Please note that the view point here is of the writer and not necessarily that of the club or it's members.
On a previous article we suggested a live set up of four instruments as
a compromise between stage presence, usability and cost. That concentrated
on the instruments, this time we will have a look at the player (that is
you by the way). Working out how to play your music live is not as easy as
it sounds, as you probably do not want to take your entire studio set up
live. It is normal to use different equipment live, than in the studio,
and if your music is studio based, this becomes tricky performing it live,
which could account for why most music stays in the home studio rather
than live on stage. The idea of these articles is to get the performer
(that is you again) out on stage and performing new original music live.
In a live situation there will always be parts of the music that will have
to be sequenced, and the decision as to what to actually play can also be
difficult. In a live performance the last thing you need is to be stood
behind an impressive array of keyboards doing nothing because your lead
break isn't due for another 16 bars. On the other hand you cannot play all
the parts at once. Trying to play too many things live will put you under
pressure, increasing the risk of it all going wrong. Though with all the
careful planning in the world it is inevitable that the line you select to
play will pause at some point, so careful selection of live performing
parts is needed. The instruments that you use may govern what can and
cannot be achieved live on stage, for example, it is no good needing to
play some poly synth stabs when your lead instrument is a monophonic one.
Even multitimbral polyphonic synths can run into polyphony problems, this
has to be taken into account when planning your set. So let us look at
what polyphony is needed and where.
A common problem is running out of polyphony by getting all the parts of the music playing simultaneously, below is a list of parts and polyphony usually required:-
Bass lines are always best in mono mode, so any long release times are cut short by the next note keeping the bass pattern tight and clear. Arpeggios also benefit from a mono mode, although dropping the odd chord within an arpeggio is always effective, if this is done make sure that the sound has a very short release time or the arpeggio will become blurred (of course this may be what you want, there are always exceptions with whatever is described here). The chord parts really need as much polyphony as you have available, although you are not likely to be playing any more than four simultaneous notes, pad sounds are best if the chords run into each other by having a long release time to overlap the change. So a four note chord will need double the polyphony to keep the changes smooth, this also applies to any chord stabs, though these would normally be more rhythmic and may not need to overlap. Lead lines if they are fast will only need to be monophonic, but for slow melodic lines the notes will probably need to run into each other, needing more polyphony. These points must be considered when deciding to use a mono synth live, as there may be times when the mono synth cannot play any part at all. Drums is the final part we will consider here, and shouldn't need any more than four notes at any one time (a drummer can only hit four things at once). But unfortunately it is not that simple, especially with cymbals. A crash cymbal can last for upto four seconds, and the other drums will steal it's decay time. When programming drums in the sound generator it is best to set each drum to be monophonic or give each drum it's own exclusive grouping. Most instruments allow this for hi-hats, so that the closed hi-hat stops the open hi-hat. If the cymbals have their own exclusive group, then the bass and snare can only steal their own polyphonic part and not that of the decaying cymbal. This problem was never there when we had drum machines (remember them!), but multitimbral instruments need a little more attention to what is going on.
What to sequence?
What do you sequence and what do you play live? Whatever you do, you are likely to need to sequence something at some point. Drums and bass lines by their repetitive nature are normally sequenced, if any extra bass riffs or drum fills are needed, it is best to play them over the top of a basic sequenced pattern. The rest of the rhythmic parts can also be sequenced, but keep the lead lines live. Infact you can just leave yourself a mono lead line to play, giving a spare hand to control the synth in real time, however the problem here, is what to do when the lead line breaks. If all else fails and there is nothing to do for a while, then showmanship must take over, and you will have to make it look like you are doing something, such as making vital adjustments to synths, checking the mixer levels or eq or something. Anything will do, but don't stand there doing nothing, it will kill the entire illusion that you are performing live! On the other hand, don't be too ambitious in the number of parts you are trying to play. Playing live should be a rewarding experience, not turn you into a nervous wreck. Remember, something played simple and well, is better than playing something difficult and messing it up.
If anyone has any tips for performing live, contact BSC
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