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Revised
23 September
2000

Troubador Tech

MIDI Guitar Solo: Unleashing the power

More MIDI guitar:
-MIDI Guitar List
-Casio MIDI Guitars
-Roland Guitar Synths
-Korg Z3 MIDI Guitar
-Using MIDI Guitar
Most MIDI guitarists I've heard either double or replace the guitar's own sound with a synthesized or sampled sound. While this is effective, a MIDI guitar can be even more powerful if the guitar and synthesizer sounds are divorced in time, pitch, and dynamics, in a way that suggests two different people playing.

Hear me play
Besides the brief song excerpts here, you can hear my MIDI guitar playing on complete songs at my Sensory Syrynx page.
There are three hardware methods of doing this:

I didn't have any of these available, so I worked out a fourth way-- MIDI guitar my way-- which requires nothing beyond a MIDI guitar and an appropriate synthesizer or sample player.



Hardware Helpers

Hold Pedal: Many MIDI guitar systems offer a hold pedal. This permits the player to sustain a synthesizer note or chord while soloing with the guitar sound.

Even if your system doesn't include a hold pedal, you may be able to implement one, if your synthesizer (sample player, tone generator, whatever) responds to MIDI Controller #66-- the Sostenuto command. All you need is a MIDI control pedal capable of spitting out the command. (I bought the now discontinued Anatek Pocket Pedal for this purpose. Unfortunately for me, it didn't work in my setup.)

Arpeggiator: An arpeggiator, as the name implies, can turn a chord into an arpeggio. A foot pedal keeps the arpeggio going as an accompaniment to a solo. There's one built into the Roland GR-30, and there've been a few stand-alone MIDI arpeggiators, most notably the Oberheim Cyclone.

Sequencer: A sequencer onstage allows a MIDI guitarist to record a part, then play it back while playing something different using the guitar sound.

A few MIDI guitar systems, notably the Roland GR-1, include built-in sequencers,and a number of small stand-alone sequencers suitable for the job have been marketed.


MIDI Guitar My Way

RealAudio Examples
Jailbait
Streaming
28.8K
56K
Download
28.8K
138KB
56K
344KB
Pissing at the Moon
Streaming
28.8K
56K
Download
28.8K
92.3KB
56K
228KB
Testing to Destruction
Streaming
28.8K
56K
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28.8K
53.7KB
56K
132KB
More on the Sounds page

Lacking the hold pedal, and not owning an arpeggiator or sequencer, I developed a way of creating a sustained legato pad sound from the synthesizer while strumming a staccato guitar rhythm. The pad sound also makes a different inversion of the chord than the guitar. It really does sound like two different people playing. This technique may be unique; I have not read or heard of anyone else using it.

Besides the RealAudio song excerpts linked to the right, you can hear this technique in seven of the eight songs on my MP3.com page. Also, WAV versions of the song excerpts are available from the Sounds page.

This method is remarkably cost-effective: It needs no hardware beyond the basic MIDI guitar and sound generator. It does, however, require some equipment configuration.

Equipment Configuration: First, make sure the guitar and synthesizer are both in MIDI Mono Mode. This causes each string to send out MIDI information on its own channel.

You then have to create a synthesizer patch. This is a three-step process:

  1. Restrict the synthesizer to respond to only two or three strings, by muting all other channels. You do this by setting the volume parameter for the channel to zero. I usually use only strings 2 and 3 to trigger organ sounds, and strings 1, 2 and 3 or 2, 3 and 4 for other pad sounds.

  2. Transpose one or two strings so that the synthesizer produces a different inversion of the chord or harmony played on the guitar. For most purposes, I simply transpose the pitch of the note triggered by the third string up one octave.

  3. Edit the synthesizer sounds to keep guitar strums from interrupting the legato flow of the pad sound. I do this by setting a uniform sustain level for all elements of the sound, a slow release time (usually a couple of seconds, but it could be much longer), and an attack time slow enough that there's no noticeable pop or click.

More synth tricks:
-MIDI synth tricks
-Casio VZ long delays
Repeat these three steps for each patch you want to create. I use about a dozen, some of which incorporate two or three different synthesizer sounds.

For maximum reliability, pitch bend should be disabled; on the Casio MIDI guitars, this simply means putting the instrument in chromatic mode (where I usually have mine set anyway).

This approach would work nicely, and even more reliably, if you do have a hold pedal.

Dynamic Isolation: As noted above, the synthesizer sounds I use with this technique have a constant amplitude for the sustain portion of their envelopes. The sounds are therefore not affected by how forcefully or gently the guitar's strings are strummed or plucked. This dynamic isolation of the guitar and synthesizer sounds is a significant element of the illusion of two different people playing.

I overcome some of the static quality of the synthesizer sounds by using a volume pedal to control the synthesizer's output.

More setup/playing tips:
-Using MIDI Guitar

Playing Technique: I've discovered that strumming-hand muting is extremely important when driving the synthesizer in this fashion. I've developed the habit of muting all strings with the edge of my palm whenever I change chords, sacrificing the up-strum I would normally make for the sake of accurate triggering. To me, it's a worthwhile tradeoff.

I've found that many of my triggering errors do occur on upstrums, and that they seem to be dependent on both the tempo and the specific strumming attack. A thin, flexible nylon pick seems to produce fewer errors than the medium Tortex pick I'd rather use.

When I play a verse fingerstyle and strum the chorus, my preference is to strum down with my middle and ring fingernails, using my thumbnail for the upstroke. This works fine at some tempos; at others, I find that in order to minimize errors, I have to strum down with my thumb, and carefully pick only the first string with a finger on the upstroke.

Benefits: As noted above, this technique permits playing a staccato guitar rhythm with a sustained legato pad sound. After establishing the synthesizer sound with an initial strum, I can even get away with strumming completely muted strings, for the percussive effect, without disrupting the flow of the pad sound. Coupled with the difference in chord inversions and the dynamic isolation, the result really does sound like two different people playing.

More synth tricks:
-MIDI synth tricks
-Casio VZ long delays


More MIDI guitar:
-MIDI Guitar List
-Casio MIDI Guitars
-Roland Guitar Synths
-Korg Z3 MIDI Guitar
-Using MIDI Guitar

Another benefit: While still demanding clean technique, this approach significantly reduces the probability of glitches being heard. The ones that happen on the muted channels don't come out of the amp.

Limits: Obviously this technique is strictly rhythm (you don't "want to make it cry or sing" without first killing the synthesizer sound). It's necessary to play the strings triggering the synthesizer on the first beat of each chord, unless you want the pad sound to lag the guitar chord change (hmmmm...). And, in the absence of the hold function, the pad sounds have to be pretty static.


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