MIDI Synthesizer Tips & Tricks
Unlike dedicated bass pedals, a MIDI pedal keyboard permits combining two or more sounds. I have made extensive use of bass layered with an organ sound. Besides offering an energetic alternative to bass alone, it affords much stronger support for a guitar solo.
IronMan Mike Curtis also takes advantage of layering: "I usually use a 'jazz organ' patch with a little sustain after release, just to soften the note. I've lately doubled the patch with a 'marimba' for a kinda 'Hammond percussion' effect."
An especially powerful layering technique combines a bass sound with another sound which fades in as the bass decays. The second sound isn't heard at all during a normal bass line; it emerges from a sustained bass note to alter the overall sound, subtly or drastically. I've used this idea extensively in my original songs, including Pissing at the Moon, Need to Tell You, and Testing to Destruction.
Many MIDI synthesizers, samplers and sample players permit assigning different sounds to specific note ranges. The Casio VZ-8M allows three different split points, allowing a different sound to be played from each of four keyboard zones. This feature is probably most often used by manual keyboard players; it permits, for example, assigning bass to the left hand and a piano sound to the right.
I haven't used this capability extensively myself, and I have no audio examples to offer, but I have tested the concept thoroughly. One possible pedal keyboard application: Assignment of the pedal keyboard's highest note to a snare drum or other percussion sound, to be played with the right foot as the left foot plays bass on all the other keys. Another possibility: layering a bass sound (the same one on all keys) with different percussion sounds in each of several zones.
This capability, offered by the Casio VZ synthesizers and, I presume, by many other MIDI sound generators, allows changing the sound by how fast a key is pressed. Obviously, it can only be utilized with a controller which transmits key velocity data. Happily, all of the MIDI pedal keyboards in current manufacture do so.
If you're frustrated by having only one octave available from a pedal keyboard, here's your answer: Simply assign your normal bass sound to all keypresses below a given velocity threshold, and assign the same sound transposed up an octave to keypresses above that threshold. Presto-- your one-octave pedal keyboard now spits out two octaves! It's much like overblowing a flute to get the second octave.
Pickup notes (and eighth notes in general) were possible for me only up to about 130 bpm; rock songs faster than that had pretty boring bass, until I devised a way to double my note productivity. My first synthesizer, a Casio CZ-101, allowed me to create two sounds-- one triggered by a key press, and the second when the key was released-- and combine them in the same patch. The result was a somewhat thin bass sound, but it was much more energetic than thumping out quarter note roots. To my ear, it was most effective with the "echo" notes (those sounded by releasing the key) an octave higher than the fundamental bass sound.
Acquisition of a Casio VZ-8M for use with the pedal keyboard let me create much more robust repeating bass sounds; Why Don't You? and Need to Tell You are two examples. A third example is Windows Into My Soul, available at my MP3.com page.
The echo could also be an unpitched percussive sound, along the lines of the slap-bass technique used by bluegrass and other acoustic bassists.
Drone bass sounds can be very effective, while permitting concentration on other aspects of the music. With eight "modules" (think analog synthesizer oscillators, or Yamaha FM operators), eight-stage envelopes for pitch, amplitude, ring and phase modulation, and layering capability, the Casio VZ synthesizers are capable of some very complex drones. The example, Rock and Roll, only begins to hint at the possibilities.
The VZ synthesizers also lend themselves very well to creation of sounds with built-in rhythm. I'm reluctant to surrender tempo control to a device I can't control in real time, but the rhythmic sound I came up with for Need to Tell You-- layered with an "octave-echo" sound-- was simply too effective not to use.
Here's a hint for VZ users: Ring modulation with a very low fixed pitch can create one rhythm, tremolo another-- in the same patch, at the same time...