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Keyboard Class Masters

Keyboard Class Masters

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Published by: whatta_mes on May 31, 2013
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The Shape of Things By Marty Cutler A while ago, I received a desperate call to replace sounds for a well-known

Broadway show whose old analog synths were finally going belly-up. The idea was to reproduce the show's sounds as closely as possible, and then sample them. Although I pulled an all-nighter assembling the sounds for the musical director, templates I had stored in my editorlibrarian helped the task immensely. Because I needed to try woodwind sounds (for example) on multiple instruments, a template saved time by giving me the basic shape of the instrument as a starting point. Templates saved the day again when we needed to voice the samples properly. Some people prefer to program new sounds from existing patches. Of course, it's useful to deconstruct fully programmed sounds, but modulation routings and effects can throw unnecessary detours in your path. Instead, use initialized patches to put together a library of templates as starting points for the types of instrument you need to create. The basic signal flow of analog synthesizers and their virtual relatives is not difficult to understand and makes a terrific springboard for charting out templates. Korg's new MonoPoly virtual instrument from the Legacy Collection - ANALOG EDITION2007 is the perfect tool in this regard, as it comes pre-loaded with a batch of initialized templates (See Figure 1). I'll be using the MonoPoly (with its standard ADSR envelope generator) as my example, but everything here should translate nicely to your choice of instrument.

Figure 1: The MonoPoly virtual instrument from the Legacy Collection - ANALOG EDITION2007 offers initialized templates for a variety of instrument types.

Think of the sound you need in the simplest and most general of terms: amplitude, timbre, and pitch. It's best to start with a single-oscillator patch; you can always add more oscillators if it's necessary. The amplitude envelope is a great place to start. For example, synth pads are practically defined by their slow, casual sonic development. Bass usually needs more punch, and has to get out of the way more quickly so that the low end doesn't get too muddy. Typically, bass doesn't need a lot of harmonic complexity, so a single-oscillator patch will serve you well. Of course, I am generalizing, but remember: the idea is to get an envelope shape that is somewhere in the ballpark and save it as a template; the next time you need to program that instrument you can start with your template and tweak to taste. Welcome to My Pad Don't forget to save your template as you build it! Let's start with a single-oscillator building block for pads. Most software and some hardware instruments have a way to start with a raw patch-if not, check for user groups that might have initial files or look for an editor-librarian program with that capability. I've chosen the MonoPoly 1 VCO initial patch, which starts with all but the first oscillator muted and an Envelope Generator (EG) for amplitude set for an instantaneous Attack rate. (Clip 1: This is our starting point: a single oscillator with an instantaneous attack.) Let's start by letting the amp envelope take a little time to reach its loudness ceiling, perhaps an attack time of just under 900 ms. Don't worry if your instrument doesn't provide envelope rates in ms or levels in dB; your ears are still your best tool here. (Clip 2: Next, we allow a little less than a second for the sound to reach its loudness peak; you can vary the time to taste, once you get a feel for this.) Next, I like a bit of Decay time to a somewhat reduced Sustain Level; that provides some motion to the pad, and gives it a bit of a surging effect. Remember that with an ADSR envelope, you are dealing with Rates and Levels, so you will need to adjust the Level of the Sustain portion before you can hear the effect of the Decay time. Here, I have a Decay time of about one second to about 60 percent of a full-on Sustain level. (Clip 3: We set about a second of decay time for the sound to travel to about 60% of its maximum loudness.) If the surge sounds too extreme, you can tame it by slowing down the Decay time or raising the Sustain level.

Don't forget to play with Filter Resonance. you might want to save the patch as a template. I've provided only an inkling of possibilities. slightly detuned relative to the other adds chorusing and motion. And not long after the first hardware sequencers arrived on the scene. and have fun! Hardware 2. The ability of these "thinking machines" to count to one really. it probably has the same ADSR parameters as the one you used for amplitude. or an octave higher or lower. there are plenty of ways to give each oscillator an individual character. Right now. it could be stored. For years. and set a moderate Decay time of a few seconds—so that you can let the instrument fade to silence while holding the note down—or turn it off instantly when you release the key. use your ears! Next. we can achieve a natural chorusing effect derived from the beating we hear between them. So far. Simply increase this parameter until you can hear the effect of the slow sweep of the filter. (Clip 4: Setting a lengthy release time adds a nice long fadeout after releasing the keys. Digital MIDI data – unlike digital audio data – takes up very little space on whatever medium you choose. you have a few choices. set up a nice. really fast has transformed the recording studio of yesteryear into the audio production studio of today. synth basses don't have to play by those same rules. (Clip 6: Adding resonance adds a sharper edge and more emphasis on timbral changes. really. Once again. on the MonoPoly. I've also selected a different waveform for oscillator 2. but in this instance. keeping in mind that you may have to re-adjust the setting as you change other parameters. turn it all the way back to zero. a high Sustain level. we'll stick with our single-oscillator template and work on some basic filter settings for the pad. A similar synergy has rapidly taken hold in the audio production world. including filter sweeps. If you don't hear any change in tone. video. it made sense to let the computer sample and play back audio clips. sampling and audio recording now can all take place inside a single host computer. Thanks first to MIDI. gaming. Moving that control again. Sequencing. and altered. lingering fadeout by extending the release time.) If your synth has different filter types be sure to experiment with them as well.Finally. adjust this rate to taste. Use your templates for the good of humankind. Sonic Seasoning For now. There are plenty of other sound-shaping parameters that help add sonic motion.0 Bless the humble little computer. acoustic and electric basses lose energy more quickly up the fingerboard. For example. We have yet to cover modulation capabilities. synthesis. Until the next time. I add a nice. I've moved the second oscillator up an octave. ) Try tuning one oscillator five half-steps up from the other. From here. and to sync' them to the sequenced MIDI tracks. which add a dimension of tone color and motion. In either case. and we have just been focusing on one oscillator! Adding a second oscillator and playing with its waveforms. You can change a lot by altering the relative balance between oscillator levels. Remember.). on other instruments it might be called EG Amount. considering that you can take the sound in many possible directions from here. Let's try one now! Locate the EG that controls your filter. (Clip 5: Here's the result of our filter and filter-envelope tweaks. replayed. open up a second oscillator and with a slight bit of detuning. I'll set the Attack rate for about two seconds. But as memory has become smaller and cheaper. so try a fast Attack. be adventurous. you are controlling timbre. Of course. If you want this bass template to behave more like an acoustic instrument. (Clip 8: Here. You have just closed off the filter—now. software sequencing programs began to show up as well. the sequencer or sequencing software was just the MIDI gate keeper. After all. and more. don't forget to add keyboard tracking to speed up the progress of the envelope as you play higher pitches. Once a keystroke on a synthesizer keyboard could be represented as a numeric value. you're on your own. that parameter is called EG Intensity. At this point. unhurried decay time of about twenty seconds to a Filter EG Sustain level of about 25 per cent open. The most obvious place to start is to select different waveforms and then vary the filter behavior to create variations. moderate Decay. turn off all but the first oscillator. but we are not finished yet. the sound is probably a little too bright. Here are a few suggestions for a Synth Bass template. computers. Again. open it up again—slowly—and observe that you are changing the tone of the instrument from muted to bright. Once again. tuning and level will exponentially increase the possibilities. you probably need to increase the power of your EG. and much more. find a basic starting point with a significantly muted tone. the consumer electronics industry has spoken of a "digital convergence" of audio. completely in the digital domain. but starting with the simple ones first can seed a multitude of other templates. you can set the Sustain level and Release time to zero. sending the right notes to the right instrument at the right time. . tempo-synchronized sounds. and it's just waiting for you to experiment with the most fertile area – timbral variety. LFO-driven. you can save more complex patches as templates. so locate the filter Cutoff control (sometimes labeled as filter Frequency). and a release rate between 175 and 200 ms. ) Save it! At this point we now have a template patch that performs like a pad.) A large number of virtual and hardware analog synthesizers route all oscillators through a single amplifier. but read on. (Clip 7: The addition of a second oscillator. Let's leave our ampenvelope Attack rate at zero for an instantaneous start. I've exaggerated the release time in my audio example to emphasize the slow fadeout. not every instrument can be controlled via MIDI. If you want your bass to sustain more like an acoustic instrument. again. you can get plenty of timbral mileage out of trying different waveforms and altering filter cutoff and resonance. and a fast release.

computer-based studio. Selecting the microX as a VST instrument in Cubase. Again. and the low-dispersion red display is designed to be easily read in any lighting. able to access the massive amounts of data used with multi-track digital recording. For our first example. What I really want to talk about today is the new ways in which "Hardware" is re-integrating itself in to the modern. software synthesizers – or softsynths – really began to flourish. The microX plug-in editor software. Keyboards and synthesizers themselves evolved to an operating system providing an instruction set to a small chip [or CPU]. On one level. it is a small keyboard that comes with an editing program. And again. But connect a single USB cable to your computer. digital audio recording is just another form of audio sampling – longer linear samples of entire tracks. The drag and drop interface of the computer made studio chores such as cloning a verse or comping together a stellar vocal track swift and effortless. the microX (or its big brother the X50) is the virtual TRITON that the computer-based musician has long desired. and the microX behaves just as a softsynth program would.And in a sense. allowing softsynths to begin to approach the same types of fidelity and flexibility of popular hardware synths. load the plug-in editor program. as processing speed and power increased. asking it to do all of them at once can put a strain on the host computer's CPU. computers became faster and faster thinkers. able to be tweaked and accessed from inside your host DAW program. they could run intact inside the host sequencing/audio recording (Digital Audio Workstation or DAW) program. let's look at Korg's own microX Music Synthesizer. Starting with "vintage" synthesizers and percussion boxes that featured a limited amount of variables. In a sense. But look a little deeper. Many of these softsynths took the form of "plug-in" instruments. And while the computer does an admirable job at any one of these tasks. Whew! Okay all that simply to get us to here. as memory continued to be smaller and more economical. that is. and it is much more than that. . The hardware of the microX takes occupies a small footprint in the studio. major parts of a digital synthesizer's instruction set could be transplanted into a computer intact.

it puts very little drain on the host computer's CPU and processing resources. As our second example. And it includes a "plug-in" editor program that allows the M3 to behave as a softsynth inside a host DAW program. As in the previous example. This arrangement offers the best of both worlds. This also allows the microX sounds to be loaded up with the DAW's "session". . Finally – because the microX is powered by its own internal processor .The microX assigned to a MIDI track in Cubase. the M3 is a fully-functioning independent hardware workstation. But when sequencing or mixing. let's examine the new Korg M3. the microX can be played and tweaked from its own hardware controls. the same softsynth can be opened multiple times in a host program to generate different sounds based on the same synth. minimizing latency and other issues. When composing or working on sound design. One other thing worth mentioning: in the world of computer-based music production. the hardware can remain "invisible". using the plug-in editor program. the microX can essentially be sixteen separate virtual instruments simultaneously. With sixteen independent MIDI channels. enjoying all the benefits outlined above. with any revisions and edits performed from inside the host program.

the "Virtualized Hardware" approach used in the in the M3 Music Workstation takes this hardware/software integration one step further. By installing the FireWire option (EXB-FW) the M3 can route its audio signals to the computer over the same FireWire cable that is being used for MIDI control signals. in this case. In the previous example. or into the computer via an audio interface. However. the audio outputs of the microX must be either routed into a mixer. Routing FireWire Audio from the M3 (with FireWire option) using Cubase.The M3 plug-in editor software. . In fact. the M3 itself can serve as an audio FireWire interface.

as in the previous example. etc.). the M3 uses its own horsepower for sound generation. Line. . Routing FireWire Audio in and out on the Zero4 mixer. or to receive FireWire audio signals from the computer. and its audio signals – as well as its sound editing parameters – are completely under the control of the host computer and DAW program. bi-directional FireWire audio control. as a MIDI control surface (for a computer-based softsynth or hardware module.using the FireWire option (EXB-FW) With this level of integration. And. Not to mention the dynamic EQs. CD.The M3 plug-in editor can be assigned to a MIDI track. etc.). Sampling. And the Zero Control Mixer's outputs can be sent as FireWire audio to the computer as well – providing true mutli-channel. And once again. and/or an audio track – Pro Tools 6 in this example . etc. this type of hardware integration does not place a load on the host computer's CPU – a big benefit! There are other examples from the current Korg line-up where this type of hardware/software integration is providing new potential and new flexibility in the computer-based studio. tweaking hardware knobs on the unit or cursor editing the same parameter in the editing software produces the same result. Kaoss-style FX control. The new line of Zero Control Mixers (Zero4 and Zero8) allows each stereo channel to be configured individually as an audio input (Mic.

etc. This feature evolved into what we now call “aftertouch” – a second touch which. So – what does this all mean? In the recent past. Sounds simple enough. It's a great time to be alive! Unlocking the Keys By Malcolm Doak When choosing a synthesizer. With the invention of the piano came the ability to control the dynamics of the sound. plucked or even bowed various instruments for millennia. timbre or dynamics of a note. What factors influence the “feel” of a piano? There are many. they too pursued other innovations. And before synthesizers found their way to a dynamic keyboard. we will explore the history of the keyboard and offer a few suggestions on choosing one that meets your needs. you – the user – get to enjoy fully musical and coherent hands-on hardware control. clavichords. the instrument can determine the velocity with which the key was struck. two sensors are mounted under the key – one toward the user end of the key. Those were about the only choices. When we think of the keyboard. early keyboards can be seen as little more than rows of tuned doorbells. the proliferation of "hardware controllers" for a software world. not keyboard instruments – but the keys themselves. Looking at it in performance. the escapement slips. allowing the organist to easily play smears and slides up and down the keyboard. But keyboards were used centuries earlier on organs. And in exchange for the wonders of polyphony. Once a key had been pressed. or an interface. The Hammond organ had no keyboard dynamics. yet it had other innovations – such as “key percussion” for accenting non-legato notes in a phrase. When synthesizers first started appearing. while enjoying all the benefits of an integrated computer music studio. where the music happens. Usually. Think of it this way – the keyboard is a boundary. bend the pitch sharp or flat. Nope. Keep in mind that synthesizers at the time were monophonic (one note a time). a hammer is thrown. the string is struck. the rear sensor is triggered first. the response. A key played softly produced a soft note. or a gateway. the resistance of the key to being pressed (the “weighting”). It is that solid yet ethereal point where man meets machine. but the keyboard remains fairly new in the pantheon of music making technologies. the size and shape of the key. and following that. workstation. the draft of the key (how far down . electronic pianos. At the advent of electronic keyboards. So what is the attraction. But this was not always the case. The ARP Pro-Soloist was an early example of this type of keyboard. pressing it even harder could add vibrato. A slower velocity plays a soft note. a key pressed with vitality produced a louder note. harpsichords. can be used for adding different modulation to the pitch. the touch. Press a key and a valve opened or a jack plucked a string. the hammer returns – all sorts of things have to happen! Today. we normally think of the piano first. These organs also featured a “waterfall” keyboard design. where gesture translates into sound. and one further back. A key is pressed. But recently there is a growing "re-think" that has led to a blurring of those superficial boundaries. higher velocities play louder notes. But on paper. When a key is pressed. nuance and articulation that many other instruments offer. and now digital pianos have all sought to recreate an authentic and faithful keyboard touch that emulates that of a concert grand piano. blown. the fascination? Musicians have many opinions about keyboards – the feel. where the leading edge of the key forms a smooth curve into the front edge of the key. many electronic and digital keyboards offer dynamic control from the keyboard. the number of keyboard choices available to the musician can be staggering. keyboards originally sacrificed the gesture. there seemed to be a divisive schism between hardware fans and software enthusiasts. In terms of articulation. the process had to start all over again. and hardware is finding new ways to augment and enhance the computer-centric music making process. Yet these early keyboard instruments were roughly on off switches. Electric pianos. with the keyboard the musician uses a physical gesture to operate a mechanical device that in turn creates the music. and so manufacturers were trying to instill traditional “solo instrument” virtues upon the synthesizer. it is mind-boggling. controller or even a digital piano. In today’s chapter. So let’s go back a little.Once again. etc. they also had no keyboard dynamics. Don’t press the key and nothing happened. it is elegant and wondrous. once the key is down. Unlike other instruments where the musician is directly creating the sound. Every key of a concert piano contains dozens of parts. Humans have hit. By measuring the time between the first sensor and the second sensor.

If piano is your primary instrument. you may find a synthesizer action offers better aftertouch control. And while the 88 key piano actions carry the highest price tag and are often considered to be the “best” version of a specific model. Will you be moving the instrument often? If so. where the key weight is progressively reduced towards the top end of the piano. Korg.it can be pressed before “bottoming out”). While this doesn’t affect how the keys themselves feel. etc. then an 88 key action may be perfect for you. Quick. so no upward pressure is felt from the keys that are being held down – the weight of the key itself pulls the hammer back to a rest position. certain organ techniques are almost impossible on a piano style keyboard. the keys generally return to the rest position via the weight of the thrown hammer. but still more highly weighted than a synthesizer action. a spring is generally used to lift the key to the rest position. So – what should one look for in a keyboard when choosing an instrument? The best advice is to honestly consider how your instrument will be used. the types of sounds you will be playing. This accurately mimics the lighter hammers at the upper end of a traditional acoustic piano. A heavy action can inspire confidence. which in turn gave way to graded hammer action. On synthesizer actions. a light touch may be easy to play but hard to control. In hammer-based piano actions. Ensoniq and others used to make 76 key hammer-style actions. But keep in mind. take stock of your own playing preferences. 73/76. So when setting on the quest for your next keyboard instrument. the amount of time you will be playing in a single session. and what elements are important to you. the 88 key models will feature a piano style action (a traditional piano also has 88 keys) with a square front key (albeit with a lip on the leading edge. etc. it does offer control of how dynamic information will be applied to the sound. . The latest item to migrate from the concert grand piano to the digital keyboard is the “escapement” where the entire key mechanism is shunted once the hammer is thrown. but a 76 or 73 key instrument (and certainly a 61 key) may fit comfortably across your back seat. And if you play you may a lot of synthesizer parts and solos. workstations. There are other considerations as well. synthesizers. There always exceptions – Korg’s Pa2XPro has a 76-note action that is not a hammer action. By and large. and 88 key configurations. not like the organ waterfall keyboards mentioned earlier). Weighted actions gave way to hammer driven actions. provide a variety of userselectable (or in some cases. and you will be able to find a keyboard that can enhance – and not hinder – your musical ambitions. your own transportation concerns and limitations. while an 88 key instrument may not! Keyboards continue to evolve. it may not always be the right match. the point in the keystroke when the hammer is thrown to create the sound. user-designable) touch-response curves. and lyrical solos and phrases may come easier with a light synthesizer touch. or the sound you are most likely to use. There are always trade-offs to consider. For example – many popular workstations come in 61. fluid. because the key is always pushing up against you. what kind of car do you drive? It may seem trivial now. Many of today’s controllers. but may cause fatigue over time. Sixty-one and 73/76 key models will generally feature a synthesizer action with a protruding “platform” key that lacks a front edge altogether.

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