Playing Guitar, With Melody And Strummed-Chords

I've always admired classical-guitar players, with their ability to finger-pick melody along with strummed chords.

That skill doesn't come easy, since you probably know of many guitarists who can do wonderfully-expressive strumming, but don't play melody along with it.

The KeyMusician Keyboard can certainly play a guitar sound, but can it play strummed-chords along with melody, using a Guitar sound?

The answer is yes, and this article tells you how, as well as giving you three examples of doing just that.

Since this is the December issue of the newsletter, two of the demo-pieces are in keeping with the holiday season.

All three pieces use components installed with the application (on Linux). The sound-font used, though not available on Windows and Mac, can easily be downloaded from:

The FluidR3_GM Sound-Font

Though you could certainly play the guitar sound available on Windows or Mac.

All three pieces use the Java Sound (Gervill) Synthesizer, available with Oracle Java, and Open Java (on Linux).

Apple Java (on 32-bit Mac), could be used for the 3rd piece, but doesn't have the feature allowing the use of the KMK “Strummed-Chords” feature, used in the first two pieces.

Other than the Apple Java restriction above, everything used comes with the application, out-of-the-box. No fancy commercial synthesizers, or MIDI routers are required.

The Latency (delay between pressing a key and hearing its note) inherent in the Java Sound Synthesizer (on Oracle Java and Open Java), is present, but I was able to play the pieces okay, despite that latency. Since that latency is a bit more noticeable on Windows, I made sure I could play it on Windows as well, and I could do it just fine.

So what is the “Strummed-Chords” feature? You may remember it from near the end of the first tutorial. But if you don't remember it, here is an excerpt from that tutorial.

Playing 'Strummed' Chords With The Numeric-Keypad

Strummed chords can sound really good, and are a useful tool to have. Although they function with any instrument sound in the chords pane, instruments with a 'soft' attack (attack is the start-of-note sound) make it hard to even notice the strumming.

For the strummed chords feature to work, you need to choose an instrument in the chords pane with a 'hard (percussive) attack', like a guitar, piano, or harpsichord.

In everything we have done so far, we've used instruments in the chords pane that hold a sustained sound (like “48-Strings”). By using a sustained sound, you just hold down the chord key(s) as long as you want the chord to play.

With the chords pane instrument having a percussive attack. It also fades away fairly quickly, so you have to play the chord over and over again. This is reasonable, since you notice when a guitar player plays a chord, it is strummed over and over again.

A compromise between the hard-attack voices, and the sustained-note voices, are the following bank 0 voice numbers: 4, 5, 17, 30, 39, 62, 63, 76, 80, 83, 84, 88, 90, 92, 96, and 99 (in the “Instrument” drop-box of the performance pane).

Since you are probably most accustomed to hearing strummed notes played by a guitar, we have initially selected “25-Steel String Guitar” in what comes with the instrument, in the “StrummedChords.amk” configuration file.

So click on the “F1 (Help/Setup)” pane's tab (or hit F1), and in the “Configuration File” drop-box, choose “StrummedChords.amk”.

When you do this, the “MIDI Output To” drop-box should be set to the “Gervill=Software MIDI Synthesizer” device. If it isn't, select that MIDI output device, since this is currently the only synthesizer (that I know of) that supports specifying future-times in notes sent to it. It isn't available on Mac if you're using the Apple-supplied Java 1.6, so in that case, you can't do this exercise. It does work using Oracle Java, on 64-bit Mac.

A good thing about the Gervill synthesizer, is that it is available in both Linux and Windows (and later levels of Mac OS X), though it has a bit more latency (delay between hitting the note and hearing the sound) on Windows than on Linux or Mac.

With a reasonably fast machine, this device works just fine, and you shouldn't encounter the bad things, other than latency (delay between pressing a key and hearing its sound).

With the Gervill synthesizer selected as the output device, click on the “Chords” pane tab.

There's one other thing you need to understand about strummed-chords before we experiment with using them.

Notice in the “ASSIGNABLE” slider control, the drop-box is set to “200-Strummed Chord Note Delay”. If it isn't, please select that value.

Since MIDI controller identifier numbers only go up to 127, this is not something that is sent out on the MIDI channel. Instead, it is used to internally control the KeyMusician Keyboard. The value specified by this slider is multiplied by two, yielding the number of milliseconds (1/1000 of a second) the synthesizer should delay before playing the successive notes of a chord. This delay (if acted on by the synthesizer) produces the strumming sound.

If you set it to 0, there is no strumming sound. If you set it to the maximum value (127), it takes about a second to play a 3-note chord. For my taste, I like a value of 32 (4 tick-marks to the right of the left-most tick-mark), which is the way this configuration file is initially set. If it isn't set that way, please set it to 32, at least while we start out using it.

Okay, let's try it out.

On the numeric-keypad (with the Num Lock light lit), first play an F-major-7th chord, then play a C-major-7th chord (like we did in the last exercise). Listen to the sound as you do that. Repeat that chord-sequence a few times, and see how you like the sound.

Another neat thing, is you can make a sound like a Balaliaka (a Russian folk stringed musical instrument, often played with continual strumming). To do this, with a chord already set to be played, press the Play-button (“0” on the numeric-keypad) over-and-over, somewhat quickly. Adjust the speed you press the key to where you get a constant strumming sound.

Click on one of the other performance panes (F2 through F10, or F12), and try playing strummed-chords while you play melody-notes. Remember that you need to re-press the chord Play-button to make it play again and again. Otherwise, the chord fades away, and it's like there is no chord.

Strummed-Chord With Melody Demo-Pieces

The first piece, “Oh Come, Oh Come Immanuel”, is basically the “Christmas Song” piece in the KMK-Songbook, but played using the Guitar sound (in both the melody, and the chords).

One other change I like to make when playing guitar using the KeyMusician Keyboard, is to transpose the sound an octave lower. That way, the area I'm more used to playing melody in (the row above the home-row) is used, and the notes are in a range with better resonance using the Guitar sound. Also, the keyboard keys shown in that songbook piece, will work in playing the piece, and not sound too high.

I do that by clicking the “Base Octave” spin-control down by 1 (from 2), to a value of 1, as shown (where the cursor is) in the screen-shot below:

Notice that it shifts the grand-staff display up, so the notes you play (on the home-row and row above it) sound lower.

In playing this piece, there's a technique to playing the melody-note that sounds better if you do it, namely, playing the melody-note at the conclusion of the strummed-chord, as if that melody-note were the last note of the strummed-chord. I tried to do that in the piece, but I'm sure I missed it sometimes.

Another thing I did in the first two pieces, is in playing the chords, I pressed the key for the root note of the chord twice, which not only gives you a stronger chord, but also gives you an extra chord note, which sounds better in the strumming.

For example, instead of playing the A-minor chord shown in the KMK-Songbook, I pressed the numeric-keypad “6” key twice (rather than once), which yields an A-minor/A (Amin/A) chord rather than just A-minor (Amin). I used this technique for every chord, in both strummed-chord pieces.

You can hear the piece by clicking the link below (or alternatively, right-clicking in, choosing “Save Link As” (or something similar) from the pop-up menu, and downloading its MP3 file). If you download it, browse to where you saved the file (such as the Downloads folder), and you should be able to double-click on it to play it.

Here is the link to the first piece:

Oh Come, Oh Come Immanuel

The second piece, like the first, is just playing the “Greensleeves” piece in the KMK-Songbook, again with the guitar sound in both melody and chords, with the melody pane transposed as in the picture above. I then played the Flute-part notes, and they sounded okay for a Guitar. Again, the strummed-chords feature was used:


Strummed-Chords Using The Melody Section

Another way of playing strummed-chords, is to play the chords entirely in the melody section of the keyboard, playing the notes of the chord, each note a little-bit after the prior one.

This technique is easy to do on a typing-keyboard, and it doesn't require the use of the (higher latency) Java Sound (Gervill) synthesizer. You may, however, need to use either two keyboards (one for each hand), or a gamer keyboard with anti-ghosting, to avoid key-combinations that won't register on the computer if pressed at the same time.

For this piece (using the Guitar sound, transposed as in the screen-shot above), I used the techniques described in another article, which you can read by clicking on the link below:

Improvising A Piece Entirely In The Melody Keys

The 3rd demo-piece can be heard using the link below:

Guitar Improvisation

Thanks for reading and listening. I hope this provides you with yet another tool in your musical journey – particularly if you like the sound of a Guitar.

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