Playing a Roland D-20 in Performance-Mode with the KMK

In the 1980's, I bought a Roland D-20 synthesizer, shown in the picture below:

Here I’m playing the Roland D-20 synthesizer, using its own keyboard, near the wall to the left of my Yamaha S90-ES synthesizer, at the right of the photo. It’s connected to the same computer (the Mac Mini) via a MIDI interface.

For this article, we made a video, so you can hear, and see it in-action.  In the video, I also explain the how’s, why’s, and wherefore’s, of using it, and you can listen to (and watch) an improvised performance using it.

In the video, I’m playing the Roland D-20, using the KMK on a Mac Mini, and also using an 88-key MIDI keyboard routed through the KMK, to play it.

To watch the video, click-on (follow) the link below. You can return to this article (for more details about the video) by using your browser’s back-button. For seeing the best details, watch the video in full-screen mode. Here is the link to the video:

When I bought the Roland D-20, sound generation via synthesis was the established technology, and sampled-sound technology was only beginning to take over.

The Roland D-20 was a very good synthesizer at the time, though it used the older synthesis technology. Yet some of those sounds, particularly in performance-mode, are very good, and can’t be reproduced with other synthesizers.

I composed a lot of music with the D-20, and still use it sometimes, to get those unique, beautiful sounds.

I’ve used it before with the KMK, in multi-timbral mode, where you can play a different sound (of 128 possible multi-timbral sounds) on each of the 16 MIDI channels. You can read the article I did on playing the Roland D20 in multi-timbral mode, by following the following link:

New Life for an Old Synthesizer

But its best sounds are available in performance-mode, in which you can only use MIDI channel 1.

There is no voice-list in the Roland D-20 Manual for the 128 performance-mode sounds. When you manually switch to each of the possible performance-mode sounds, the name of that sound appears in the LCD screen.

I recently discovered that the KMK can change the sound of the D-20, even in performance mode, by sending the proper MIDI program-change message, using channel 1. So I created a synthesizer definition file for the Roland D20 in performance mode.

If you have a Roland D-20 synthesizer, and want to play it in performance mode using the KMK, you can get that synthesizer definition file, by right-clicking (option-clicking) the following link, and choosing “Save Link As” (or whatever similar choice your browser offers) in the popup-menu.


Also, if you have a Roland D-20 synthesizer, and want to play it in multi-timbral mode using the KMK, you can get that synthesizer definition file, by right-clicking (option-clicking) the following link, and choosing “Save Link As” (or whatever similar choice your browser offers) in the popup-menu.


After downloading either (or both) definition files, copy them (from where they were downloaded, such as your Downloads folder) to the “KeyMusician-Keyboard” folder. Then run the KeyMusician Keyboard application.

In your KMK configuration, in the F1 pane, set the “Instrument Definitions Used” drop-list, to specify whichever of those two files you want to use. These instrument definition files only work for the Roland D-20. So of course, you don’t need to do the above if you don’t have one.

Here are a number of pictures from the video, along with their explanations.

Here, I’m playing chords on the numeric keypad, and melody on my Yamaha S90-es keyboard, going through the KMK, which is transposing what I play to the key of D-flat major (5 flats).  From the KMK, it goes to the Roland D-20 via a MIDI interface.

Since in performance mode, only MIDI channel 1 can be used, the chords (also using channel 1) have the same volume as the melody. I can bring out the melody notes over the chord notes, by hitting the melody note keys fairly hard, using the Yamaha’s velocity-sensitive keyboard.

Though the Roland D-20 only has a 61-key keyboard, its synthesizer responds to any note of a larger keyboard, such as the 88-key MIDI keyboard of the Yamaha, or the 84-key keyboard of the KMK’s typing keyboard.

Notice the computer (a Mac Mini) on top of the home stereo amplifier, to the left, with the monitor sitting on the home stereo amplifier to the right. It’s running Mac OS. Of course, all of this will work on Windows or Linux.

Here’s a picture of the computer screen, while playing chords (on the numeric keypad), and melody on the MIDI keyboard. Notice I’m running the KMK on MacOS for this particular video. The Keyboard Monitor window (bottom left) shows what keyboard keys are currently being pressed. The typing keyboard key (W-key in this instance), in the melody-section of the keyboard, actually shows the typing-keyboard equivalent for the MIDI keyboard note played.

Notice that the Chords Window’s buttons show the chords natural for the key of D-flat major, and B-flat minor.

Here, I’m playing with both hands in the melody-section of the typing keyboard, which is a gamers’ keyboard having 18-key rollover. That means I can play up to 18 simultaneous notes.

You might wonder why I use the typing-keyboard to play it, when I have a good velocity-sensitive MIDI keyboard I could use instead.

The reason, is that on the typing keyboard, I can reach a tremendous range of notes, without needing to use the sustain pedal. Using the sustain pedal smears-together melody notes in an unpleasant way – particularly for instrument sounds that don’t die away quickly, which I’m using here.

For sounds that die away quickly, such as a piano, it’s not as much of a problem.

Using the typing keyboard, I can play a wide range of notes, without any need to use the sustain-pedal. I just let up on the notes I don’t want to keep sounding.

This picture shows the computer screen while playing with both hands in the melody section.

In this mode, I play chords (or inversions of chords) with my left hand (the Q, E, and T keys at this moment), and improvise melody with the fingers of my right hand (the P in this instant). I improvise a bass-line with my right hand’s thumb (the left angle-bracket, in this instant).

The right thumb on that key, works in most cases, like a drone-pipe on a bagpipe, or a resonant string. But it’s good to get creative and play an actual bass-line with your right thumb, as your skill increases.

The chords played by my left hand, can easily be strummed, or can do an oom-pa-pa sort of motif (tune fragment). Sometimes I play more than 3 notes. Sometimes I use my left thumb to help out with the bass-line done by my right thumb.

There are certain patterns of key-presses I use when the chord straddles the left end of the keyboard row, but those patterns can be learned fairly quickly. Fortunately, the fingering is the same in every key-signature.

This is a picture of the screen, while playing the massive 11-note chord at the end of the piece.

Everything to the right of the H-key (7 notes) is played by my right hand, and everything left of there (4 notes) is played by my left hand.

No, I don’t have 7 fingers on my right hand. I play the zero and P keys simultaneously, with my ring finger, and the equal-key and right-square-bracket key, simultaneously with my little finger. Sometimes I play the 3-key and the E-key simultaneously with the middle finger of my left hand, making it a 12-note chord.

You have to be careful doing this, or you’ll accidentally play a wrong note, which can be particularly embarrassing at the end of the piece!

You can’t do this without a gamers’ keyboard having anti-ghosting. Beware that some gamers’ keyboards only have 6-key rollover anti-ghosting, which would not be sufficient for the above chord. My keyboard has 18-key rollover anti-ghosting.

I hope this article gives you some ideas for making use of synthesizers you might have, or obtain, using the KeyMusician Keyboard.

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