Guest post from Miki Strange: YAMAHA MMS Tutorial Pt.1

It’s great to have a guest post after a very long time, and especially from a good friend and mobile musician Miki Strange. Miki and I had a very long chat a few weeks ago about the QY100 and the Yamaha Mobile Music Sequencer. After we’d spoken I realised that he knew more about this subject than anyone else I knew so it made perfect sense to ask him to write this …

Let’s start with a short potted history.
Over a decade ago Yamaha were selling QY units. These were at the time low to high end workstations. The idea was that you built a song from an included selection of riffs or created your own. It was simple, pick a style, add a chord progression and bolt together sections to make a complete song. It’s a nice way to work and gets songs together quickly. I know, I still own a QY100 and still use it for its versatility.

Over the years production of these units stopped and Yamaha like all the major keyboard manufacturers moved onto Arranger Keyboards. Most people class these keyboards as, in all honesty, a bit crap because all one has to do is play the chords and the keyboard does the rest. In a lot of cases people end up sounding a bit like Richard Clayderman, but that’s what happens when you stick to the preset styles.

With the Yamaha MMS app things have moved into the 21st century but the workflow is from the 90s QY range. Is that a good thing or a bad thing. Here’s my thoughts.

For me it’s a good thing.
Firstly one doesn’t need to concentrate on the track structure from the start. If I have an idea I roughly know how I want it to sound so I concentrate on the feel, the rhythm, timing and maybe experiment with a few different sounds. When I have a few things in place it’s then that I can apply some chord changes to my riff and see if the track works. If it does I can add a few more sections and complete most of the track. A little cheat for writing parts for each section is to write everything in C Major. Just using the white notes is as liberating as it restricting. It all gets changed when one adds the chord sequence later anyway meaning your finished track can be in any key.

So that’s about it. It’s a MIDI only sequencer with a unique workflow. Well that would be it apart from a few other neat tricks. For a start each section of each pattern you write be it drums, bass, synth or whatever can be remixed in the app. This special little section lets you add two types of variation to your riff at any bar. You can place each remix on different bars or on the same bar for massive differences to your original riff.

Put it this way. With one riff you can build a whole track, a track in any key with any amount of chord changes and variations to each part on a bar by bar basis. Still reading, good, I think I may have your attention.

Each sound within the app comes from a built in synth. It’s basic but it is tweakable as are the effects that can be applied to any track. BTW it has some basic automation so you can record changes to your sounds within a pattern too. Nothing amazing but it’s there and it’s useful. A note on the sounds too. They’re not great. They’ll give you an idea of where you’re going but that’s it. Still it’s nice to have them.

With a track built within the app it’s great strength thereafter comes from its MIDI and Audiobus capabilities. Each of the 8 tracks is its own MIDI channel so routing the MIDI into something like Cubasis means you can easily assign tracks and record using the sounds in Cubasis. Doing this with 8 tracks at once will solve any timing issues too. If you don’t want to use Cubasis’ inbuilt sounds then MMS via MIDI via app via Audiobus to Cubasis or other app is the way to go.

To conclude, the Yamaha MMS app is a joy to use. Great interface, great help manual and so far very stable. The not so great points are the lack of any audio channels but it is a sequencer and not a DAW and the synth engine isn’t so great but as I’ve said, it’ll get the job done before you’re ready to start changing sounds. It’s very much a GM sound set and they’ve been around for years so they can’t be all bad and at least fairly compatible with apps like Cubasis should you want to just open the MIDI file.
Audio copy/paste is in there too so even if you just made a quick loop it’s easy enough to get out and into another app. The real depth in this app is creating your own riffs and putting them together rather than relying on the included ones. That’s why I use it and why I think you should give it a go if you’ve missed or dismissed this great app.

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