Mastering MONTAGE: Arpeggio Making 101, Part I

Creating arpeggios for general use is an art. This series of articles will prepare you for making your own arpeggio data with MONTAGE. Knowing the rules will allow you to bend them – fighting the rules only leads to frustration. Creating your own arpeggios can be fun and rewarding. So let's begin with Arpeggio Making 101 . . . 

The Phrase Factory Factor
"In addition to its fresh and globally infused sound set, the Motif introduced keyboard players to arpeggiator patterns that added realism and musical interest to sequences and live performances. "Arpeggiator" is an understatement, as the word makes us think of robotic up-and down synth patterns. By contrast, even the original Motif offered tons of musical phrases suitable for its myriad instrument sounds, and made it fairly straightforward to drop those phrases into a sequence or Performance setup—or to go in the other direction, recording your own phrases in the sequencer, then triggering them from the keys as arpeggiator patterns.

Yamaha called this approach "Phrase Factory," and it gave the Motif an edge over workstations whose sequencers worked in linear, tape machine fashion. It also offered a degree of instant inspiration that won favor among many musicians." --- Keyboard Magazine (A Decade of Motif)

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MONTAGE is able to load Arpeggio data (.X3G) made for the Motif XF directly to its internal USER Arpeggio bank. Creating your own arpeggios on MONTAGE (added with firmware 1.20) is accomplished by converting data that you record (or load) to the internal recorder, as MIDI data. Once in the internal recorder it can be converted into a User arpeggio. In general, you will be able to convert the data into one of three different general Types:

1) Arpeggios for musical instrument Parts (note/chord intelligent)
2) Arpeggios for Drum/Percussion Kit Parts (fixed note)
3) Arpeggios containing non-note events (controller data)

What is often difficult to understand about arpeggio creation is the following:
Not all data that you can play makes for a good arpeggio...not all data can be made into arpeggio. The rules for creating the arps require that you understand the purpose of the arpeggio and requires that you create data which lends itself to that purpose. Since an arpeggio is interactive, it differs from data that simply plays back. 

The rules are simple enough: A maximum of 16 different (unique) MIDI note numbers can occupy an arpeggio phrase. The Convert Type will dictate the behavior of the arpeggio phrase. Because arpeggios can adjust notes in the phrase dynamically in reponse to keys you are fingering - it has to have these specific rules/requirements restricting the number of unique note numbers.

_ Those arpeggios intended for musical instrument Parts will adjust according to the notes triggering them (chord intelligence).
_ Those arpeggios intended for Drum Kits (fixed note) will playback exactly the same every time with no adjustment according to the note or notes used to trigger them – (no chord intelligence).
_ Those arpeggios that are Controller data (which are not notes at all), are MIDI data that is applied to the Direct sound output made by the triggered notes. Instead of notes you hear these controllers applied to the direct sound. For example, if the Controller is Pitch Bend, the chords that you hold will be bent by the arp phrase data. Therefore, without a "direct" sound to which the data is applied, there is no sound generated by Controller data.

Basic definitions:
Arpeggio Phrases are most often Note data, but can also be Controller movements, that can be triggered by the keyboard to play in looping or one-shot fashion. They reference the MONTAGE clock tempo, and can play at multiples or sub-divisions of that tempo. They can Swing, and can be adjusted as to timing and duration, where applicable. Controller Arps require that the KEY MODE be set to one that allows "direct" notes to be triggered, so that the Controller movement can be applied to the sound. ("Direct", "Sort+Direct", "Thru+Direct").

The arpeggio phrase is somewhat different from a typical sequencer phrase, specifically in the way in which you get it to playback. When you record notes to a sequencer you simply press the Play button and the notes that you recorded are played back. An arpeggio's ON button does not cause the notes to "playback", you must also press a key, or arrangement of keys, within a specific range on the keyboard in order to trigger the start of playback. So those conditions must exist for you to have the arpeggio play. It does not simply start when you turn the ARP ON/OFF button ON or you simply press a button – it requires being armed and real time input via the keybed of the MONTAGE. That input can be simply to start it and/or to tell it what pitches to access if the arp is 'chord intelligent', It's 'alive' in that it can respond to change. A sequence just plays back as recorded. Arpeggios can react.

Later we'll learn that you can even control dynamics (how loud or soft) the arp phrase plays. The arp phrase can continue automatically, or set to play only when you are engaging the keys. The arp phrase can reset to the top and beginning again, or set to continue running, in sllence when you lift you hands from the keys, send re-engage the phrase in place, when you press the keys.

_The Arps created for musical instrument Parts will respond according to what you voice on the keyboard – they will change what they play by recognizing chord qualities, like Major, Minor, Dominant, Diminished, and Augmented chords.
_The Arps intended for Drum/Percussion Kits (generated by a Convert Type called "Fixed note"), generally, do not change - you simply control when the phrase starts and if the phrase continues.
_The Controller Arps contain non-note events that influence the sound that you are playing. Like a 'pitch bend' arp would result in the sound you are playing varying pitch, instead of a dancing pattern of notes.

Convert Types
There are three CONVERT TYPES: Original Note, Fixed Note, and Normal. Before you can begin making your own arpeggio phrases it will be important know what these CONVERT TYPES do. And how the USER ARP creation feature uses its four tracks to create a single arp phrase.

Normal: The Arpeggio is played back using only the played (fingered) notes and its octave notes.
Fixed: Playing any note(s) will trigger the same MIDI sequence of data.
Org Notes: (original notes): Basically same as "Fixed" with the exception that the Arpeggio playback notes differ according to the played chord or key.

The following experiment will help you clearly hear/understand the differences in these CONVERT TYPES, if you are willing to try it:
We will setup to use the Montage in sixteen Part multi-timbal mode. We will then record a musical phrase, convert it into arpeggio data, and observe how the Convert Types do their thing.

Lesson 1: How ARP CONVERT TYPES deal with NOTE data - Phrases
From the PERFORMANCE (Home) screen:
Press [CATEGORY SEARCH]
Select "Init" > "Multi/GM" and return to the Home screen
Press the PLAY button to go to the PLAY/REC screen
Set a comfortable TEMPO
Record the first four measures of the song "Mary Had a Little Lamb" Key of "C"
Starting on the "E" above middle "C"

What? Why?  Well, it's public domain and we all know it – it's what happens to it that will make the CONVERT TYPES completely clear. And you will get it right away:

Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb,
Mary had a little lamb,
It's fleece was white as snow.


If you create three Arps, one from each Convert Type, using this recording - your understanding of Arps Types will take a major step forward (pun intended) – because you will learn what to expect and you will immediately be able to hear/understand why the results are what they are.

Here's what we will do:

_ Use the "ORG NOTE" Convert Type for the first experiment. Create ARP 1
_ Use "FIXED NOTE" next for our second experiment. Create ARP 2
_ Use "NORMAL" Convert Type for our third experiment. Create ARP 3

When you complete the recording of the phrase:
Verify your work by setting the LOOP = ON and set the Measure region you wish to Convert - make sure it can loop properly. In the screenshot below, I recorded at 100BPM and have set the Loop Start at Measure:001/Beat:01 and the Loop End is Measure:005/Beat:01 which is how you set this to capture 4 complete measures.

MaryLoop1

Touch the screen area where the NAME appears
A pop-in will appear and allow you to convert data to create "User ARP"

MaryLoop

Touch "USER ARP"

In the dialog box "Put Track To Arpeggio" that appears:

OrgNoteType

Set the target USER location (upper left) for the ARPEGGIO start with ARP "1" 
You can set a Category and Sub Category for the Arp data (this will help you find it later).
You can NAME the ARP - call it "ORG NOTE" (Very important in finding it later)... we'll call it this because you are going to discard these - this is just for learning purposes.

Set the Measure range:
Start = 1
End = 5
which is: top of measure 1 through to the top of measure 5 (or 4 complete measures).
For "ARP TRACK 1" set the SONG Track you used to record the phrase (we used Song Track 1) and set the "Convert Type" to ORG NOTES
(There are four Arp Tracks – we will cover the use for these other tracks in a later article, for now just use the first ARP Track Convert box).

When you set the CONVERT TYPE = ORG NOTES the "Original Notes Root" parameter appears
Cursor over and set the ORIGINAL NOTES ROOT = "C3"
This setting sets the Key. It will mean that when we touch "C3" the phrase will playback at its original pitches.

Touch "Store as User Arp" to execute (lower right corner of the screen)
You have now created USER Arpeggio 1 that will be chord intelligent with the ability to recognize the lowest pitch as the ROOT... and it will play correctly when fed the correct chord quality.

Now that you have created your melodic phrase and converted to an ORG NOTE Arpeggio - it can be assigned for use by any PART in any PERFORMANCE. You do so by editing the PART's COMMON parameters. 
Go to the "HOME" screen and try it out by assigning it to PERFORMANCE PART 1:

Press [EDIT]
Press [PART SELECT 1]
Touch "COMMON" lower left corner of the screen or press the dedicated lower [COMMON] button on the right front panel
Touch "Arpeggio" > "Individual"
Here is where you can select as many as eight Arp phrases for this PART 

ArpGrid

Touch slot number 1 Name area (shown highlighted above) to see the pop-in menu
Touch "SEARCH" > set the search option BANK to "USER" and the Main Category to "ALL"
Assign your "USER" ARP to this PART 

UserSearch1

Find "Org Note" > highlight it > [ENTER] to make the assignment

In the second column you have two other pages of parameters: "Common" and "Advanced":
Touch "Common"
Here you can set the overall settings for the ARPs for this PART
Set "ARP PART" SWITCH = ON (green)
Set HOLD = ON or OFF as you desire. (SYNC-OFF is a special case that keeps the timing of the arp running in the background even when you are not triggering the keys)

Common

Activate the "ARP MASTER" switch (green)... you can also press the dedicated ARP ON/OFF master switch located above the MW on the left front panel.
On this screen you also have the Key Mode and Play Effects, as well as the Velocity Limit and Note Limit regions that define that will control these arpeggios. We will have a separate article that digs deeper into these settings and the "Advanced" settings... for now go with the defaults.

Hearing what the ARP Type does:
Try the following, one-by-one, and observe the results:
If you play and hold just a "C" it will play the melody in the key of C
If you play just a "D" it will transpose the melody to the key of D
If you play a "C minor" it will play the melody with a Flat 3rd
If you play "D minor" it will play the melody in D with a Flat 3rd
If you play a "C-Eb" that is enough to define the C minor chord
If you play "C diminished" it will play the melody with a Flat 3rd and Flat 5th
etc. etc.
It is that simple and that complex.

Try the different HOLD settings: On, Off, Sync-off

Rinse and repeat the Convert experiment, this time assign the "Convert Type" to "FIXED". Here's how:
Go back to your PLAY/REC screen (press the PLAY button) and setup to create another "User Arp" from the same data by touching the SONG NAME box... and touching the "User Arp" option

FixedType

With the same melody source (Arp Track 1) - this time using the "FIXED" type... notice the target in the dialog box automatically increments to ARP "2" (upper left corner). Name this second ARP "Fixed Note"

"FIXED" is similar to "ORG NOTE", in that it can play a specific melody, except: no matter what key you use to trigger playback the result is "fixed" - it does not transpose. This convert type is ideal, as you might imagine, for DRUM and PERCUSSION arps. (Drummers do not transpose nor adjust notes to the key you are playing in). The fact that "fixed" plays exactly what you play can be used in any way you see fit _ but remember the sixteen unique note number rule.

Go to the HOME screen and assign User Arp 2 so you can apply and hear it.

Finally:
With the same source song melody... use the Convert Type "Normal" - this is what a traditional arpeggiator normally does – it plays the rhythm of your source data and takes the information of the currently held notes to do its thing with it. It will probably never play the melody correctly on its own.

NormalType

Remember: Arps traditionally did not do melodies, this (what you find in the Motif/MOXF and MONTAGE) is a re-invention of the traditional arpeggiator. Arpeggios traditionally did up, down, up/down, down/up, and random, etc. Later more complex rhythmic stuff, and finally phrase-based melody arps, counter-melody arps, and the guitar intelligent chord voicing arps that you have in the Yamaha XS/XF/MOXF/MONTAGE.

IndividualAsgn

It should be clear now what the CONVERT TYPES are designed to do. With this knowledge you can start to apply the tools for creating your own arpeggios. In future articles, we will take a close look at some of the more detailed arpeggios, and how they were made... for example, those used for strumming guitars, etc. There are some 256 User Arpeggio locations. You discard unwanted arps by overwriting them or you can manage them in UTILITY mode. They will be stored in their own internal FOLDER. Go to [UTILITY] > "Contents" > "Data Utility" > find the "ARP" Folder... this contains your USER ARPS. Access the "JOB" function to select/deselect ARPs.

Recording Drum Arps
There will be a good amount of recording of Drum Arpeggios. As you know by now, the Fixed Note "Convert Type" is designed to playback the exact keys you have fed in. And while this is ideal for drums it means you can use an Arp Phrase to play an exact music phrase as well. How you use the feature is up to you. Do remember the rule: 16 unique note numbers. This means your Drum Kit selection is limited to a 16-piece drum kit. You can hit each drum scores and scores of times, but you are limited to sixteen different drum instruments.

You can create drum tracks using the on-board recorder or an external DAW, like Cubase. Create your drums by your favorite means (Groove Agent is a powerful Cubase plugin tool for creating drum pattern data... Export your creation as MIDI data and convert it into MONTAGE Arpeggio phrases using the User Arp convert feature.

Have questions/comments about this lesson? Join the conversation about this lesson on the Forum here.

In the next lesson, we'll take a look at how Convert Types deal with Chord phrases. Ready to start? Access the next installment here.