GovernorSilver Posted April 14, 2022 Share Posted April 14, 2022 Intro The Yamaha PRS-SX600 is the second arranger keyboard that I've owned. My first was a 76-key arranger from Yamaha's DGX series which was in production around 2003, but I only used it to practice piano material that I learned from my last piano teacher. I did not use its arranger features at all, because I didn't understand what an arranger could do for me. I eventually learned over time about arranger features and started to get more and more interested. This post is focused on my first impressions of the PSR-SX600, and thus is not intended to be a thorough review of all its capabilities. An arranger keyboard is typically set up so that notes that you play with your left hand will influence the bass line and other harmonies being played by the auto-accompaniment. The typical way to play an arranger is to manage the auto-accompaniment with your left hand and play the melody with your right hand. Your virtual backing band will play their harmony parts in a given key until you play a different set of notes with your left hand. Thus, the arranger keyboard will typically be split into 2 zones with the left zone designated for style management - the manuals calls this zone the "chord section" - and the right zone - "voice section" - for melody. Some arrangers, such as the PSR-SX600 will let you set this split point between the style side of the keyboard, and the melody side. The PSR-SX600 gives you two split points - the Style Split Point for splitting the chord and voice sections, and the Left Split Point for splitting between left hand zone and right hand zone. These two points can be different, although I believe they default to identical positions. Many songs are built out of song sections such as intros, verses, choruses, bridges, outros, etc. Arranger styles typically include song sections that are intended to match the style - thus a bossa nova intro, R&B intro, and rock intro will sound different from one another. A lot of songs are also played with variations of how instrumental parts such as the drums and bass line are played. Arranger keyboard styles typically include at least one variation. PSR-SX600 styles have 4. Arranger keyboards are designed to allow for easy real-time arrangement of a song, so they typically include buttons that trigger these song sections, so that players can decide on the fly when the auto-accompaniment should, say, switch to another variation, insert a fill, or finish the song with an outro. Easy real-time arrangement of a song is what distinguishes arranger keyboards from other types of keyboards. Arranger keyboards are well suited for people who want to explore unfamiliar musical styles - and thus, would struggle to create song sections in those unfamiliar styles - people who want to play cover tunes with the greater flexibility that an arranger offers over a backing track player or just pressing play on a sequencer in song mode; and people who want to write an original song in a recognizable musical style. These users would probably appreciate not having to program all the song sections and variations from scratch. Key features of the Yamaha PSR-SX600 which attracted me: 3 Intros, 4 Variations, 4 Fills, Break, 3 Endings Style Creator Half-bar Fills Style Section Reset button Style Unison (eg. the horn section unison riff in “Sir Duke”), assignable to pedal Style Accent - velocity values from left-hand input can affect Style performance by adding/removing notes Multi Pads - can trigger audio files as well as MIDI clips 73 Super Articulation Voices (vs. 14 Super Articulation Lite voices) There are more expensive arranger keyboards which have specs and features that can justify the additional cost. There are less expensive arrangers which do not support as many song sections/variations and do not provide any onboard editing of styles. I chose the PSR-SX600 because it had the specs and features that looked like the best match for my interests, and appeared to have a good price-performance ratio. The Style Unison and Style Accent features are not found in the more expensive PSR-SX models, or even the top-of-the-line Genos. Chord Tutor The PSR-SX600 is not designed to recognize every piano chord voicing of G13Alt known to humankind, or any other chord. It is only designed to recognize certain voicings, and this is where Chord Tutor can be a handy tool to look up what those voicings are. Pick the key and chord type, and Chord Tutor will show you the chord in standard notation, as well as what it looks like as a shape on the keyboard. It should be noted that the chord shapes shown are for rootless voicings, which may be confusing to beginners. For example, the Fmin9 shape does not include F (the root). I think I get why Yamaha implemented Chord Tutor this way - if you aspire to play keyboard with a human bass player, you'll have to learn rootless voicings sooner or later, because bassists will be playing the root and might get annoyed with you competing with them for the root. In any case, beginners will appreciate using Chord Tutor to learn more chord shapes. Experienced musicians without experience in arranger keyboards could use Chord Tutor to help figure out which chord voicings they can and cannot use effectively with this arranger. Chord Fingering Types For the auto-accompaniment to play in the desired harmony, you play certain notes in the chord/auto-accompaniment zone of the keyboard. When you want the harmony to change to a different chord, you play another set of notes in that zone. The Yamaha PSR-SX600 manuals refer to this as “specifying the chord”. The notes that you have to play so specify a chord depends on which Chord Fingering Type (CFT) you select. . Some CFTs are meant for people who want the auto-accompaniment to play more notes in a chord than they are comfortable playing with the left hand. Some allow more direct control over the harmony but require a greater vocabulary of chord shapes. Below is a listing of CFTs that I tried, and corresponding comments: Single Finger Fingered AI Fingered Multi Finger Full Keyboard AI Full Keyboard Smart Chord Single Finger lets you play major triads with just 1 finger, minor triads and unaltered dominant 7th chords with just 2 fingers; and minor 7th chords with just 3 fingers. It’s a good CFT for users who want to play 4-note chords but aren’t comfortable playing all 4 notes at once. It’s really good for users who want to hear major and minor triads but are not comfortable with those yet. Yamaha seems to assume whoever uses this CFT doesn’t know what diminished or augmented triads are. Fingered is for specifying the chord by playing 3 or more notes, which you will have to do anyway if you want chords that are more sophisticated than the ones available in the Single Finger CFT.. A selection of chord shapes that the arranger understands is shown in the reference manual. These shapes are root voicings in the key of C, such as C6, CMaj7, Cm7b5, C7sus, and so on. A table of chord spellings is provided, for those who want to extrapolate what the shapes should look like in other keys. The manual also suggests using the onboard Chord Tutor for looking up chords, although beginners may be confused by the Chord Tutor shapes in the key of C being different because, again, they're rootless. So, in exchange for having to learn more chord shapes, this CFT gives you a lot more control over the harmony compared to Single Finger. Note that you may have to move the Style split point, because the default auto-accompaniment zone may not have enough room for chord shapes in certain keys, such as A. Fingered On Bass works a lot like Fingered, except the lowest note of the chord played is always the bass note. The name of this CFT might make you think it will let you play a bass line with your left hand without triggering a change in key for the auto-accompaniment. If this is indeed the case, you might prefer to just flip the chord and voice sections, so that you can specify chords with your right hand, and play the bass line with your left hand. AI Fingered is basically the same as Fingered, according to the Reference Manual, except you may be able to just use 2 fingers to specify a chord, based on the previously played chord. Yes, I find this description vague. You're giving up some control over the harmony because, as implied by the AI, some artificial intelligence is trying to guess a good harmony to play. This CFT might be worth exploring for happy accidents, as it may be annoying if you have a clear idea of how you want the chord progression to go, and it doesn't make the right guesses. Multi Finger is the default CFT. The arranger is generally smart enough to detect whether you are specifying a chord in Single or Fingered CFT as you play. Full Keyboard works like the Fingered CFT, except chords are detected in the entire key range. It seems to detect most of the two-handed chord voicings that I learned from the Jazz Chords for Beginners course on the Open Studio Jazz website, except the dominant 13th, which has left hand playing root and 7th, and right hand playing the 3rd, 13th, and 9th. It also does not detect the altered dominant shape that I know, in which the right hand plays a flatted 9th and 13th. AI Full Keyboard works like Full Keyboard, but like AI Fingered requires less than 3 notes to be played. 9th, 11th and 13th chords cannot be played - according to the manual. This might also have happy accident potential. Smart Chord CFT lets you play a chord with your left hand, by only using one finger of your left hand. You set the key signature and the Smart Chord Type. For example, if the key signature is C Major, and you want to hear a C Major triad, you just play the C note - you don’t have to play the other 2 notes. Similarly if you want to play a B diminished triad, you only play the B note. If you have some music theory knowledge, you might recognize Smart Chord as an implementation of scale harmonization. This feature would appeal to players who want to play a chord progression in a given key signature, using only one finger at a time, as it is much easier than having to memorize the keyboard patterns for various chords in different keys. Smart Chord Type settings include Standard, Pop, Jazz, Dance and Simple. The Jazz Type setting generates the most sophisticated chords, as expected. A disadvantage of the Smart Chord feature is that it is not suited to blues, as dominant chords are frequently substituted for major chords in blues styles. The I chord in a C Major blues, for example, could be a C Major triad, or it could be a C7, which includes a Bb. Bb is not part of the C Major scale, so if you use only chords from harmonizing C Major, you won’t have C7 available. For similar reasons, this CFT is ill-suited for chord substitutions and reharmonizations in general. Voices PSR-SX600 sound presets (“Voices”) are built on instrument multi-samples, which is standard for arranger keyboards. While the sound design capabilities hardly rival those of, say, a Yamaha Montage or Waldorf Quantum, there is some flexibility for tweaking the Voices. You can edit settings for envelopes, filters, and even LFOs. Super Articulation (marked as S.Art) Voices produce sonic effects like trumpet fall-off, guitar hammer-ons, etc. depending on how you play. These effects can also be triggered by a button or a pedal. Each comes with an Info screen that you can look at for hints on how to play them expressively. For example, most of the guitar S.Art Voices have Info screens that advise trying piano legato. I am more used to the so-called “legato” on guitar, not piano legato playing. I think I’m starting to get the hang of it though, as I can occasionally get that “guitar legato” sound. Thankfully the PSR-SX600 has 2 pedal inputs, so one could be used for S.Art playing and the other used as a more typical piano damper. The non-S.Art Voices generally sound like I would expect out of a $1000 keyboard rompler in this price range. This is neither criticism nor praise - just setting expectations for whoever might be reading this. The specs say that these include 27 MegaVoice, 27 Sweet!, 64 Cool!, and 71 Live! Voices but I don't really know at this time what makes a Voice Sweet!, Cool!, Live!, or MegaVoice. UI/UX I did not have to read the manual to select Styles and Voices or to activate song sections such as Intros and Outros. I did have to dig into the manuals to learn how to change the CFT, Split Points, and other settings that require menu-diving. I also needed the manual to get some idea of the intended usage of each CFT, although the manuals fell short in their attempts to explain the AI CFTs. The Info screens for the S.Art Voices are a very nice touch. Next Steps Explore Style Unison and Style Accent Continue exploring unfamiliar styles, like 90% of the ones in the World category, and all the Entertainment ones. There are also Voice and Style Expansion Packs like Indonesia 3 that I want to check out as it appears to have gamelan stuff. Sketch out a composition and save it as MIDI (SMF file). I will probably use the multi-track recording feature. Real-time recording is also possible, for those who can manage the auto-accompaniment with one hand, play something with the other hand, and also press the auto-accompaniment buttons to change song variations, insert breaks, etc. without missing a beat. Load the SMF file into Ableton Live or hardware groovebox for further development of the piece. Import an SMF file created on other gear (software or hardware) and see what can do with it on the PSR-SX600 Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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