Genos: Position and promotion

The first public European demos started over the weekend. I’ve been watching Peter Baartmans and Sander Tournier put the Genos through its paces.

The whole experience has me thinking about how the Genos is being positioned in regional markets, mainly, western Europe versus North America.

First off, the arranger keyboard culture is completely different in Europe than the United States. Arranger demonstrations are big public events. One recent demo had over 500 attendees in the audience. In some venues, audience members buy tickets! This is unimaginable in the United States (except iPhone).

The European demos show off a broader range of styles. In this aspect, I’m comparing the European demos with videos made for American retailers (Guitar Center, Sweetwater, and Kraft Music). The European demos cover everything from jazz to rock to EDM to classical to traditional European pop. For the latter, think outdoor cafes and biergartens where you can spend hours with a few hundred like-minded souls. Not to mention that acquired taste, Schlager. (And that’s not a beer!)

The American demos concentrate on contemporary musical genres and styles. The Genos has new acoustic and pedal steel guitars, so Nashville and country get special emphasis. Martin Harris highlights the Kino strings coming more from a cinematic or singer-songwriter perspective. These are customers that Yamaha hopes to hook in North America. With all of its articulated sounds, the Genos is a mini-library of sampled instruments both pop and orchestral.

The American videos avoid any whiff of cheese. Unfortunately, many American listeners regard (too) many musical styles as “cheese” and the typical Guitar Center clientele are the worst offenders. Thus, you won’t hear traditional European pop in a video targeted for American retailers. In the U.S., arranger keyboards are regarded as the evil spawn of the cha-cha home organ. After playing Montage and hearing the Genos demos, a lot of folks need to adjust their thinking.

Yamaha run a risk, here, because on-line media is world-wide. I’m thinking about the videos for the Dexibell drawbar organ. A few people saw one video which didn’t fit their musical taste and bad-mouthed the Dexibell to high Heaven. They never moved on to the other videos which had some very tasty jazz.

At this point in the Genos launch, it’s a little difficult to dig out the deeper jazz, soul, R&B, and funk possibilities of the Genos. You need to wade through a lot of video to even get a sniff.

The customer base for high-end arranger keyboards is aging. Even the European audiences have a lot of “gray heads.” (I’m getting grayer by the day, too. 🙂 ) Yamaha and its dealers want to entice a younger crowd with arranger keyboards. But, they have a dilemma. A young person today does not have the disposable income for a $5,500 (USD street) keyboard, especially when they can make music with their smart phone, tablet or laptop. The entry price to EDM, for example, is much lower than the price of a Genos.

[Source: Yamaha Easy Product Guide, 2017; Click to enlarge.]

Yamaha led the Genos campaign with EDM. This gave the Genos a youthful cachet, but alienated many people in the historical customer base for high-end arranger product. Folks wondered, “Did they drop the big band styles?” However, let’s say that Yamaha did put a schmaltzy big band tune into the Guitar Center video. Instant turn off. Personally, I wouldn’t mind a big band tune. I grew up listening to Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, but that was my father’s music. (BTW, I respect that music; I just don’t play it.) Most people can’t look beyond the end of their own musical nose.

So, where do Yamaha find customers with sufficient disposable income and maybe the time and interest? Back to the 80s! The Genos has some excellent styles that allow note-for-note covers of famous 1980s pop and rock, including synth-heavy 80s pop. We all tend to relate emotionally to the music of our teen years and early 20s. Let’s take 1985 as the midpoint, subtract 20 years and look to people born around 1965 or so. They were teens when 80s music was happening. Thus, Yamaha are targeting people in their late 40s and early 50s — old enough to have the disposable income for a high-end arranger while young enough to rebuild the aging customer base.

Well, I hope this ramble has given you a different perspective on Genos and arranger keyboard marketing. The Yamaha demos are carefully designed and scripted to appeal to target market segments. Where do you fit?

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Genos: After the fireworks

So, how do I feel about Genos now that the Genos manuals are rolling out and emotions have cooled down?

The Yamaha Genos™ is a significant update on the Tyros 5. The brand new user interface (UI) should be easy to navigate through the brand-spanking new touch screen. The assignable knobs and sliders are very welcome, and probably give some Montage owners FOMO (fear of missing out). The sound set has gotten the usual and expected boost: CFX piano, C7 piano, electric pianos on par with Montage, new acoustic guitars, and so on.

Scratch the surface of the new UI, however, one finds few feature enhancements. The new Playlist capability replaces the Music Finder Database (MFD). Yamaha are in competition with Korg’s Songbook and only real hands-on experience will determine who has the edge.

The lighter weight is definitely appreciated as well as the modern stage styling. Yamaha have chosen to offer Genos in a single 76-key model. The 76-er weighs less than the previous 61-key Tyros 5 and that’s all to the good.

Before I discuss a few specific points, I want to describe how I feel: methodically enthusiastic. Huh?

When I buy a new keyboard, I think carefully about need — what would improve my experience and skills as a musician and what would improve the experience of those for whom I play. I do not currently perform with my Yamaha PSR-S950 arranger. Gig-wise, I can cover what I need to cover with a sample-playback synthesizer. I need section/solo orchestra strings, woodwinds and horns. I need B-3 organ and pipe organ. The Yamaha MOX6 — my main gig instrument — is sufficient in this regard.

I do play the S950 as a practice instrument. I also have aspirations of performing as a one man band (OMB). I would be very happy to have a single instrument that fulfills gigging, practice and OMB situations.

In terms of sound, I’m ready for a major update. The MOX6 and the S950 sounds are roughly the same vintage as the Motif XS, first released in 2007. That’s ten years. As a car owner, I tend to hold and drive the same car for ten years. Then I realize how far the technology has progressed and update. My attitude is the same for instruments. I prefer to hold and play an instrument for five years or longer, learning it in depth. I make an exception if the front panel buttons are worn and broken. 🙂

At this point, I know for sure that I want a better keyboard action such as the FSX action in Montage and Genos. This is similar to moving from a “student model” sax to a “pro” sax. I think the better action will help me as a player.

If you stuck with me this far, you probably realizing that I’m considering either the Montage or the Genos as my next gig and home ax. Even though I respect the Kronos, its orchestra instruments are not as expressive as Yamaha’s. Roland seems to have given up on orchestral instruments. After a quality/reliability issue with Kurweil, I’m off of them for life.

So, I am methodically enthusiastic about the Genos. It’s Genos vs. Montage; Godzilla vs. Mothra. Is the Genos value proposition sufficiently atractive that I will pay its premium price? That comes down to the playing experience and workflow. To be decided over the coming months.

I’m reluctant to give anyone advice. Every musician must carefully weigh their needs, the Genos value proposition and the Genos price. I will say that the Montage, Kronos, Tyros 5 and PA4x remain very fine, capable instruments. The PSR-S970 is no slouch, either. I tend to skip a generation before updating. Should you? Can’t say.

Drawbar organ

The Genos drawbar organ engine is substantially the same as Tyros 5, and S950, for that matter. The drawbar organ page is a skeuomorphic representation of the drawbars, rotary speed switch, etc. When Yamaha adopted a touch screen, thank heavens they added real sliders for drawbar control. This is doing it right.

I play the bars constantly. When I test drove a CVP-709 touch screen piano, the virtual, on-screen drawbars were impossible to play. Kudos for adding real physical controls to the Genos.

Also, thank you for porting the new Montage rotary speaker effect to the Genos.

Speaking of DSP and control, I have another suggestion for Genos 1.1. Many DSP effect algorithms have a parameter which can be controlled from an assignable controller (e.g., AC1). The Genos is too limited in this regard. Any physical controller — including a foot pedal — should be able to tweak a controllable DSP parameter in real time. Currently, for example, a foot pedal can only control the WAH effect. One should be able to control any DSP algorithm with a controllable parameter.

Ready for the studio?

Quite a few pros immediately noted the lack of balanced outputs and asked “Is Yamaha serious about attracting pros to the Genos?” Another question often raised is, “What happened to PAC?” The S/PDIF digital output is good enough to connect to home audio equipment, but the professional studio (and stage) expects balanced outputs.

Another missing feature is audio over USB and/or DAW integration. Fortunately, these features can be added through a software update; balanced outputs cannot.

Really ready for EDM?

Now, I’m not really an EDM person. I like down-tempo and I’m hoping to compose down-tempo tracks once the snow flies and the weather keeps me in. A few common themes recur in on-line forums.

The Genos adopts arpeggios and arpeggio control features from the PSR-S970. True EDM people are expecting more, however. At the very least, Yamaha need to add user-defined arpeggios, maybe in release 1.1. User-defined arps were a much-requested item for the Montage punch-list; Genos is no different.

Yamaha, if you’re listening, there is an active thread about arpeggios in the Genos section of the PSR Tutorial Forum. Please read through it.

If you want to attract younger composers and players to Genos, Yamaha need to be bolder and faster.

Built-in expansion memory

Yamaha are committed to built-in flash expansion memory which cannot be expanded by the end user. Not to put too fine a point on it, the flash memory expansion modules are dead. If you’re getting rid of your Tyros, Motif, or MOXF, get rid of the modules, too. If you’re looking for a bargain Tyros 5, Motif XF or MOXF, be sure to get flash expansion modules thrown into the deal. (If you’re buying a MOXF, keep an eye on the Yamaha promotions web page.)

As I explained in another post, I believe that the Genos internal file system resides in the same physical memory unit as the user expansion waveform memory. The total capacity of this memory is 64GB and is partitioned into the 58GB internal file system and the 1.8GB voice expansion memory. If 1.8GB is too small, I wonder if Yamaha could be persuaded to repartition the memory and make the voice expansion memory bigger (at the expense of file system size)? This is all speculative, of course.

Audio styles

Audio styles have not disappeared — just deemphasized. Audio styles were not universally popular. So, audio styles have been dropped from initial factory content and will be provided at a later date. Users will be able to load audio styles, if they so desire.

I still believe that Yamaha will introduce full audio styles, that is, styles with melodic parts that follow the current chord type and root. When Yamaha re-launch audio styles, they will be “audio styles done right.” I think they learned a lot from the S950, S770, S970 and Tyros 5 in this regard. Release date? Who knows?

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Genos genesis

After fits and starts due to early leaks, Yamaha have launched the Yamaha Genos™ digital workstation. You can check out Yamaha’s content through the Genos concept site or the Genos product pages. [Click images to enlarge.]

There’s no point in regurgitating Yamaha’s on-line content, so I will just summarize highlights here.

  • Size: 48-9/16″W x 5-7/16″H x 17-15/16″D
  • Weight: 28lb, 11oz (13.0kg)
  • 9″ color touch screen (TFT color WVGA 800 x 480 pixels)
  • Live Control display (OLED 589 x 48 pixels)
  • 9 sliders and 6 knobs that are fully assignable
  • 76-key FSX keyboard
  • Joystick with modulation and joystick HOLD
  • Synthesis: AWM2 and Articulation Element Modeling (AEM)
  • Polyphony: 256 (128 for preset voice + 128 for expansion voice)
  • 550 styles total (punchy drums and DSP effects)
  • 1,652 voices + 58 drum/SFX kits
  • 216 arpeggios: instrument arps, e.g., strums and control arps automate Live Control
  • 28 insert effects including VCM effects
  • Vocal Harmony and Synth Vocoder
  • Audio recording: Audio (WAV 44.1kHz, 16-bit, stereo) and MIDI SMF
  • Audio playback: WAV (44.1kHz, 16-bit, stereo) and MP3
  • MultiPads (both audio and MIDI)
  • Internal memory: 58GBytes (approximately)
  • Connectivity
    • S/PDIF digital audio output
    • Three USB TO DEVICE ports (front panel, back panel, bottom)
    • Wireless LAN (IEEE 802.11b/g/n) depending on regional type acceptance
  • 32-bit digital-to-analog converter (DAC)
  • 1.8GBytes user voice expansion memory built-in

The Genos looks to be a nice overhaul of the now staid Tyros product line. If you’re familiar with Tyros — and I’m assuming that you are — then you are not super surprised at some of the features while being pleased (or not) to have a color touch screen, lots of assignable knobs, sliders and buttons, a secondary OLED display to show parameters, doubled polyphony, S/PDIF, wireless LAN (maybe, in your region), and a 32-bit DAC.

Yamaha have chosen to issue only a single 76-key model; no 61, no 88. This gives them interesting options for line extension. Go small and save weight, or feed the world’s almost insatiable hunger for 88-key piano-like objects?

You might also be surprised to not see audio styles. I think the original audio styles confused most users. Can I save them to USB drive? No. Did they fit many tunes other than the “reference” song? No. Handling REX format via the Yamaha Expansion Manager (YEM) should resolve these issues for advanced users. Yamaha punched up the drums to improve the live feel. (Hey, don’t Yamaha actually make drums? Just kidding.)

Featured instruments include:

  • CFX piano
  • C7 grand piano (newly sampled)
  • Kino strings
    • Newly sampled movie orchestra
    • Violins hard-panned left and right
    • Violas, cellos and contrabass center
  • Revo drums (waveform cycling)

If rumors hold true, there should be a new Strat in there somewhere as well as Gibson and Martin steel guitars and a pedal steel guitar. The electric pianos have gotten the ambient noises from the Montage EPs.

The Live Control view is nicely done. Change a knob and the display shows the new assigned parameter value. Change a slide next and the display switches to the slider settings. Good, no button needed to switch displays while playing. The knobs and sliders are integrated with drawbar settings, making the Genos could be a worthy clone competition or a close substitute for a clone. The new rotary speaker effect (from the Montage?) sounds good. But, Yamaha, you left out the chorus (vibrato only). Don’t chuck your Reface YC.

The playlist feature looks to be a very useful addition. The playlist organizes registration banks for quick access. The PSR/Tyros registration concept is a very powerful one and I wish that Montage had a similar capability. I love registrations because, bang, in one button press, I have a song ready to play. (More about this another day.)

Having a USB device port hidden under the unit is a great idea. Ever have a drunken chucklehead at a bar try to pull out your USB drive? Ever be a chucklehead yourself? 🙂 More manufacturers should do this.

A new release of Yamaha Expansion Manager (version 2.5) is planned for November 2017, roughly in sync with first deliveries. YEM will have support for WAV, AIFF, SoundFont and REX formats.

A new release of MegaEnhancer (version 1.5) will be available in November, also. MegaEnhancer changes the MIDI data in a Standard MIDI File (SMF) to use Yamaha’s MegaVoices.

The iPad app SongBook+ is also on the way. SongBook+ organizes songs with lyrics, notation, and other information. A song may also be linked to a registration — a very handy feature for performers who need to home in on the complete set-up for a song during performance. I play with charts; I like this.

The USA manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) is $6,799 and MAP is expected to be $5499.

From a hardware guy’s point of view, there are a few things to think about. The 32-bit DAC is a first for Yamaha. Even Montage does not sport S/PDIF. No mention of Pure Analog Circuit, so the audio back-end must be new, new, new.

The polyphony spec is très intéressant: 128 for preset voices and 128 for expansion voices. Hmmm, how did Yamaha arrange (pun intended) the SWP70 tone generators and NAND flash memory?

So, Yamaha have 1.8GBytes of flash left over for voice expansion. There simply is not enough information to infer waveform memory size, so we’ll all be waiting for the service manual.

Speaking of manuals, there aren’t any available at the time of this writing. No owner’s manual, reference manual or data list. Nada. The early leaks forced Yamaha’s hand to launch the Genos two weeks early and now we will wait. First deliveries are anticipated for November. Déjà vu all over again.

I am literally weighing the Genos (13kg) versus the Montage (15kg) as my next ax. There is still a huge amount to learn about the Genos as it is revealed. Has the sequencer gotten an overhaul? Does the Genos support deep voice editing? The user interface does look inviting and I look forward to seeing more.

Sometimes a little bit of information just leads to more questions.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

This is the place(ment)

Alex Christensen & the Berlin Orchestra, Classical remake of “Snap! Rhythm Is a Dancer.”

Now that’s what a big production budget and product placement will buy you!

Wot? It’s not an ad for Yamaha headphones?

This is the second teaser video for the new Yamaha GENOS™ Digital Workstation.

I found three video clips showing the GENOS. If you found more, congratulations! You have less of a life than I do. 🙂 [Please click images to enlarge.]

At least we know where the “Direct Access” button is.

A nice, clean, flat user interface. Too bad recent research shows that users navigate a flat interface 22% slower than an interface with shadows, etc.

Yep, looks like the knobs adjust parameters and the display shows the current value.

The second video does not reveal much more than the first “pixie dust” teaser video. However, you can rest assured that Yamaha means and sanctions these video snippets. Yes, it has sliders, knobs, a color touch panel, and a parameter display above the knobs.

The main editorial question, however, is what role did the Yamaha GENOS™ play in the actual musical production of Mr. Christensen’s album? Or, vice versa?

Back to the crass business of marketing, Yamaha clearly want to reach a younger customer base without offending the old folks. (I am an old folk, by the way.) That’s perfectly fine by me as the Yamaha innovation engine needs fuel from many sources. If indeed the GENOS has styles combining MIDI and audio phrases, the development cost of that content alone must be staggering. (Do not think GENOS will come cheaply.)

We await more. Always more.

Related posts:

Original material Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Tip-toe through the tech

Last year ’bout this time, we were all holding our collective breath awaiting the new Yamaha Montage. There are two products which I expect to see from Yamaha sometime in the next one to two years:

  1. The successor to the mid-range MOXF synthesizer, and
  2. The successor to the top-of-the-line (TOTL) Tyros arranger workstation.

NAMM 2017 seems a little too soon for both products. In the case of the MOXF successor, Yamaha conducted marketing interviews during the summer of 2015. I would guess that MOXF sales are still pretty good and no new products from the usual suspects (Korg, Roland) are visible on the horizon. The Krome and FA could both use an update themselves. Not much market pressure here at the moment. (Korg’s NAMM 2017 announcements are, so far, a little underwhelming.)

Read my MOX retrospective and interview follow-up.

I suspect that the Tyros successor is somewhat closer to launch. Speculation has been heated ever since Yamaha filed for a US trademark on the word mark “GENOS”. The word mark was published for opposition on November 15, 2016. “Published for opposition” means that anyone who believes that they will be damaged by registration of the mark must file for opposition within 30 days of publication. If “GENOS” is indeed the name for the Tyros successor, then the 30 day period ending December 15, 2016 is cutting it very close to NAMM 2017. Even more ludicruous if Yamaha were to begin manufacturing products printed with that name for a NAMM 2017 launch. Imagine the scrap if opposition was successful!

For quite some time, I have been meaning to summarize the key U.S. patents that I believe to be GENOS-related. (Assuming that “GENOS” is the name!) I’ve procrastinated because the launch date is most likely fall 2017 at the earliest as previous Yamaha mid- and high-end arranger models are typically launched in the fall in anticipation of the holiday selling season.

A much larger barrier is the task of reading and gisting the patents. Patents are written in legalese and are much more difficult to read than the worst written scientific papers! One of the folks on the PSR Tutorial forum suggested making a list of the top five technologies for the new TOTL arranger. I generally hate the superficial nature of “list-icles,” but the suggestion is a good one. Nothing will get done as long as the barrier is big because I would much rather jam and play! I’m supposed to be retired.

The 2016 Yamaha annual report states that Yamaha want to make innovative products which are not easily copied by competitors. Patents — legally protected intellectual property — are essential to achieving this goal. Generally, a company only applies for a patent on technology in which they have a serious business interest due to the significant cost of obtaining and maintaining patent protection.

So, here are a few of Yamaha patented technologies which could appear in future products — perhaps GENOS, perhaps others.

SWP70 tone generator

This may seems like old news…

The next generation SWP70 tone generator first appeared in the mid-range Yamaha PSR-S970 arranger workstation. The SWP70 made its second appearance in the Yamaha Montage synthesizer. The S970 incorporates only one SWP70 and does not make full use of the chip. (At least three major interfaces are left unconnected.) In keeping with Yamaha’s TOTL design practice, the Montage employs two SWP70 integrated circuits: one each for AWM2 sample-playback and FM. A second sample cache interface on the AWM2 side is unconnected.

The Tyros successor likely will use two SWP70 tone generators, too. The number of available tone generation channels with two SWP70s will be massive (512 channels). Yamaha could opt for a single SWP70 and still outmatch the current generation Tyros 5. Like the Montage, there will be enough insert effect DSP processors to cover each style and user part, as many as two for every part.

It will be interesting to see (and hear) if the GENOS will make use of the second sample cache interface. A second cache would not only support more tone generation channels, but might be necessary for long, multi-measure musical phrases that are needed for full audio styles (discussed below).

The SWP70 flash memory interface follows the Open NAND FLASH interface (ONFI) standard, the same as solid state drives (SSD). ONFI memory devices can be stacked on a bi-directional tri-state bus, so potentially, the GENOS could support a large amount of internal waveform storage. This flash memory will contain the “expansion memory,” that is, physical memory reserved in flash memory for user waveforms. The expansion flash memory expansion modules (FL512M, FL1024M) are dead, Jim.

If you’re interested in Yamaha AWM2 tone generation, here’s a few patents to get you started:

  • Patent 9,040,800 Musical tone signal generating apparatus, May 26, 2015
  • Patent 8,383,924 Musical tone signal generating apparatus, February 26, 2013
  • Patent 8,389,844 Tone generation apparatus, March 5, 2013
  • Patent 8,957,295 Sound generation apparatus, February 17, 2015
  • Patent 8,035,021 Tone generation apparatus, October 2011
  • Patent 7,692,087 Compressed data structure and apparatus and method related thereto, April 6, 2010

U.S. Patent 8,957,295 is the patent issued for the SWP70 memory interface. U.S. Patent 9,040,800 describes a tone generator with 256 channels — very likely the SWP70.

Pure Analog Circuit

This may seem like old news, too, since Pure Analog Circuit (PAC) debuted in the Yamaha Montage.

Pure Analog Circuit is probably the least understood and least appreciated feature of the Montage. It’s not just better DACs, people. The high speed digital world is very noisy as far as analog audio is concerned. Yamaha separated the analog and digital worlds by putting the DACs and analog electronics on their own printed circuit board away from noisy digital circuits. Yamaha then applied old school engineering to the post-DAC analog circuitry, paying careful attention to old school concerns like board layout for noise minimization and clean power with separate voltage regulation for analog audio. Yamaha’s mid- to high-end products have always been quiet — PAC is pristine.

Since the PAC board is a separate, reusable entity, I could see Yamaha adopting the same board for GENOS.

Styles combining audio and MIDI

Yamaha are constantly in search of greater sonic realism. Existing technologies like Megavoices and Super Articulation 2 (Advanced Element Modeling) reproduce certain musical articulations. However, nothing can really match the real thing, that is, a live instrument played by an experienced professional musician. PG Music Band-in-a-Box (BIAB), for example, uses audio tracks recorded by studio musicians to produce realistic sounding backing tracks. The Digitech TRIO pedal draws on the PG Music technology for its tracks. (“Hello” to the Vancouver BC music technology syndicate.)

Yamaha have applied for and been granted several patents on generating accompaniment using synchronized audio and MIDI tracks. Here is a short list of U.S. patents:

  • Patent 9,147,388 Automatic performance technique using audio waveform data, September 29, 2015
  • Patent 9,040,802 Accompaniment data generating apparatus, May 26, 2015
  • Patent 8,791,350 Accompaniment data generating apparatus, July 29, 2014
  • Application 13/982,476 Accompaniment data generating apparatus, March 12, 2012

There are additional patents and applications. Each patent covers a different aspect of the same basic approach, making different claims (not unusal in patent-land). Yamaha have clearly invested in this area and are staking a claim.

The patents cite four main motivations, quoting:

  1. The ability to produce “actual musical instrument performance, human voices, natural sounds”
  2. To play “automatic accompaniment in which musical tones of an ethnic musical instrument or a musical instrument using a peculiar scale”
  3. To exhibit the “realism of human live performance”
  4. To advance beyond known techniques that “provide automatic performance only of accompaniment phrases of monophony”

Your average guy or gal might say, “Give me something that sounds as natural as Band-in-a-Box.” Yamaha sell into all major world markets, so the ability to play ethnic instruments with proper articulation is an important capability. Human voice, to this point, is limited to looped and one-shot syllables, e.g., jazz scat. The new approach would allow long phrases with natural intonation. [Click on images in this article for higher resolution.]


Currently, mid- and high-end Yamaha arrangers have “audio styles” where only the rhythm track is audio. The patents cover accompaniment using melodic instruments in addition to rhythm instruments. The melodic audio tracks follow chord and tempo changes just like the current MIDI-based styles. Much of the technical complexity is due to synchronization between audio and MIDI events. Synchronization is troublesome when the audio tracks contain a live performance with rubato. Without good synchronization, the resulting accompaniment doesn’t feel right and sounds sloppy.

Accompaniment from chord chart

This next feature will be very handy. U.S. Patent 9,142,203 is titled “Music data generation based on text-format chord chart,” September 22, 2015. If you use textual chord charts (lyrics plus embedded chord symbols), you will want this!


Simply put, the technique described in this patent translates a textual chord chord to an accompaniment. The accompaniment is played back by the arranger. The user can select tempo, style, sections (MAIN, FILL IN) and so forth.

The translator/generator could be embedded in an arranger or it could be implemented by a PC- or tablet-based application. Stay tuned!

Selectively delayed registration changes

A registration is a group of performance parameters such as the right hand voice settings, left hand voice settings, accompaniment settings, and so forth. Mid- and high-end arrangers have eight front panel buttons where each button establishes a set of parameter values (“readout”) when the button is pushed. It’s the player’s job to hit the appropriate button at the appropriate time during a live performance to make voice settings, etc. A player may need a large number of buttons, if a musical performance is complicated.

Usually only a few parameters are different from one registration to the next. Recognizing this, the technique described by U.S. Patent 9,111,514 (“Delayed registration data readout in electronic music apparatus,” August 18, 2015) delays one or more parameter changes when a button is pushed. The user specifies the parameters to be delayed and the delay (such as the passage of some number of beats or measures, etc.) Thus, a single registration can cover the work of multiple individual registrations.


I’ll have to wait to see the final product to assess the usefulness of this feature. Personally, I’d be happy with a configuration bit to keep OTS buttons from automatically turning on the accompaniment (ACCOMP). Sure would make it easier to use the OTS buttons for voice changes.

Ensembles / divisi

Tyros 5 ensemble voices assign played notes to individual instrument voices in real time, allowing a musician to perform divisi (divided) parts. Tyros 5 ensembles can be tweaked using its “Ensemble Voice Key Assign Type List.” Types include open, closed, and incremental voice assignment. U.S. Patent 9,384,717, titled “Tone generation assigning apparatus and method” and published July 5, 2016, extends Tyros 5 ensemble voice assignment.

The technique described in 9,384,717 gives the musician more control over part assignment through rules: target depressed key, priority rule, number of tones to generated, note range, etc. The rules handle common cases like splitting a single note to two or more voices.


These extensions could lead to some serious fun! I didn’t feel like the Tyros 5 ensemble feature was sufficiently smart and placed too many demands on the average player, i.e., less-than-talented me. The rules offer the opportunity to shift the mental finger work to software and perhaps could lead to more intuitive ensemble play. Neat.

Voice synthesis

As I alluded to earlier, arrangers make relatively primitive use of the human voice. Waveforms are usually limited to sustained (looped) or short (one-shot) syllables.

Yamaha have invested a substantial amount of money into the VOCALOID technology. VOCALOID draws on a singer database of syllable waveforms and performs some very heavy computation to “stitch” the individual waveforms together. The stitching is like a higher quality, non-real time version of Articulated Element Modeling (AEM).

VOCALOID was developed through a joint research project (led by Kenmochi Hideki) between Yamaha and the Music Technology Group (MTG) of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain. VOCALOID grew from early work by J. Bonada and X. Serra. (See “Synthesis of the Singing Voice by Performance Sampling and Spectral Models.”) More recent research has stretched synthesis from the human voice to musical instruments. Yamaha hold many, many patents on the VOCALOID technology.

Patent 9,355,634, titled “Voice synthesis device, voice synthesis method,” is a recent patent concerning voice synthesis (May 31, 2016). It, too, draws from a database of prerecorded syllables. The human interface is based on the notion of a “retake,” such as a producer might ask a singer to make in a recording studio using directives like “put more emphasis on the first syllable.” The retake concept eliminates a lot of the “wonky-ness” of the VOCALOID human interface. (If you’ve tried VOCALOID, you know what I mean!) The synthesis system sings lyrics based on directions from you — the producer.

An interface like this would make voice synthesis easier to use, possibly by novices or non-technically oriented musicians. The big question in my mind is whether voice synthesis and editing can be sped up and made real time. Still, wouldn’t it be cool if you could teach your arranger workstation to sing?

Music minus one

This work was conducted jointly with the MTG at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra. A few of the investigators were also involved in VOCALOID. Quoting, “The goal of the project was to develop practical methods to produce minus-one mixes of commercially available western popular music signals. Minus-one mixes are versions of music signals where all instruments except the targeted one are present.”

This is not good old center cancellation. The goal is to remove any individual instrument from a mix regardless of placement in the stereo field. You can hear a demo at

I doubt if this technique will appear on an arranger; the computational requirements are too high and the method is not real time. However, “music minus-one” is very appealing to your average player (that is, me). My practice regimen includes playing with backing tracks. I would love to be able to play with any commercial tune on whim.

There are patents:

  • US Patent 9,002,035 Graphical audio signal control
  • US Patent 9,224,406 Technique for estimating particular audio component
  • US Patent 9,070,370 Technique for suppressing particular audio component

and there are scientific papers:

  • “Audio Source Separation for Music in Low-latency and High-latency Scenarios”, Ricard Marxer Pinon, Doctoral dissertation, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, 2013.
  • D. Kitamura, et al., “Music signal separation by supervised nonnegative
    matrix factorization with basis deformation,” Proc. DSP 2013, T3P(C)-1, 2013.
  • D. Kitamura, et al., “Robust Music Signal Separation Based on Supervised Nonnegative Matrix Factorization with Prevention of Basis Sharing”, ISSPIT, December 2013.

Music analysis

Yamaha have put considerable resources into what I would call “music analysis.” These technologies may not (probably will not) make it into an arranger keyboard. They are better suited for PC- or tablet-based applications.

I think we have seen the fruits of some of this labor in the Yamaha Chord Tracker iPad/iPhone application. Chord Tracker identifies tempo, beats, musical sections and chords within an audio song from your music library. It displays the extracted info in a simple chord chart and can even send the extracted “lead sheet” to your arranger. The arranger plays back the “lead sheet” as an accompaniment using the selected style.

We’re probably both wondering if Chord Tracker will integrate with the chord chart tool described above. Stay tuned.

Yamaha Patent 9,378,719 (June 28, 2016) is a “Technique for analyzing rhythm structure of music audio data.” Patent 9,117,432 (August 25, 2015) is an “Apparatus and method for detecting chords.” I wouldn’t be surprised if Chord Tracker draws from these two patents.

Yamaha has also investigated similarity measures and synchronized score display:

  • Patent 9,053,696 Searching for a tone data set based on a degree of similarity to a rhythm pattern, June 9, 2015
  • Patent 9,006,551 Musical performance-related information output device, April 14, 2015
  • Patent 9,275,616 Associating musical score image data and logical musical score data, March 1, 2016

I’m not sure where Yamaha is going with similarity measures and searching. Will they use similarity measures to selected accompaniment phrases? Who knows?

The work on score display synchronizes the display of the appropriate part of a musical score with its live or recorded performance. These techniques may be more appropriate to musical education and training, particularly for traditional brass, string and woodwind players. Yamaha derives considerable revenue from traditional instruments and this is perhaps a way to enhance their “ecosystem” for traditional acoustic instruments.

Score display is one possible application of Yamaha’s patented technique to transmit performance data via near-ultrasonic sound. The technique borrows one or more tone generation channels to generate the near-ultrasonic data signal. See my earlier post about U.S. Patent 8,779,267 for more details.

So long for now!

That’s it! I hope you enjoyed this brief tour through a few of Yamaha’s recent patent grants and filings.

If you want more information about a particular patent, then cruise on over the the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) web site. Navigate to patent search and plug in the patent number.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

The long view

Here’s some information attributed to Martin Harris from Yamaha. Martin is one of the key sound developers at Yamaha:

  • Better Pianos
  • New Strings – 70 piece Seattle Symphony Orchestra Mega
  • New Orchestral Brass – highly dynamic
  • New Tuned Percussion – Glock, Xylo, Marimba and Vibes (with motor on)
  • New Mega guitars – Telecaster with Finger and Plectrum
  • SA2 Celtic Violin
  • New Synth Voices
  • New Classical Choir – Cathedral ambience
  • New Gospel Choir – Various articulations and Ad libs
  • New Pop Vocals – 4 session singers, 2 male and 2 female
  • Singing many dynamics and many articulations (wave cycling)

Montage? No, Tyros 4. The “SA2” should be a clue as the Montage does not provide Super Articulation 2 (SA2) voices.

My purpose here is not to be tricky, but to make the case that sample-based workstations or synthesizers draw from the sound pool that is available at development time, much the same way that hardware designers draw on the pool of available components. Products cannot be composed of imaginary circuits (“sand”), software, and sounds, after all.

To better illustrate this point, here is a rough timeline for the Tyros and Motif product lines with a few mid-range products (S9xx and MOX) thrown in:

             Tyros                        Motif/Montage
----   ------------------  ------------------------------------------
Year   Model     Physical  Model     Physical  Uncompressed waveforms
----   ------------------  ------------------------------------------
2001                       Motif      48MB     84MB 1,309 waveforms
2002   Tyros      96MB
2003                       Motif ES   96MB     175MB 1,859 waveforms
2005   Tyros 2   192MB
2007                       Motif XS  128MB     355MB 2,670 waveforms
2008   Tyros 3   256MB
2010   Tyros 4   512MB     Motif XF  256MB     741MB 3,977 waveforms
2011                       MOX       128MB     355MB 2,670 waveforms
2012   PSR-S950  256MB
2013   Tyros 5   768MB     MOXF      256MB     741MB 3,977 waveforms
2015   PSR-S970    2GB
2016                       Montage     4GB     5.67GB 6,347 waveforms

I included physical wave memory size for each product. I also included the uncompressed total sample size and number of waveforms for each member of the Motif/Montage line.

Clearly, Yamaha know how to ride the memory technology curve. Memory technology has progressed to the point where it is no longer a significant hardware design factor. Rather, the amount of wave memory in a product depends more upon the ability of the sound designers to fill it with quality content and mid- versus premium-product grading (i.e., the target market segment and price point for the model). For example, note that the mid-range S970 has more than twice the physical wave memory than the Tyros 5. Although the “expansion memory” is reserved in the S970’s physical wave memory, the S970 waveform content is substantially smaller than the Tyros 5.

The other characteristic to note is how the Tyros and Motif lines tend to leapfrog each other. Generally, the Tyros line leads the Motif line in physical wave memory and content. This is partly due to the higher memory requirements of SA2 voices, which require many additional articulation samples.

Both the Tyros 4 and Motif XF were released in 2010. Both machines use two SWP51L tone generators. (Newer products like the Montage use the SWP70 tone generator.) The Tyros 4 has twice the physical wave memory capacity with respect to the Motif XF. Yet, the Tyros 4 has sample content which did not make it to a deliverable product in the Motif line until the Montage in 2016: Seattle strings, orchestral brass, Celtic violin, vocals (choir and scat), Telecaster guitar and suitcase electric piano.

Tyros 5 expanded this content in 2013. The Motif XF, on the other hand, received a significant update in January 2014. The V.150 update added the “Real Distortion” effects implemented by the Tyros 5. (A few Real Distortion effects actually premiered in the mid-range S950.) The V1.50 update and the “White Motif” color job were life-extenders for the Motif line. I’ve conjectured before that Montage development was late and this is further evidence.

So, what can we expect in the Tyros successor which I’m calling the “Tyros++”. (Yamaha have trademarked the name “GENOS” which may be the name of the follow-on. Only Yamaha really knows.) Personally, I’m hoping for the new orchestral woodwinds from Montage. These are superbly expressive voices. I’m also expecting improved electric pianos, again, of comparable quality to the Montage.

SA2 voices will probably remain exclusive to the Tyros line. Many folks hoped that Montage would have SA2 and it didn’t. SA2 is an important product differentiator — kind of like the premium “Natural” piano voices are to the Clavinova line. I suspect that FM voices will be a differentiator for the premium Montage line in years to come as well. Yamaha tends to think of these three product lines as distinct, so cross-over is carefully controlled and limited.

All of this talk about samples and wave memory size is overly reductionist. The three main (DMI) product lines — Tyros, Motif/Montage, Clavinova — have distinct personalities and features. Motif/Montage is a synthesizer for stage and production studio. Clavinova is primarily a home or church piano. Tyros serves double duty as a home keyboard and as a workstation for performing professionals. (Oddly, many USA customers scoff at this latter role.)

Although these are all fine instruments, the personalities have quirks. Upper-range Clavinovas are Tyros-in-disguise except for multi-pads, third RIGHT voice (i.e., only two voice layers in the right hand), and no expansion memory. Tyros does not have the deep editing or modulation features of the Motif/Montage. The Motif and Montage — strangely! — do not have a tonewheeel organ mode. This latter omission is hard to understand since the Montage competes against other “stage” products like the Korg Kronos and Nord Stage.

Having compared voice programming between PSR-S950 (Tyros 3 without SA2 voices) and MOX (Motif XS sound set), the product lines are voiced (programmed) differently. Motif/Montage effect programming has a harder edge than the Tyros, which is oriented toward oldies, pop and jazz standards. (Yes, Virginia, the Tyros does have latent EDM potential to be tapped.) If the Tyros++ includes the orchestral woodwinds, for example, they will probably be programmed rather differently than Montage. Tyros++ four-part divisi ensembles with the new orchestral woodwinds would be simply brilliant. Can’t wait to see and hear what happens!

One finally editorial comment. The world is filled with product reviews. Publications like Keyboard magazine, Electronic Musician, etc. focus on individual products and rarely present a deep, long-term perspective on products. Sound On Sound reviews occasionally give historical background — usually for esoteric, retro studio pieces. As consumers, we need the long view in order to make the most informed choice.

Motif styles for your arranger!

I’m pleased to announce my collection of Motif performance styles for the Yamaha PSR-S950 arranger and its close cousins: Tyros 5, PSR-S770 and PSR-S970.

Motif and MOX are great song-writing machines with thousands of built-in musical phrases. In Motif-speak, these phrases are called “arpeggios.” Motif/MOX also have built-in “Performances” which combine these musical phrases into jam-along song starters. Although Motif-series workstations are not arranger keyboards, the Performances are fun for live jams, covering many modern genres (contemporary jazz, funk and R&B) which are underserved by arranger workstations.

To fill this gap, I translated 23 Motif performances to PSR/Tyros styles. In keeping with the original source material, these styles are stripped down and lean. No orchestration to get in the way! Some styles use only bass and drum. INTROs and ENDINGs are short and basic. Depending upon the source performance, a translated style may have only three MAIN sections. However, all styles bring the groove.

Many of the styles use Megavoice bass and guitar. Plus, I’ve added appropriate OTS voices. Of course, you’re welcome to ditch the OTS voices and replace them with your own.

Here is the link to the ZIP file: The file unzips into a directory named “PERF_for_S950”. The ZIP file includes a short READ ME file with more information.

If you would like to know how I translate a Motif/MOX performance to a PSR/Tyros style, please read the following articles:

Copy PSR DSP effects (part 4)

This is part 4 of a series of articles about DSP effects for electric pianos and other electrified instruments like guitar. The first three articles are:

This article covers two more techniques that should help you create and apply DSP effects to PSR/Tyros voices.

Beg, borrow and steal

As Picasso once said, “When there’s anything to steal, I steal.” I’m not encouraging larcency or piracy, but when there’s a good effect in an OTS or voice, copy and paste is the way to go.

I like writing these blog posts because they encourage me to learn more about PSR/Tyros features that I might have ignored or overlooked. Such is the case with the section titled “Disabling Automatic Selection of Voice Sets” in the Reference Manual. This features gives us a way to selectively copy certain aspects of a voice to another (new) voice.

This feature is like a “mini-freeze” that applies solely to VOICE SET, not entire registrations. Navigate to:


then TAB over to the VOICE SET page. There are four buttons at the bottom of the page controlling, respectively, four aspects of voice loading when a voice is selected:


When a button is ON, the corresponding voice parameter settings are loaded automatically from the selected voice. When a button is OFF, the corresponding voice parameters settings are not loaded.

So, if we set the button for EFFECT to OFF, we essentially “freeze” the current effect settings. When we load a new voice, the effects remain the same. This gives us a poor man’s copy and paste between voices.

Let’s say that we like the distortion effect on the “Clavi” voice and want to apply it to “VintageEP”. First, I load the Clavi voice to call up the DSP effect. Then, I navigate to the VOICE SET page (as described above) and turn the EFFECT button OFF. This freezes the effect part of the voice programming. Then, I select the VintageEP voice. Voila, the VintageEP voice plays using the distortion effect that was frozen.

Stop! Wait a minute!

Once you save the VintageEP voice to the USB drive or an OTS button, be sure to unfreeze the EFFECT aspect of voice loading. If you don’t do this, you will surely wonder why all of the voices you load are distorted!

Hey, where’s the loot?

The built-in voices are the most obvious source of inspiration for new basic voice plus effect combinations. Yamaha need to maintain backward compatible voices, however, and the older voices such as the electric pianos may not use the latest and greatest effects (e.g., REAL DISTORTION). The guitar voices tend to turn over more quickly and adopt the latest effects.

Backward compatibility is less of an issue for the OTS voices within styles. You are more likely to find new and interesting effects under the OTS buttons. Take the built-in “WahClavi” voice, for example. The built-in voice uses the old CLAVI TC.WAH effect. The “WahClavi” voice in the JazzFunk style, on the other hand, uses the new REAL DISTORTION multi-effect MLT CR WAH (Multi FX Crunch Wah).

The following table is a list of OTS voices showing the parent style and DSP effect. Follow this map to find buried treasure!

Voice            Style          S950 effect   Tyros 5 effect
---------------  -------------  ------------  -------------------------------
GrungeGuitar     JazzFunk       AMP1 HEAVY    British Combo Heavy
OverdriveWah     JazzFunk       MLT CR WAH    Multi FX Crunch Wah
VintageAmp       Soul           V_DIST SOLID  V_Dist Solid
Slapback         MotorCity      V_DIST ROCA   V_Dist Roca
SingleCoilClean  Live8Beat      CMP+OD+TDLY4  Compressor+Overdrive+TempoDelay4
JazzClean        KoolShuffle    V_DST JZ CLN  V_DistJz Cln
StageLead        HardRock       MLT DS SOLO   Multi FX Distortion Solo
EarlyLead        FunkPopRock    TEMPO AT.WAH  Tempo At.Wah+
MetalMaster      ContempRock    ST AMP DS     Small Stereo Distortion
ElectroAcoustic  AcousticRock   AMP1 CLASSIC  British Combo Classic
BluesyNight      70sGlamPiano   ST AMP VT     Small Stereo Vintage Amp
PureVintage      60sRock&Roll   MLT OLD DLY   Multi FX Oldies Delay

VintageEP        SoulBrothers   AMP1 CLASSIC  British Combo Classic
WahClavi         JazzFunk       MLT CR WAH    Multi FX Crunch Wah
SuitcaseEP       Live8Beat      CELESTE2      Celeste 2
ElectricPiano    FunkyGospel    EP AUTOPAN    EP Autopan
CP80             FunkPopRock    T_PHASER1     T Phaser 1
JazzVibes        DetroitPop2    VIBE VIBRATE  Vibe Vibrato
VintageEP        60sPopRock     EP TREMOLO    EP Tremolo

HoldItFast       LiveSoulBand   DIST SOFT2    Distortion Soft 2
WhiterBars       Soul           V_DIST CLS S  V_Dist Cls S
WhiterBarsFast   GospelSwing    ST AMP CLEAN  St Amp Clean
CurvedBars       MotorCity      ST 3BAND EQ   St 3Band EQ
EvenBars         FunkyGospel    ST 3BAND EQ   St 3Band EQ
AllBarsPhase     FunkPopRock    PHASER2       Phaser 2
ClassicBars      BluesRock      ST AMP CLEAN  St Amp Clean
Organ-a-Gogo     70sDisco2      V_DIST TWIN   V_Dist Twin
R&B Tremolo      60sVintageRock DIST HARD2    Distortion Hard 2
OrganFlutes      60sPopRock     AMP2 CLEAN    British Legend Clean
OrganFlutes      6-8SlowRock    ROTARY SP1    Dual Rot BRT

GrowlSax         SoulBrothers   V_DST S+DLY   V Distortion Soft + Delay
GrowlSax         MotorCity      V_DST H+DLY   V Distortion Hard + Delay
RockSax          LiveSoulBand   DST+DELAY1    Distortion + Delay 1
RockSax          HardRock       ST AMP CLEAN  St Amp Clean
Harmonica        6-8Soul        TEMPO AT.WAH  Tempo At.Wah+

Use the poor man’s copy and paste method to mix and match a basic voice sound with a DSP effect. The treasure map demonstrates how the Yamaha style programmers make use of the workstation’s sonic resources. There’s a lot to learn here!

Dry/Wet mix

I like to change voices by hitting the OTS buttons while jamming along with a tune. I have created more than 50 styles with customized OTS buttons to cover my current repetoire. The OTS buttons select the voice and effect combinations that are the most approprtiate for specific tunes (appropriate to my ears anyway).

Unfortunately, the kind of OTS voice and effect informaton that can be stored is limited by the S950’s operating system. (See the Voice Effect, Voice Set, and Mixing Console sections of the Parameter Chart in the Data List manual for the exact details.) An OTS button remembers:

  • DSP effect type (insertion type)
  • DSP variation ON/OFF
  • DSP variation value
  • DSP depth

for the RIGHT1, RIGHT2 and LEFT parts.

If you cast your mind back to Part 1, you know that there are a lot of parameters behind each effect. These parameters cannot be directly captured in an OTS button, which is why they must be stored in a USER EFFECT memory location as described in Part 2. You do get a fly-speck of tweakability by modifying the DSP variation value. Unfortunately, the parameter type is fixed.

The OTS restrictions are relieved or eliminated in the PSR-S970. Again, please see the Parameter Chart in the Data List manual.

Fortunately, OTS remembers DSP depth. The DSP depth controls the “dry/wet” mix, that is, the amount of uneffected (dry) and effected (wet) signal that is mixed together and sent further along (usually to the system-level chorus and/or reverb blocks).

Let’s say that you added a heavy distortion sound to the “SuitcaseEP” voice and you want to reduce the amount of distortion without changing the tone. (Guitar distortion is often waaaay too much for electric piano.) Simply dial down the DSP depth. This increases the amount of dry (clean) electric piano sound and decreases the amount of wet (distorted) electric piano sound. Voila, an electric piano with a bit of grit, not a fuzzed out shredder’s delight.

Here are the parameters for the DISTORTION presets DIST SOFT1 and DIST SOFT2.

                       DIST SOFT1  DIST SOFT2
                       ----------  ----------
    Drive                 16           7
    Amp Type             Tube        Combo
    LPF Cutoff          4.5 KHz     3.6 KHz
    Output Level          64          82
    Dry/Wet              D44>W      D<W63
    Edge (Clip Curve)     49          40

The built-in preset “Clavi” voice uses DIST SOFT1 to get its biting tone. Note that the DIST SOFT1 dry/wet mix has more dry signal than wet and that the DIST SOFT2 dry/wet mix has more wet signal than dry.

Here’s where things are cool, confusing, or both. The S950 seems to know when a DSP effect has a predefined dry/wet mix parameter. The parameter value tracks the DSP depth knob in the Mixing Console. Cool. The DSP depth knob is calibrated from 0 to 127 while the dry/wet parameter is calibrated from full dry (D63>W) to full wet (D<W63). Confusing. Internally, a 50-50 dry/wet mix (D=W) is represented by the value 64. The dry/wet mix is 50-50 (D=W) when the mixing console DSP depth knob is set to 64; the knob determines the internal value. (Pan gets munged in a similar way.)

As an exercise, I suggest applying the distortion effect in the built-in “Clavi” voice to “SuitcaseEP.” Then, use the DSP depth (dry/wet mix) to dial back (or dial up!) the distortion to taste.

A loose end

Some of you probably noticed that I didn’t say much about the “Wah Pedal” parameter belonging to the REAL DISTORTION multi-effect algorithm. This parameter can be swept by an XG “assignable controller.”

I didn’t say much about the “Wah Pedal” parameter because I was hoping to find a way to control this parameter from either the expression pedal input or an external MIDI controller. It may be possible to set up external control if a controller can utter the right SysEx mumbo-jumbo to set up an XG assignable controller. The process looks beastly and not very practical.

However, the S970 and Tyros 5 are capable of sweeping the wah pedal parameter. Please see the reference manual concerning “Footswitch / Foot Controller Settings”.

Multi-effects for electric piano (Part 3)

This is part 3 of a multi-part series about PSR/Tyros effects for electric piano.

PSR effects for electric piano (Part 1) presents a basic approach to grunging up an electric piano sound with distortion (amp simulation). Editing and saving PSR effects (Part 2) describes how to save a custom PSR/Tyros effect to USER EFFECT memory. In this part, I’ll cover the REAL DISTORTION multi FX algorithm.

If you’re a real gear-head, you probably heard about the new Yamaha Reface mini keyboards including the Reface CP, which is rich in electric pianos. (See my snap-review of the Reface CP.) Aside from good samples, it’s the effects that make the Reface CP a winner. The Reface CP has an effects chain driven by the basic EP voice:

              Tremolo       Chorus       Digital Delay
   Drive -->     X     -->     X    -->         X       -->  Reverb
                Wah         Phaser        Analog Delay

Switches select between Tremolo and Wah (or pass-through), between Chorus and Phaser (or pass-through), and between Digital Delay and Analog Delay (or pass-through). Thus, either Tremolo or Wah is active, but not both at the same time, etc. Each effect has one or two knobs that control the most basic parameters:

  • Drive: Amount of distortion (including none)
  • Tremolo/Wah: Depth and Rate
  • Chorus/Phaser: Depth and Speed
  • Digital Delay/Analog Delay: Depth and Time
  • Reverb: Depth (including none at all)

The front panel controls let you tailor your sound, e.g., maybe a little distortion (Drive) followed by Tremolo and some Reverb.

This article shows you how to make a similar effects chain on your PSR/Tyros. I assume that reverb is applied by the PSR/Tyros REVERB effect block, so I won’t discuss reverb here.

If you have a late-model Yamaha arranger workstation (PSR-S950 or later, Tyros 5 or later), Yamaha have already done much of the work for you. These workstations are equipped with REAL DISTORTION effects. One of the REAL DISTORTION effect types is a multi-effect. On the PSR-S950, look for the effect presets called “MLT DS SOLO,” etc. The “MLT” stands for “MULTI.”

A little product family history. The REAL DISTORTION effects first appeared in the Version 1.5 Motif XF upgrade. Yep, these are among the latest effects in the Motif series. Yamaha implemented all of these effects in the Tyros 5 and about half of these effects in the S950. Yamaha added the rest of the REAL DISTORTION effects to the S970. Fortunately, S950 owners have the versatile “Multi FX” algorithm (effect type).

If you don’t have REAL DISTORTION effects, you’re not totally out of luck. Look in the Data List manual and find combination effects (distortion plus delay, etc.) and use them instead. You won’t have as many effect stages, but the approach still applies.

The REAL DISTORTION MLT effect chain is quite complete:

                                                  Vibe       Chorus
Compressor --> Wah --> Distortion --> Speaker --> Phaser --> Flanger
                                                  Tremolo    Delay

The effect chain is really intended for guitar, but hey, people in the sixties and seventies put electric pianos through stomp boxes and guitar amps.

There are six REAL DISTORTION multi-effect presets: MLT DS SOLO, MLT DS BASIC, MLT OD CHO, MLT CR WAH, MLT OLD DLY, and VINTAGE ECHO. Use these as starting points for your experiments. I suggest starting with VINTAGE ECHO as it is the cleanest of the lot. Do what guitarists do — dive in and tweak.

Here is a list of the parameters and the allowed values. See the full information in the REAL DIST section of the Data List manual.

#   Parameter      Display
--  -------------  ---------------------------------------------
1   Comp. Sustain  Off, 0.1 - 10.0
2   Wah Sw         Off, Wah Pedal, Auto+Full, Auto+Mid,
                   Auto+Light, Auto-Full, Auto-Mid, Auto-Light
3   Wah Pedal      0-127
4   Dist Sw        Off, Overdrive, Distortion1, Distortion2,
                   Clean, Crunch, Higain, Modern
5   Dist Drive     0.0-10.0
6   Dist EQ        High Boost, Mid Boost, Mid Cut 1, Mid Cut 2,
                   Mid Cut 3, Low Cut 1, Low Cut 2, High Cut,
7   Dist Tone      0.0-10.0
8   Dist Presence  0.0-10.0
9   Output         0-127
11  SP Type        Off, Stack, Twin, Tweed, Oldies, Modern, Mean,
                   Soft, Small, Dip1, Dip2, Metal, Light
12  LFO Speed      0.1Hz . 9.925Hz (table#27)
13  Phaser Sw      Off, Standard, Wide, Vibe, Tremolo
14  Delay Sw       Off, Delay M, Echo1 M, Echo2 M, Chorus M,
                   Dl Chorus M, Flanger1 M, Flanger2 M,
                   Flanger3 M, Delay St, Echo1 St, Echo2 St, 
                   Chorus St, Dl Chorus St, Flanger1 St, 
                   Flanger2 St, Flanger3 St
15  Delay Ctrl     0-127
16  Delay Time     0-127

The parameters look overwhelming, so let’s break things down.

There are six “switches” that turn effects on and off. In a few case, the switches also select the flavor of the effect when it is turned on. For example, “Dist Sw” turns off the effect in the chain or turns on one of the seven available distortion types (Overdrive, Distortion1, etc.) In addition to switches, there are effect-specific knobs. “Dist Drive,” “Dist EQ”, “Dist Tone” and “Dist Presence,” for example, change the sonic characteristics of the distortion effect.

The “Delay Sw” acts like one of the switches on the Reface CP. “Delay Sw” disables the effect stage, or it turns on a delay, echo, chorus or flanger effect. Some effects are mono (M) and some effects are stereo (St). The “Phaser Sw” switch disables the stage (off) or it turns on a phaser (type: standard, wide, vibe) or tremolo effect.

The Low Frequency Oscillator (LFO) Speed parameter controls the effects that need modulation: phaser, chorus, flanger, tremolo, etc. You need to dial in the appropriate LFO frequency for the modulation effect type.

Wow, that’s a lot of choices! Here is a table of the parameter values for each preset.

    MSB/LSB --->  95/32     95/33     95/34     95/35     95/36     95/37
#  Parameter     DS SOLO   DS BASIC   OD CHO    CR WAH   OLD DLY   VINT ECHO
-- ------------- --------  --------  --------  --------  --------  ---------
1  Comp. Sustain   3.6       3.2       3.6       3.6       4.0       3.6
2  Wah Sw          Off       Off       Off     Auto+Mid    Off       Off
3  Wah Pedal        0         0         0         0         0         0
4  Dist Sw       Distort1  Distort1 Overdrive   Crunch    Clean     Clean
5  Dist Drive      5.0       4.1       3.8       5.0       5.0       6.6
6  Dist EQ       Hi Boost  MidBoost  MidCut2   LowCut1   Hi Boost  MidBoost
7  Dist Tone       2.4       5.6       5.6       4.2       3.0       4.6
8  Dist Presence   4.8       5.6       5.0       5.2       5.6       5.0
9  Output           55        60       102        95       121       113
11 SP Type        Twin      Stack     Tweed     Stack     Oldies    Twin
12 LFO Speed      0.1Hz     0.1Hz     0.1Hz    1.167Hz    0.1Hz    0.142Hz
13 Phaser Sw       Off       Off       Off       Off       Off      Off
14 Delay Sw      Echo1 St  Delay St  ChorusSt  Delay M   Delay M   Echo1 M
15 Delay Ctrl       40        26        20        13        24       20
16 Delay Time       48         2        46        36        20        6

These parameter values should give you some starting points for exploration.

If you’re not a guitarist, terms like “presence” may not be meaningful to you. Here are a few helpful definitions taken from Yamaha documentation.

  • Drive: Determines the extent to which the sound is distorted.
  • LFO Speed: Frequency of delay modulation (chorus, flanger), Modulation frequency (tremolo), Frequency of phase modulation (phaser), Frequency at which wah filter is controlled (wah)
  • Delay Time: Determines the delay of the sound in absolute time.
  • Output: Determines the level of the signal output from the effect block.
  • Presence: This parameter of the Guitar Amp effect controls high frequencies.
  • SP Type: Selects the type of speaker simulation.

Why start with VINTAGE ECHO? This preset adds a modest amount of compression and sends the signal through the Clean guitar amp model. The Clean model does not dirty up the sound too much. Rock guitarists — especially guys with mullets — like a lot of distortion. Electric piano, not so much. The Mid Boost adds guts to the midrange frequencies making an EP sound fuller, with guts. Finally, the distorted signal is sent into a Twin speaker model and then a light echo. The Twin model sounds like it would be Fender Twin-ish and similar to the kind of speaker used with a Rhodes EP.

I’ll close with an example USER EFFECT that I called “DirtyChorus.” The chain starts out with compression and a little bit of overdrive and mid-range boost. The distorted signal goes into a nice stereo chorus. I copped the chorus paremeters from the MLT OD CHO preset. I tried different speaker models and liked the sound of the Mean speaker type. Finally, I dialed up the output level to compensate for the low amount of overdrive.

    Comp Sus       5.0
    Wah Sw         Off
    Wah Pedal      0
    Dist Sw        Overdrive
    Dist Drive     1.4
    Dist EQ        Mid Boost
    Dist Tone      3.2
    Dist Presence  1.3
    Output         120
    SP Type        Mean
    LFO Speed      0.1Hz
    Phaser Sw      Off
    Delay Sw       Chorus St
    Delay Control  20
    Delay Time     46

Dist Drive can be increased before the distortion sounds guitar-ish. Generally, the output level must be lowered when more drive is applied. Clipping-induced distortion is not pretty. Of course, if you like that sort of thing, please carry on.

PSR effects for electric piano (Part 1)
Editing and saving PSR effects (Part 2)
Multi-effects for electric piano (Part 3)
Copy PSR DSP effects (part 4)

All site content is Copyright © Paul J. Drongowski unless otherwise indicated.

Editing and saving PSR effects (Part 2)

In my previous post, PSR effects for electric piano (Part 1), I give some tips and ideas for improving PSR electric piano sounds through customized DSP effects.

Before going any further, you need to know how to edit and save a DSP effect. Newer Yamaha arranger workstations (e.g., PSR-S970) have a graphical interface for guitar effects and the ability to store edited effects in OTS locations and Registrations. Older model workstations store edited effects in the USER EFFECTS memory locations. See the “Parameter Table” in the Data List manual for your workstation to see the capabilities for your particular instrument. Look under:

    Main > Mixing Console > Effect

to see where “Effect Parameters” can be stored. On the S950, you may store an edited effect to either the USER EFFECT memory locations or a SONG. This is typical for older model arranger workstations.

Not being able to store an edited effect to OTS (within a style) is a major bummer. This limitation makes it hard to share new effect settings with friends. It also means that you cannot directly customize a DSP effect for a particular style. You must first save the edited effect to a USER EFFECT memory location. Then, the OTS in the style is set to refer to the USER EFFECT memory location. On the up side, the USER EFFECT can be assigned a meaningful name. On the down side, the style cannot be transfered to a different keyboard without moving the USER EFFECT data, too.

The Yamaha reference manual does a decent job of describing the “push this, select that” of editing and saving a user effect. Read the chapter about the MIXING CONSOLE for detailed information. The Yamaha manual is a little short on “big picture.” Hopefully, this short note provides a strategic overview that makes all of the button pushing a little more understandable. It might also save you the frustration of trying to save an edited effect to an OTS button and failing. I tried saving to an OTS button (and style) for an hour before checking the parameter table in the S950 Data List and realizing that it ain’t possible.

I included a brief outline of the process of editing and saving an effect at the very end of this blog entry. It should help you to find the parts of the reference manual with the details.

The other part of “the big picture” that you should know is how to save and restore USER EFFECT memory to a USB file. The USER EFFECT memory is part of a bigger package of stuff that is all saved to a single file. That package of stuff contains:

    USER EFFECT types and associated parameters
    User master EQ types
    User compressor types
    User vocal harmony types

All of this is stored in a single USER EFFECT file. So, if you want to move your user effects to another workstation, write a USER EFFECT file to the USB drive. Then, take the USB drive to the other workstation and load the file. The bad news is that you are forced to load the user master EQ, compressor and vocal harmony types, too, thereby overwriting these settings on the target machine.

Saving and loading a USER EFFECT file is handled on the CUSTOM RESET page. Navigate to the SYSTEM RESET page:


and press [H] USER EFFECT FILES. Then TAB over to the USB drive page and press [6] SAVE. The usual file dialog box displays where you can rename the file. The default name is “UserEffectPreset”. The file extension is “.eff”. If you don’t change the name, the PSR writes the file “UserEffectPreset.eff” to the USB drive. (More stuff the Yamaha manual didn’t tell you…)

The subjects of factory and custom reset remind me that it’s a good idea to make a full system back-up to a USB drive. See the:


page in the Owner’s and Reference manuals for further details. Full system back-ups have saved my bacon on the MOX on the few occasions when I had to perform a complete factory reset. Also, make sure to save the back-up file on a PC or Mac. You never know when that USB drive will fail or get lost!

The PSR-S950 writes a back-up file to the USB drive. The back-up file is named “PSR-S950.bup”. Presumably, other workstation models name the back-up file after themselves, too.


Changes to REVERB, CHORUS and DSP effects are made on the EFFECT page in the MIXING CONSOLE. The knobs on the EFFECT page control the effect sends. Press [F] TYPE (in the upper right corner) to change the effect type assigned to each part or channel.


The EFFECT TYPE SELECTION page is a four column browser that lets you choose the effect BLOCK, PART, CATEGORY and TYPE. After selecting the effect type, press [F] PARAMETER (in the upper right corner) to change the effect parameters.

The EFFECT PARAMETER page has a scrolling list of parameters for the chosen effect type. Use the buttons below the LCD display to set the effect BLOCK, CATEGORY, TYPE, PARAMETER and VALUE.

Press [I] SAVE to save the edited type and parameters as a new USER EFFECT. The USER EFFECT page displays the memory locations where you can store the new effect. The number of available memory locations depends upon the chosen effect block:

    REVERB   3 locations
    CHORUS   3 locations
    DSP      10 locations

Choose a memory location using the buttons below the LCD display and press [I] SAVE. Enter a name for the new user effect and confirm the save.

Once a user effect is saved, it appears in the EFFECT TYPE SELECTION page under the USER category. The user effect is recalled just like a built-in effect preset.


USER EFFECT: Restores the User Effect settings including the user effect types, user master EQ types, user compressor types, and user vocal harmony types created via the Mixing Console display to the original factory settings.


For the items below, you can save your Original Settings as a Single File for future recall.


The User Effect settings including the user effect types, user master EQ types, user compressor types, and user vocal harmony types created via the Mixing Console displays are managed as a single file.

The USER EFFECT settings can be saved to a file and loaded from a file.


BACKUP: Lets you backup all data on the instrument to a USB storage device. Refer to the Owner’s Manual.

RESTORE: Loads the backup file from the USB storage device.

PSR effects for electric piano (Part 1)
Editing and saving PSR effects (Part 2)
Multi-effects for electric piano (Part 3)
Copy PSR DSP effects (part 4)