Not just any keytar: this one shoots fire. And you can make music by punching the dummy on the right in the crotch. No, really. Photo: Jeremy Mullis.

As a follow-up to my controversial defense of the keytar attempt to get people to stop complaining in comments that they can’t buy a keytar and excuse to needle Roland again.

This is CDM reader Billy Hunt. The bright spot in the upper right hand of the screen is fire — a fireball launched from his keytar. Billy modded his Roland AX-7 for wireless MIDI control (okay, logical, practical choice there) and added a “gun that shoots flash paper” (not so typical).

Billy writes:

It is the best instrument ever. Shooting flames out of your keytar while you use the infared beam to make it squeal like a pig makes the girls want you, and the men want to be you.

Billy is in the band Straight Punch to the Crotch with Buddy — the dummy you see on the right, which itself is MIDI-enabled. Billy describes Buddy as “a midi dummy with drum triggers in his head, shoulders, and (of course) crotch.” I’m hoping Billy will someday present an academic paper at the NIME conference on “Musical Applications of Tactile Sensitive Anatomy Sensing: Dummy Crotch Punching.”

CDM doesn’t very often print retractions, but I think it’s time for one. As a number of you pointed out in hilariously frank fashion, keytars are indeed not cool. So, here’s my Official Correction: flame-shooting keytars are cool — provided they’re in the right hands.

We’ve learned many things through this week’s Keytar Controversy:

1. Keytar aficionados don’t like the term “keytar,” preferring the more-dignified term “strap-on.” This is analogous to the Star Trek fan deciding neither “Trekkie” nor “Trekker” accurately describes their devotion, suggesting instead “penis.”

2. Normal, non-strappable keyboards and pianos actually are cool. Really. You can play keyboards just like that. (Who knew? I thought my piano teachers were trying to tell me something.)

3. In the Chinese and Japanese markets, keytars are preferred by girls. I will extrapolate from this that while I would look really dorky playing a keytar (I don’t own one, despite allegations from readers and bloggers), many girls look super cute with them.

4. Readers here are split between loving and hating the keyta– uh, strap-on. No one has neutral feelings about them. I think that tells you the real reason why they can’t be made any more.

The best part of the debate comes in the blog post Keytars Are Still Lame, with this visual aid:


There’s just one problem. Ray Charles is a great reason to learn the piano. But hand Ray Charles a keytar, and suddenly the keytar is cool. And that’s the point, isn’t it?

Instruments, isolated from any player, are often beautiful and very cool. Take the bandoneon. A well-made bandoneon is a beautiful, if archaic-looking object. (The same can be said about almost any instrument: beautiful, if archaic-looking.) Then you pick it up and try to operate it, and it looks like you’re trying to inflate some kind of personal Zeppelin, unsuccessfully. If you can’t really play, the instrument will do its best to make an absolute idiot of you. That’s what instruments are for.

But give that object to Astor Piazzolla, and it seems as though God Himself has popped in for a quick jam session.

Digital instruments are supposed to be some sort of automatic music makers that free us from these problems, but we know that’s not so. In fact, we know the real challenge is to imbue digital instruments with the same dork-producing — or genius-amplifying — qualities of their analog and acoustic predecessors.

So, we’ll leave it at this:

  • Keytars can help you play keyboards onstage mounted from your shoulder instead of a stand. The rest is up to you.
  • Roland doesn’t want you to have one for reasons we can’t fully explain.
  • If you bought a keytar and want to profit on it, you can now sell it for 2-3 times its purchase price. If you also bought Google stock in the 90s, you can sell that a buy a whole lot of keytars.

Imogen Heap can get away with keytars (and sometimes even she just attaches a strap to a conventional MIDI keyboard). I can’t, so you’ll still see me using stands and tables and such. And I’m okay with that.

Sorry, used the “k” word again. Gitboards rock.

Anyone want to suggest what slightly-anachronistic electronic instrument we should cover next? Nominations now open.

I am not Imogen Heap. This person is. Credit: zeejaydee.