'Panel Memories', Why bother?

“The beauty of our keyboards is the music they enable us to play”. It is a sweeping statement and yet one we spend little time thinking about. Music brings so many different things to so many people. However there are a few essential factors that are important otherwise why would we bother at all. First it must bring pleasure to the one playing it. Second, hopefully those listening will also enjoy the sounds we produce. The standard we play and how confident the musician is of the instrument under his or her fingers does not really matter to the former but will make a world of difference to the latter.

We cannot make you a better player, only practice and possibly a teacher can do that. We can however perhaps make you think a little before placing your hands upon an instrument and it is here we may be able to make a lot of difference. Every person that plays an instrument hears their music differently, although not all actually listen to the music they are producing. My question is which following group do you fall into?

1) Do you hear the music in your head when you play?
2) Do you hear the music through your ears when you are playing?
3) Do you hear the music in your head and the music from your instrument from your ears?

These may seem obvious questions but now go back and take some time to think honestly about them. Ultimately the best outcome is the last. I have heard many players that do not really hear the overall sound picture being produced when playing. I have for many years taught my pupils to record their music and play it back to themselves after practicing, asking the question “Did I hear all of that when I was playing.” Before reading any more of this article go and get a cup of tea/coffee and take 5 minutes to relax and think about the above. Why, because it will make you a better musician.

Having taken a moment to think about the above I want to direct your attention to the organs & keyboards we play. Our current instruments have the ability to be incredibly complicated. That said my first keyboard was a Technics SX700 and just about the only thing you could do apart from play was to turn an instrument sound up or down. Now we have access to a world of effects, not just on the parts you are directly playing but the backing parts as well. There were no panel memories on my first instrument, which was in certain ways a benefit as all you could do was switch on and play. This led to spontaneity and arguably more freedom in our music when playing.

For those that truly listen to their keyboards, more modern instruments now present us with a potentially huge problem and so we come to the point of this article. There are now so many parameters we can change, it can take anything from minutes to hours (depending on how fussy you are) to set up a song. For example, lets say you change the right hand sounds eight times during the number. Now perhaps you also want to change the style variation for verse and choruses at the same time. Of course you may well need to change the volumes during your song. Oh yes you need to set the song tempo. You get the idea, all of this takes a few seconds if not minutes and for every panel memory saved it all adds up. Worse, what you set up one day and you think is the perfect setup will never be found again if the instrument gets turned off or different song is played.

By now you may be starting to understand that this article is beginning to turn into a rant about panel memories. If you are a jazz or improvising type musician you will probably be more interested in what you can play over the top of a backing. There is nothing wrong with this and as I get older I find myself more drawn to this type of music. However if I am playing for an audience and want a consistency in sound from gig to gig I find them essential.

I hear the music in my head before I start and while I play it. I also hear what is coming out of the speakers. There is a ‘Zone’ in which I get into where nothing exists but the music, however I need to be in a place where I do not need to think about the Tech side of what has to be set up. Without presetting the panel memories it is harder to find this ‘Zone”

So where does this all leave us? Back at the beginning of course! Before laying a hand on your keyboard take a minute to think about the song you wish to play. Here are just a few of the things to think about.

The song and its layout – the order and number of verses and choruses.

The sounds you think might fit of which parts during the number.

What type of room is the song being performed in – this could mean the reverb and echo will need to be edited.

The style you wish to use – you don’t want every song sounding the same

The tempo you want to play at – (hint) if playing to a live audience, consider making it just a little quicker. This is a judgment call but 3 or four beats per minute faster can make a lot of difference.

Once these basics are saved to a set of panel memories the next time you come back to play the song you will benefit from all this housekeeping. Don’t stop here though, there is no reason not to tinker and resave the panel memories with any additional edits. If you read music whilst playing, jot the panel memory changes on your music (preferably in a different colour).

Off topic, here is another hint, SAVE YOUR WORK MULTIPLE TIMES! I once worked on a Technics KN2000 for three days writing a new Disco style, some 20 plus hours. It was summer, we had a storm and subsequently the power went off. This had happened before and had not been a problem however this time it reset the keyboard to factory settings and I lost all that work. I did eventually rebuild the style but it never seemed quite the same. Please learn from this. Our instruments are essentially computers and they can and do go wrong. Back up your work no matter what it is and if you have a way to back up on a second device such as a USB stick do so. I currently play a Yamaha Tyros 5. My work gets saved in the user memory, then a copy on the keyboard hard drive, then onto a USB stick and finally it gets copied onto my computer. I know this seems like overkill but I am not going to lose my work like that again.

Here is another little pointer with reference to our software. When you download a style, try to only download once. Why? Because that way there is always a second copy left on our system if things go wrong and you need to find it quickly again. You may also be interested to know our software is lifetime guaranteed. If you need further copies all you need to do is send us an email and we can set this up for you. FYI, the reason we initially limit to two copies is to try and prevent our styles being pirated.

Anyway, back on topic, if you are not already doing the above then my challenge is this. As a trial of this housekeeping principle, spend 30 minutes setting up just one song you like and play it a lot. Record and play it back a few days later. If you spot anything that could be better, change and resave the panel memories. I promise it won’t take long before anyone listening will thank you.

John Romero