Strummed-Chords, And Arpeggios Tutorial

1.8 Playing 'Strummed' Chords, Or Arpeggios 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.

Playing Arpeggios

Arpeggios are the notes of a chord, played individually, with their sound sustained (such as by using the sustain-control).

A pianist would play the chord notes in a sequence, starting low in the bass, and skipping up to higher notes of the chord, while pressing the sustain pedal.

The KeyMusician Keyboard lets you do this, simply by playing chords, and selecting the type of arpeggio you want to play. The notes of the chord are used to build the arpeggio, but its range (low-to-high) is in many cases larger, to make it sound better.

The arpeggios we've supplied aren't simply the notes of the chord, but have been hand-generated to be something we would actually play on a piano, and sound quite good.

As with strummed-chords, it is good to choose an instrument in the chords pane with a 'hard (percussive) attack', like a guitar, piano, or harpsichord. You are the judge of what sounds good. You can even choose a string-section pizzicato sound.

Click the ASSIGNABLE slider's drop-box (covered by the expanded drop-box) to select the type of arpeggio you want, as shown in the screen-shot below:


The “205-Arpeggio 12 Note Delay” is a good choice to start with, for experimenting with.

When you've selected it, adjust the slider to control the amount of delay between notes of the arpeggio. The middle of the slider's range is a good place to start. With a delay of 0, all chord notes are played at the same time (not an arpeggio), so don't choose that, except to turn it off.

It's best to do this in the “Chords” pane, but you can do it in any performance pane, in which case, switching performance panes can even change the type of arpeggio, and its note-delay (speed).

When you've done that, specify a chord on the numeric keypad, and press and hold the “Play” button (0-key). Listen as it plays the individual notes of the chord as an arpeggio. If you count the notes (of Arpeggio 12) to where it repeats, you will realize there are 12 of them.

The Arpeggio number (Arpeggio 6, Arpeggio 8, Arpeggio 9, and Arpeggio 12) specify the number of notes in the arpeggio.

With Arpeggio 8, the notes of the arpeggio are played in groups of four, which is better for rhythms using duplets (multiples of 2). All the others (6, 9, and 12) are good for triplet rhythms (multiples of 3), and make it easy to play 3-against-2 poly-rhythms with it.

As you hold down the “Play” key (of the numeric-keypad), the arpeggio plays, and will continue to play until all the notes of the arpeggio have been played, after which the notes of the arpeggio will be repeated for as long as you hold-down the Play-Key.

As with playing chords, you can specify a new chord while the current arpeggio (chord) is playing, and the next time you press the “Play” key, the new arpeggio that plays, will use the notes of the new chord.

If you release the “Play” key before the arpeggio finishes, no more notes of the arpeggio will be played (terminating it early), and you can restart it again immediately, or play a new chord/arpeggio. This can be useful for a single-measure rhythm change, or if you get behind with your melody.

If you press the “Play” key very briefly, it will play just the first note of the arpeggio, which is a possible way of ending a sequence of arpeggios. If the melody instrument is similar, you could play the appropriate melody note to end the arpeggio properly.

If the “Chords” pane is displayed, the notes that make up the arpeggio will be shown in the music display, all together, even though they are played individually.

Give it a try! It now works with all synthesizers & MIDI interfaces, and you can now record it (which you couldn't do in earlier KMK versions).

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