable to carry, and the 37 keys felt fair. There is no lack of control here, either. The neck features familiar controls for pitch bend and octave shift, with quick access to critical effects using his three knobs and sliders on the right side of the keyboard itself.
You can also play with 30 piano and synth voices. Additionally, Sonogenic should work well as a MIDI audio controller when connected to your DAW. Overall, it’s a pretty flexible little synth, even if it lacks the flexibility and panache that other options offer.
The type of player who’s a Little Nervous about Flexibility
Of course, if you’re the type of player who’s a little nervous about flexibility, this isn’t for you. Instead, Yamaha is promoting Sonogenic as a sort of party trick that teens and millennials can take advantage of when they want to start playing. It remains done by Yamaha’s clever companion app that scans the selected track and tries to generate the correct chord progression. Oddly enough, this is all done on the fly.
After the app has identified the song, there is no Yamaha database to pull these chord progressions from, so it’s possible (although unlikely) that the app doesn’t do it exactly right. Either way, once the app figured out what it would play, it sent that string of chords over Bluetooth to his Sonogenic, which would cue the connected screen when it was time to jam.
I’m not far from a musician, so I spoke to a Yamaha rep who gave me a hands-on monogenic. But, above all, the sense of rhythm is unfair. Does this jam his mode make you feel like a professional musician?
Hands-on with the Yamaha Sonogenic Keytar
Once your song of choice (“Africa” by Toto, in my case) starts playing, there’s no way to screw it up. In jam mode, Sonogenic no longer behaves like a regular chromatic keyboard. All you need to do is play those keys along with the rest of the song. It doesn’t matter where on the keyboard you noodle.
As long as you’re doing something, Sonogenic sounds like it knows what you’re doing. My cover of “Africa” was a little more avant-garde than I had hoped for, but I felt a glimmer of success towards the end. We played an overrated 80’s standard on Keyter! Even the cold I was battling with at the time couldn’t dampen the euphoria of this moment.
Would I have felt more successful if Sonogenic and its app had helped me play songs usually? Absolutely. At first glance, the experience of “playing” Sonogenic in jam mode felt like a musical imitation. Somewhere in my parent’s house, I have a VHS glued to the music I thought I was making, twirling with chubby toddler feet and playing with a horrible toy guitar. However, at the end of my time with Sonogenic, I realized that I hadn’t progressed much musically since that moment.
But I’m looking into all this. I mean, watch this promotional video Yamaha did for the Sonogenic. The Keytar may work as a more traditional synth, but it’s also clear that he’s not the easy-going youngster Yamaha aims to be with the Sonogenic. If you let go of the block and embrace the pantomime, you’ll have a good time jumping around with your strap-on keytar.
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