FreeStyle: Yamaha-format style improviser for professionals

On January 1 we are releasing a new product, FreeStyle. With it, accomplished keyboardists can improvise sophisticated accompaniments using Yamaha-format style files [1] as MIDI loops. FreeStyle builds on the robust style reproduction engine that we developed for The Accompaniment Machine. Before describing the features of FreeStyle, it’s useful to point out the differences between the two programs:

  • The Accompaniment Machine was created for beginning and intermediate keyboard players. It provides rich musical backgrounds that greatly enhance performances. By preparing song materials in advance, the user can reduce demands during performances and even create completely automatic accompaniments. There are other useful features like melody auto-harmony.
  • FreeStyle is targeted to advanced or professional players who want to improvise accompaniments. The user controls all aspects of the accompaniment (style sections, chords, fades, irregular measures,…) in real time from the keyboard.

Figure 1 shows that main performance window of FreeStyle. The prime directive for program operation is that all musical functions are controlled from the keys of the keyboard (as opposed to buttons on the keyboard console). There are three reasons for this choice:

  • There is little standardization of console controls.
  • Removing fingers from the keys and hunting for a button could interrupt the musical flow.
  • FreeStyle works uniformly on any digital keyboard from any manufacturer.
FreeStyle main performance window

Figure 1. FreeStyle main performance window (preliminary).

Players use keys below a split note[2] for two functions:

  • Set chords to guide the harmony.
  • Perform operations like changing the style section, adjusting volume and tempo or initiating a fade.

Key combinations in the bass section of the keyboard are used to set chords, following the auto-accompaniment conventions of most digital keyboards. There are three options, balancing the simplicity of the key combinations against the number of available chord types:

  • An enhanced version of the Yamaha easy-chord system (5 chord types).
  • The FreeStyle system that accesses 10 chord types with 1,2 and 3 key combinations.
  • The full chord system involving up to 5 keys that accesses 31 chord types.

Operations are controlled by a set of five adjacent keys (chromatic or white keys), generally set aside at the low end of the keyboard. The graphic on the right-hand side of Fig. 1 shows the available operations and key combinations. The player can choose all available style sections. If a section is not available in a particular style file, FreeStyle chooses the best alternative. Other operations include the following:

  • The Stop operation either stops the style immediately or initiates a fade for a user-specific duration.
  • The volume commands reduce or enhance the accompaniment volume by a user specified ratio. Multiple key presses may be used for large volume changes.
  • Similarly, the tempo commands control accelerandos or ritardandos.
  • The OneBeat, TwoBeat and ThreeBeat commands play the next accompaniment measure for the specified number of beats and then continue with the normal pattern. This feature can be used to insert irregular measures.

The listbox at lower left (under construction) will store information for sets — setups for individual songs. Each row contains the style name and location as well as several parameters: starting tempo, relative volume, volume and tempo change ratios and fade length. The user can include any number of songs in the set, organize them and save them in a file.

The FreeStyle program includes the Style Organizer window shown in Fig. 2. Here, you can quickly check the sound and structure of individual styles and organize your style collection. The style organizer makes it easy to find just the right sound for a song. The FreeStyle package also includes the utilities MIDI Doctor and Style Voice Organizer. With the organizer, you can change the instrumentation of any style and customize voices for best performance on your computer. The package also includes a library of over 5000 tested styles organized by genre and song.

FreeStyle style organizer window

Figure 2. FreeStyle style organizer window.

Footnotes

[1] Brief description of Yamaha-format style files: LINK.

[2] Note that the top end of the keyboard (above the split note) may also be used in its normal mode.

[3] Find out more about KBD-Infinity: Home page.

[4] If you have comments or questions, please contact us at info@kbd-infinity.com.

 

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