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 easily play a melody using the guitar sound, but can it play strummed-chords along with melody, using a Guitar sound?

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.

Though these three pieces use the Java Sound (Gervill) Synthesizer, available with Oracle Java, and Open Java (on Linux), they can now be played using any synthesizer, as of version 1.32, published at the end of April, 2018.

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, it's best to choose an instrument in the chords pane with a 'hard (percussive) attack', like a guitar, piano, or harpsichord.

In everything we've 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 (by repeatedly pressing the “Play” key.) 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, 45, 62, 63, 76, 80, 83, 84, 88, 90, 92, 96, and 99.

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.kmk” configuration file.

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

With KMK versions prior to 1.32 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, because it is the only synthesizer that allows you to specify future notes to be played.

With KMK version 1.32 and above, the strummed-chords and arpeggio feature is supported on all synthesizers and MIDI interfaces (that connect to other synthesizers). This was done by special code in the KeyMusician Keyboard to support it.

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.

In KMK version 1.32 and above, you also have choice of strumming the chord down (rather than up), or choosing an arpeggio, which sounds like a finger-picked guitar chord.

Since MIDI control 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 (four for arpeggios), yielding the number of milliseconds (1/1000 of a second) the synthesizer should delay before playing the successive notes of a chord. This delay produces the strumming sound.

If you set it to 0, there is no strumming sound (which is the best way to turn it off). 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 (pressing & holding the “Play” key), then play a C-major-7th chord (pressing and holding the “Play” key). 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 improvise melody-notes along with the strummed chords. 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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