Using a keyboard as a synthesizer?
July 4, 2010 9:45 PM   Subscribe

How can i use my keyboard more like a synthesizer to produce music?

I'm 16, just throwing that out there. Me and a group of friends started a band together. Were really ambitious and we want to see how far we can get. It feels a little like all talk for right now, but who knows. I've been playing piano for about 8 years. I have a grand piano but i needed a keyboard that i can take to gigs (if we ever get to that point, :D) Biggest lesson that i learned from my parents was only by shit once if you can. So I saved some money and i bought a Yamaha np-v80. Its a $400 keyboard, 76 key, touch sensitive. It will be perfect for gigs and stuff. But now I'm thinking...Shit i really wish i could do some music production. I compose music and stuff for piano. But i really wish i could take it up a notch and work out some other stuff. For the band or just for myself. I've used finale before to write sheet music for when i took composition lessons. But now, that's not what i need to be able to do. If i wanted to write techno or something (its a long road but i have to start somewhere :D) I'm not using finale. I was looking into things like reason and pro tools. But that seems more like editing what you already wrote. On you tube, there is a guy called klassicmaster that produces music all on the keyboard. He uses some crazy $3500 synthesizer. I'm hoping to get some of that functionality out of my keyboard.

Sorry, I'm horrible at getting to the point, but i just wanted to get everything covered :/ So basically, how can i use my keyboard like a synth? Is there such thing as an external synth that would plug into my keyboard then i would do all my playback and layering on that? Are there virtual synths that i can run on a computer? I'm pretty tech savvy and I don't have a problem playing around with hardware and software. Fyi

So yea...what do you think? Or did i just pretty much just fuck myself by buying a keyboard instead of a synth?

Thanks!! :D I know i can count on meta filter :P
posted by NotSoSiniSter to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It looks like your Yamaha has both MIDI and USB connections.

You can use your Yamaha as a "controller", pressing keys and playing notes through a "software synth" ("soft" or "virtual" synthesizer) which runs on a "synthesizer host".

The controller is your keyboard. The keyboard sends key-press and volume ("velocity") signal, no sound.

The soft synth takes in those keypresses and, through software, makes or synthesizes sound.

The host helps the synth play sound out of your operating system, through your audio adapter, as well as record keypresses, so that you can replay compositions.

There are so many soft synths out there. It really depends on what kind of sound you want to make.

Reason will do both synthesis and hosting ("standalone"). It can also be embedded as a synthesizer though a host application like Ableton Live, which will let you merge Reason control and output signal with other effect plug-ins and synthesizer plug-ins.

You can use Pro Tools, but it is very expensive and requires special "Pro Tools-only" hardware. But that's an option, too.

If you have more specific ideas about the sound you want to make, it may help others recommend specific soft synths.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:01 PM on July 4, 2010

Don't worry about not having a synthesizer. At present, considering how good software synthesizers have become, the only advantage to having a fancy real-life synthesizer is being able to make sounds without a computer.

You would want to get an audio interface that will take midi input. These things are not too expensive and connects to your computer via usb or firewire. They allow you to send midi signals from your keyboard to your software synthesizer. Most of them also have the added advantage of being able to connect to high-quality condensor microphones if you feel like doing live sound recordings.

Before you invest in software, the best policy is to try them out first. Download some demos and play around with them to find out what suits you best. As mentioned above, Ableton Live and Reason are pretty good and will allow you to do most of the things that you mentioned, although I tend to lean towards Live as I find it to be more intuitive, especially for improvisation and live performance.

One soft-synth that I can wholly recommend is Absynth, although you still need a "host" programme like Live or Reason to embed it in.
posted by ianK at 11:47 PM on July 4, 2010

It looks like your Yamaha has both MIDI and USB connections.

Opps.. it appears like you don't need an audio interface after all and can connect directly into a computer.
posted by ianK at 4:11 AM on July 5, 2010

One disadvantage to having a softsynth is not having the knobs to twist and buttons to press.
posted by majikstreet at 8:56 AM on July 5, 2010

Return your $400 keyboard. Get an Oxygen 49 controller and a copy of Ableton Live. This assumes you already have a laptop. You can use the controller to control Live, assign knobs/sliders/looping stuff to the controller and it's a synth/workstation/whatever you want it to be.
posted by thylacine at 10:12 AM on July 5, 2010

Response by poster: i already tired the USB connection in finale. it works fine. :D so what are some good computer programs i can start with? I'm really looking at jumping into some higher end stuff. To tell you the truth, if i can find a torrent of a program. i will use that.
posted by NotSoSiniSter at 11:53 AM on July 5, 2010

One soft-synth that I can wholly recommend is Absynth, although you still need a "host" programme like Live or Reason to embed it in.

Absynth can run standalone.

To tell you the truth, if i can find a torrent of a program. i will use that.

Don't do that. There are lots of demos. If you find something useful, pay for it or find an alternative. The programmers on the other end have to pay the bills, just like musicians and the rest of us.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:42 PM on July 6, 2010

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