Strummed-Chords, And Arpeggios

In version 1.32 of the KeyMusician Keyboard, published April 28, 2018, we added a new feature, where we use the notes of the chord specified via the numeric-keypad, to build and play arpeggios. Not just a mindless up-and-down notes-of-the-chord arpeggio, but arpeggios I would actually play on a piano.

Not only that, but we've expanded the strummed-chord feature, which was only available on the Java Sound (Gervill) Synthesizer, to make it available on any synthesizer the KeyMusician Keyboard connects-to. This is because of special code added to the application. Also, you can now record it in MIDI, which you couldn't do before.

If your KeyMusician Keyboard is prior to “1.32” (published April 28, 2018), you might want to go to the Member-Pages, and download the latest version. Otherwise, you can only try out the strummed-chords examples, and then only when using the Java Sound (Gervill) Synthesizer.

What is an arpeggio?

It's the notes of a chord, played one-at-a-time, but in a sustained manner (such as using a sustain pedal on a piano), starting down in the bass, but moving up into the melody area, and back down.

In popular music for piano, it's common to hear a melody played by the right hand, accompanied by an arpeggio played by the left hand. But even in classical music, arpeggios are used.

For surprising example, here is a short version of the tune of the piano solo “The Rustle Of Spring”, by Christian Sinding, played on the KeyMusician Keyboard, with one hand on the numeric keypad, and the other hand on the melody section:

The Rustle Of Spring Excerpt

To learn this best, it would be good to try out what we are presenting, on the KeyMusician Keyboard, though you could just read and listen to the examples, if you're in a hurry.

To try this on the KeyMusician Keyboard, we have supplied two KMK configuration files for you to experiment with. So go ahead and download them now.

To download them, you right-click (two-finger click) on them, selecting “Save Link As” (or whatever similar thing your browser offers in the pop-up menu), to download them.

Then put them in your “KeyMusician-Keyboard” folder, where the application will find them:

Strum-Arp-Piano.kmk

Strum-Arp-Guitar.kmk

The two files are similar, except the first one uses mostly piano sounds, and the second one uses mostly guitar sounds.

We'll illustrate this feature using the piano version, but the same applies to the guitar version.

So run the KeyMusician Keyboard, and load the “Strum-Arp-Piano.kmk” configuration file, and you can give it a try as we show you how.

We'll start with the F2 pane:


Here, the ASSIGNABLE slider has been assigned to “200-Strummed Chord Note Delay”, and that delay is about half of its maximum value. The melody instrument is “1-Bright Yamaha Grand”. Where I'm improvising, I'm using the modal chord system.

Note: The delay values specified for strums are only half as long as what you specify for arpeggios, because the delay you need for strumming is less than what you need for arpeggios.

Specify a “C” chord (on the numeric-keypad, and press the “Play” key (the 0-key). A simple, 3-note C-major chord will be strummed, but 3 notes is not very interesting or impressive.

Double-tap the numeric-keypad “1” key, to select a “C/C” chord, and press the “Play” key. I think you'll like that better.

Add the 7th attribute to the chord (by pressing the numeric-keypad “9” key), then press the “Play” key. That should be more interesting, in that it now has 5 notes in the chord.

Change the 7th attribute to a 9th attribute, by pressing the numeric-keypad “*” key, then press the “Play” key. Now there are 6 notes in the chord.

Press (and hold) the “Play” key, over and over again. As you do that, try clicking the Up-Arrow key (perhaps multiple times), and notice how the delay between notes increases (and the ASSIGNABLE slider moves to the right).

Press (and hold) the “Play” key, over and over again. As you do that, try clicking the Down-Arrow key (perhaps multiple times), and notice how the delay between notes decreases (and the ASSIGNABLE slider moves to the left). Hit the Home-Key to restore the delay time to what it was originally.

Here's a neat trick: Repeatedly hit the “Play” key to get a constant-strumming sound (like a Balalaika – a Russian folk instrument).

Try changing chords as you repeatedly press the “Play” key. Improvise a little tune along with it, as you do that.

Click the link below to listen to a piece of music played on the KeyMusician Keyboard, using the strummed-chords feature (the music for it is in the KMK Songbook):

Green Sleeves - Guitar

Press the F3 function key to move to the next performance pane:


The only difference here is the use of “201-Strum Down Chord Note Delay” (so we're strumming down, rather than up), and it has a slightly shorter strummed-note delay time.

Give it a try, like what you just did before, noticing the different sound of the downward strum, as opposed to an upward-strum.

In piano music, a strummed chord is shown by a squiggly line in front of the chord notes. If that line has an arrow at the top of it pointing up (or if it has no arrow at all), it means to strum up.

If it has an arrow at the bottom of it, pointing down, is means to strum down. In the music below, the chords are strummed in an upward (to higher-pitch) direction:


Press the F4 function key to move to the next performance pane:


In this case, we're using a 6-note arpeggio, and the delay between notes of the arpeggio is about 1/3 the distance from the minimum to the maximum value.

Specify a “C” chord (using the “1” key of the numeric-keypad), then press, and hold the “Play” key.

Even though there are only 3 notes in a simple C chord, there are 6 notes in an “arpeggio 6” pattern. Notice that the arpeggio plays (and repeats) as long as you hold-down the “Play” key, and that it stops playing the instant you release the “Play” key.

Repeatedly pressing the “Play” key quickly (which yielded the 'Balalaika' strumming sound) doesn't apply to arpeggios. With arpeggios, you'll just get the first note (of first few notes) over and over again.

Try playing different chords. The arpeggio won't change to use the notes of the new chord until you release, and re-press the “Play” key.

Try improvising a tune while you play various chords using arpeggio 6.

A puzzle that arises, is how do you end the tune you're improvising? The arpeggio doesn't end on the low-note (first note) of the arpeggio.

Since the melody instrument here is also a piano, we can simply end by playing the J-key (or another appropriate ending note) at the end of the piece.

Try changing the speed of the arpeggio (by pressing the Up-Arrow key, to increase the delay, or the Down-Arrow key to decrease the delay). The speed of the arpeggio will change the next time the arpeggio is repeated – you don't have to release and re-press the “Play” key to make this change happen.

Click the link below to listen to something I did with this performance pane:

Etude In B-Flat Minor Excerpt

Press the F5 function key to move to the next performance pane:


In this case, we're using an 8-note arpeggio, called “arpeggio 8”, and the delay is longer than last time – about half-way between 0 and the maximum value.

Arpeggio 8 is a good one to use for multiple-of-two (duplet) rhythms or tunes. The other arpeggios are better for multiple-of-three rhythms.

Specify a chord, and press (and hold) the “Play” key, listening to the sound of the arpeggio as it repeats, over and over again.

Try improvising a tune with it, as you pay attention to where the cycle repeats. You can usually pick out the low-note (where it starts), and the high-note (half-way through the arpeggio).

As you improvise, change chords (and release & re-press the “Play” key). Try to do this release/re-press at the end of a cycle of the arpeggio. But if you need, you can do it at any time, interrupting the playing arpeggio, and starting the new one. This is handy for rhythm changes.

Again, we have the question of how to end the piece. You could do as before, and press the proper melody note for the end of the piece (at the same time releasing the “Play” key). But there's another trick you can try.

With the last chord's arpeggio playing (and the “Play” key held-down), hit function-key F3, which will switch to the performance-pane having a strum-down pattern. When the current arpeggio finishes its cycle, and goes to start the next cycle (because the “Play” key is still down), it will now play a down-strum of the current chord, ending with the low root-note of the chord, which is a good ending. A neat trick, don't you think?

Click the link below to hear something I quickly did with this performance pane:

F5 Demo

Press the F6 function key to move to the next performance pane:


In this case, we're using a 9-note arpeggio, called “Arpeggio 9”. This is a pattern that is good for multiple-of-three rhythms.

Specify a chord, and press (and hold) the “Play” key, listening to the sound of the arpeggio as it repeats, over and over again.

Play other chords, releasing and re-pressing the “Play” key at the point you want the chord to change.

Try improvising a tune with it, as you pay attention to where the cycle repeats. You can usually pick out the low-note (where it starts), and the high-note (half-way through the arpeggio).

As you improvise, change chords (and release & re-press the “Play” key). Try to do this release/re-press at the end of a cycle of the arpeggio. But if you need, you can do it at any time, interrupting the playing arpeggio, and starting the new one.

Again, we have the question of how to end the piece. There's another trick you can try for ending the piece, similar to what we did last time.

With the last chord's arpeggio playing (and the “Play” key held-down), hit function-key F2, which will switch to the performance-pane having a strum-up pattern. When the current arpeggio finishes its cycle, and goes to start the next cycle (because the “Play” key is still down), it will now play an up-strum of the current chord, which is another good ending.

Click the link below to hear something I quickly did with this performance pane:

F6 Demo

Press the F7 function key to move to the next performance pane:


Here, we're using a 12-note arpeggio, called “Arpeggio 12”. This is probably the easiest arpeggio pattern to recognize where it starts and ends. It is also one that is best with multiple-of-three rhythms.

Specify a chord, and press (and hold) the “Play” key, listening to the sound of the arpeggio as it repeats, over and over again.

Play other chords, releasing and re-pressing the “Play” key at the point you want the chord to change.

Try improvising a tune with it, as you pay attention to where the cycle repeats. You can usually pick out the low-note (where it starts), and the high-note (half-way through the arpeggio).

As you improvise, change chords (and release & re-press the “Play” key). Try to do this release/re-press at the end of a cycle of the arpeggio. But if you need, you can do it at any time, interrupting the playing arpeggio, and starting the new one.

Again, we have the question of how to end the piece. We've shown you three different ways to end a tune. Try one of them, choosing which one you prefer.

Click the link below to hear something I quickly did with this performance pane:

F7 Demo

Press the F8 function key to move to the next performance pane:


This time, we're still using the same 12-note arpeggio, but we're using a different melody instrument, which is an Oboe in this case.

In all the cases before, it's like we've been doing some complex piano playing. Here, it's like you're an Oboe soloist, but also you are your own piano accompanist.

Give it a try, playing different-chord arpeggios, and improvising an Oboe part with it.

In this case, at the end, it won't work to press the J-key in the melody section, because an Oboe sounds strange on such a low note, and it doesn't sound anything like a piano.

So try switching to F3, or F2 for your ending. You can keep holding-out your last Oboe note while you do this, and the Oboe note will keep playing. You can fade-out that last Oboe note using the Left-Arrow (decrease-volume) key.

Click the link below to hear something I quickly did with this performance pane:

F8 Demo

Press the F9 function key to move to the next performance pane:


This time is similar to what we did with an Oboe, only this time the instrument is a Cello, which sounds really good with piano accompaniment.

At least, it will sound really good if you're using the FluidR3_GM soundfont. With other soundfonts, all bets are off, and you might want to substitute a different instrument sound.

Give this a try, improvising melody along with the arpeggio-12 piano accompaniment. Change chords often enough so that it doesn't get boring. A common chord progression is C, F, G, and back to C, repeating.

One I like, is alternating between C-major-7th, and F-major-7th, and/or, between A-minor-7th and E-minor-7th.

When you're ready to end the piece, either switch to F3, or F2 (your choice), while holding-out the last Cello note, and fading it out using the left-arrow key.

Click the link below to hear something I quickly did with this performance pane:

F9 Demo

If you like, you can repeat this last exercise, using the F10, and then the F12 function-key panes, which are “Space Voice”, and “Aah Choir”.

You might want to try out the other configuration file which is mostly a Guitar sound (rather than Piano).

You can change the Chords-pane instrument, and the F2-to-F7 instrument to some other instrument sound. Harpsichord and even Harp come to mind, but any instrument with a crisp attack-sound will work. For something different, try “45-Pizzicato Section”, which sounds great with a Cello for the melody instrument.

In the course of this article, you have learned how to use the feature pretty well. If you still want a tutorial on how to use the Strummed-Chords and Arpeggios feature, you can click on the following link:

Strummed-Chords And Arpeggios Tutorial

Of course, as of version 1.32 (and in the member-pages of the web-site), the tutorial has been updated to cover this feature, and has been installed on your machine.

Thanks for trying this out and learning about it. It should provide you some neat, new tools for your musical journey!

Index Of All Newsletter Articles