Regarding Keyboards

Midiflow for MIDI Mapping on iOS

Recorded on December 22nd, 2016

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While pressing NanoStudio into service today, I realized that it doesn’t allow any control over velocity curves. A NanoStudio organ sample I was playing from the Alesis Micron sounded weak, because real pipe and electric organs don’t respond to velocity. If only I could filter out velocity messages from reaching NanoStudio.

Midiflow does this and way more! I remember 30 years ago reading a review of the Axxess MIDI Mapper in Keyboard Magazine. It allowed for a zillion ways to reprogram and reroute MIDI notes, channels, and controllers into any way you cared to twist them. Well now you can do this same stuff in an iOS app, and it’s much easier to program than the Mapper.

Midiflow is like AudioBus for MIDI. You can string together inputs, modifiers, and outputs with a different configuration for each song. And NanoStudio has a good enough MIDI implementation that you can force it to “listen” to Midiflow’s virtual MIDI outputs and ignore the system MIDI bus. Midiflow can also respond to MIDI program change commands, and it can even send commands (like its own program changes) to a destination app when you load a song setup. It has a MIDI monitor so you can see the actual numbers flowing out of a controller if you need to debug something. You can also set it to filter out some or all notes from reaching a sound generator. It’s just too great to even believe. If you have any kind of MIDI rig going with hardware controllers and soft synths in an iPhone or iPad, you need Midiflow.

NanoStudio, an iOS Synth/Sampler App

Recorded on December 21st, 2016

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I found a better iPhone MIDI-compatible sampler app! NanoStudio to the rescue, for the insanely low price of $6.99. The screenshots in the App Store do not do justice to what’s under the hood with this thing. It’s quite a bit less immediately friendly than GarageBand, but it’s also way more powerful.

Like so many apps these days, it was tons of effects built in, as well as very flexible sound generators, either sample- or synth-based. The sampler lets you edit waveforms right in the app, although I haven’t been able to get quite as seamless a loop as I can in GarageBand. You can set individual instruments to receive separate MIDI channels, so if your keyboard controller can split its output, you have a multi-timbral synth/sampler.

It feels like its latency isn’t quite as low as GarageBand’s, but I can live with a few more milliseconds of delay between a key press and hearing a sound start. The trade-off is that it is much faster at switching between patches. It’s worth it just to have the rest of the band not waiting on me to switch sounds all the time.

And it can respond to MIDI program changes! This means I can select a patch to play on the Alesis Micron and NanoStudio will pull up the correct corresponding patch as long as I have everything in the right slots. This is hugely helpful!

Unlike GarageBand, though, I can’t seem to make it work with the iRig Pro for recording samples into it, but I believe I can get around that with AudioCopy.

There’s also a full sequencer and a whole separate interface for triggering sounds from “pads” on-screen. And all this is just what I’ve been able to do on the iPhone. I haven’t even tried it with our old iPad because I don’t have a MIDI adaptor that works with a 30-pin connector. But from what I’ve seen, the iPhone version will do fine.

Is There a Better iOS Sampler App Than GarageBand?

Recorded on December 19th, 2016

This is not so much a post as it is a question: For the iPhone, is there a better, more performance-oriented MIDI sampler app than GarageBand? I’m blown away by what GB can do with imported samples when you have plenty of time to deal with it. But in the heat of live performance, it really kills the momentum to wait any number of seconds for a song sample to load. Bandmates tend to want you to be ready for the next song yesterday, so I need something idiot-proof and very fast so I don’t keep anyone waiting. Hmm.

How to Play a Bunch of Pat Benatar Keyboard Parts

Recorded on October 29th, 2016

Here’s what I’ve been working on for an upcoming gig with Fat Benatar. All you need is an Alesis Micron, a MIDI controller keyboard, and some GarageBand instruments on the iPhone. I can’t read musical notation well enough to play to it in real time, so I have this crude system of chords and notes written out by name. It sort of works!

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Fat Benatar Practice: Heartbreaker

Recorded on October 25th, 2016

This is all I got tonight. Spending all my brain cycles and free time nailing down these songs.

#fatbenatar

A video posted by Phil Nunnally (@twelvety) on

 

Promises in the Dark

Recorded on September 15th, 2016

I can’t be expected to write an actual blog post on a night when I spend this much time practicing, right?

Promises #fatbenatar

A video posted by Phil Nunnally (@twelvety) on

 

Importing Fairlight CMI Samples Into GarageBand

Recorded on September 12th, 2016

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I’m sick, so tonight’s post is very short.

For keyboard practice just now, I needed a specific choral sample, something like the famous “ARR1” sound on the Fairlight CMI. I found just what I needed on the Karma-Lab Forums. Someone had posted a ZIP file with a handful of WAVs collected from a Fairlight library. I opened the ZIP in GoodReader, extracted the files, saved the ARR1 file to Dropbox, and imported that into the Sampler instrument in GarageBand on the iPhone. I tweaked the ADSR a bit and presto! Breathy, early-80s vocal sample goodness.

Aftertouch Magazine from Yamaha

Recorded on August 23rd, 2016

AltTextHere While hunting for some answers about the velocity curve of the Yamaha KX76 keyboard controller, I ran across Yamahasynth.com, which features a treasure trove of old scanned copies of Aftertouch, the official magazine of the Yamaha User’s Group in the 1980s. I was a huge Yamaha keyboard nerd in 1986–1990 with my CX5M Music Computer, FM Voicing Program, FM Music Composer, YK10 keyboard, external disk drive, and the then-newer version of the 8-voice multitimbral FM module that lived in the computer. I read every word of Aftertouch whenever it arrived, even though most of the coverage was of synths and modules that I couldn’t afford.

I do remember this particular December 1985 issue and their quaint article about how to convert DX7 6-operator FM patches into CX5M 4-operator patches. It was never going to get you all the way there, but you could get decently close. Those blank patch sheets are burned into my mind. And all the photos of the CX5M gear! I still have my whole setup stashed away in boxes, but that front cover photo gives me chills 31 years later.

How to Get the Yamaha KX76 Mod Wheel to Work

Recorded on August 13th, 2016

Today I was trying to get the KX76 mod wheel to control the LFO depth on the Micron. No matter what I did, the wheel was just dead. I figured the previous owner had mapped it to some other MIDI control value. Sure enough, I quickly found this Yamaha FAQ page, KX76/KX88 Assigning a Preset Controller Code to a Programmable Control, and it fixed me up. I learned that you want to assign the KX76 mod wheel to Preset Controller Code 11 (which it wasn’t before), and then set a modulator on the Micron with a source of MIDI CC1 (the standard MIDI mod wheel controller number — I don’t know why it’s not 11) and assign it to control LFO depth, filter cutoff, filter resonance, or whatever you want.

To get the warbly end-of-phrase accent part of “Love is a Battlefield” correct, I added modulators (all with CC1 as a source) to map the mod wheel to control LFO 1 amplitude, LFO 1’s effect on OSC 1 pitch, Envelope 1 Release time (inverted), and Envelope 1 Sustain time (inverted). The effect is that when I temporarily crank the mod wheel on the KX76, the formerly lush pad sound transforms into a spazzy chord with a quick release. If I hold the chord, it dies out slowly. And then when I pull the mod wheel back down to zero, the lush, warm pad sound returns. I know just exactly enough about MIDI controller codes to be dangerous.

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GarageBand Can Generate Musical Notation

Recorded on August 11th, 2016

Who knew that GarageBand on OS X had a whole window tab dedicated to turning recorded software instrument parts into musical notation? You can even quantize and tweak notes, so your sloppy playing can look orderly. This is part of what I just printed to a PDF right from GB. Very handy!

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How to Shift Octaves on a Yamaha KX76

Recorded on August 10th, 2016

Now that I have the Yamaha KX76 and the Alesis Micron on speaking terms, I need to be able to play one Micron voice from the KX76 and the other from the local keyboard of the Micron itself. The only practical way seems to be to set separate key ranges for Parts A and B in a Micron setup. Doing that is easy, but sometimes the zones overlap for the separate parts you want to play, so I need to be able to transpose the notes I’m playing on the KX76, so as not to play everything in the bottom octave of keys on that controller.

I spent more time than I’d like to admit before I broke down and looked at the KX76 manual. Thankfully, there was an example of how to set Toggle Switch 1 (TS1) to do just that. Intuitive it is not.

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FunkBox Is a Great LinnDrum Emulator

Recorded on August 7th, 2016

For an upcoming gig, I needed a way to play a LinnDrum pattern. I figured there had to be an app out there, and boy is there: FunkBox to the rescue for $4.99. It sounds pretty much exactly like what I remember a Linn sounding like, but you do give up some control over tweaking the sound. For $4.99, it’s a fair trade-off.

I wish I could easily take a video screenshot of my iPhone playing this pattern (with sound) so you could experience all of it. There are four other sounds in the pattern that you can’t see here. Trust me — it’s fun!

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It’s All About the Delay

Recorded on July 16th, 2016

Practicing…

Deciphering an old hit.

A video posted by Phil Nunnally (@twelvety) on

 

The Logitech Easy-Switch Keyboard for iPad and iPhone Is the One You Want

Recorded on February 21st, 2016

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I am totally hooked on this keyboard – the Logitech Easy-Switch K811 for iPad and iPhone. In fact, I’m writing this on it into my iPhone 6, which is propped up in my lap against an old iPad 2, sitting on a Griffin folding case. (And I posted a slightly longer version of this as a review on the product page. I’ve only written one other Amazon review ever. This thing is that good.)

The biggest things for me are:

  1. The full-size keys
  2. The three Bluetooth assignable buttons
  3. The key travel depth
  4. The Home button
  5. Not having to use AA batteries in it.

I also have an Apple Wireless keyboard – not the Magic one, but one a few years older. I love it, too, but I can only use it with one device easily because you have to make sure Bluetooth is off on any nearby devices except for the one you’re typing on. I was looking for a second Bluetooth keyboard to use at home with the iPhone/iPad, so I could then leave the Apple one at work to use daily at lunch break.

I had read a bunch of good reviews of another Logitech keyboard, the Ultrathin one for the iPad/iPad 2. I first bought that one, but returned it after trying it for a couple of days. The keys were too cramped and I could never get used to the small Delete key and the contortions necessary to use the Command and Option keys.

The Easy-Switch, though, is fantastic. I read tons of glowing Amazon reviews and other reivews on blogs, and there seemed to be universal love for this keyboard. I see why now. The instant I started typing on it, I felt at home. I don’t have to think about what I’m doing. It may actually be better than the keyboard on the MacBook Pro Retina 13”.

Pairing it via Bluetooth is super easy. It really does switch nearly instantly between iOS devices. I haven’t tried to use it with a Mac yet, but I probably won’t bother since I got this for iOS. And the keyboard’s Home button (F5) works with the iPhone 6 (as well as the iPad). You can single-press it or double-press it and it works just like the actual Home button on the phone.

I’ll see how long the charge lasts. I was surprised that it came charged up out of the box (at some level – I don’t know how much). From what I’ve read, a full charge lasts long enough to not be annoying, and I won’t need to spend extra money on AA batteries or feel guilty about throwing dead ones away.

If you suspect that you might be inclined to need a full-size keyboard, then you probably do. I didn’t know it until I tried the other smaller Logitech and couldn’t use it. The Easy-Switch is wonderful and I hope they never change it.

Home Button Keyboard Shortcut for iPad

Recorded on February 17th, 2016

I missed this completely the first time around. I just saw 9to5Mac’s list of iPad iOS 9 keyboard shortcuts from back in November, and learned that if you use a Bluetooth keyboard with an iPad, you can press ⌘-Shift-H to go to the home screen. I knew about the ⌘-Tab app switcher, but the home screen thing is wonderful. MacStories has a ton of background info on keyboard shortcuts in their iOS 9 Review from September.

Unfortunately, neither the home screen shortcut nor the app switcher work on the iPhone. I don’t know what the justification is for excluding those. Maybe someday. The tactile feedback of the home button is great when you’re holding the phone, but deep down I hate pressing it because I know there are a finite number of actuations in its lifetime. Every opportunity to not have to reach up to press it when you have a keyboard in front of you is a tiny bit of mental and physical friction removed.