The first requirement is that you have a digital piano with a 5-pin MIDI OUT connector. The next requirement is that you have a MIDI Sound Module. If you already have these items, you most likely connected your keyboard to the sound module using a standard MIDI cable. The AUDIO OUT of the sound module goes to some form of ‘sound system’ (PA system, Bluetooth speaker with AUX IN, or even simply headphones). If this is the type of setup you use for practicing or live performing, you are ready to go. However, if you currently lack a ‘MIDI Piano’, there are keyboards such as the MidiPLUS AK490 MIDI Keyboard Controller for under $100. Sound modules vary in price from under $100 to $1,499 for the Roland Integra (my sound module of choice), or the Yamaha Motif-Rack Xs for under $1,000. Keep in mind that regardless of whether you use Sideman or not, this setup of Keyboard, sound module and sound system is a standard setup.
The only change we need to make to your “Keyboard + Sound Module + Sound system” setup is to disconnect your keyboard from the sound module , then connect the MIDI OUT of your Keyboard to the MIDI IN of Sideman, and the MIDI OUT of Sideman to the MIDI IN of your sound module. That is all there is to it.
When Sideman is powered ON, the MIDI OUT of your keyboard is ‘passed through’ by Sideman to your sound module. In fact, at this point you will be unaware that Sideman is even present. That is, whatever you play on your keyboard will sound through your sound system just as it did before Sideman was added to the setup.
Your MIDI sound module, like all MIDI devices, has 16 ‘MIDI Channels’. What you play on the piano will be processed on only one of the 16 MIDI channels, leaving 15 MIDI channels available for Sideman to use. Sideman has a default configuration for voice assignments on the 15 MIDI channels it uses: Bass, Guitar, Drums, Strings & Pads, Chromatic instruments, etc. You are free to use the default voices that Sideman comes with, or you can modify the configuration files to your liking. As an example, you can select the piano voice that sounds when you play (most sound modules have close to 100 piano voices!).
Keep in mind that Sideman is, at its heart, simply a ‘personal computer’, albeit the popular Raspberry PI. Being such, you are free to connect a monitor, mouse and keyboard and use the Raspberry PI as your personal computer. What makes it special is that it can run the Sideman application. When powered up, the Raspberry PI launches the Sideman application and you are ready to go.
In upcoming posts we will detail how Sideman will analyze your piano playing to generate up to 15 MIDI channels of sophisticated accompaniment. Topics will include:
- How Sideman monitors for when you are ‘playing at tempo’. There are various ways you can ‘play at tempo’, including chords, melody, or playing percussion notes. Playing ‘at tempo’ enables Sideman to automatically begin playing at the same tempo that you are playing. “How does it do that???!!!”.
- How Sideman monitors your ‘playing style’. Nuances in style include things such as playing a melody that ‘swings’, playing certain types of chord progressions (think Latin, Bossa, Samba, Shuffle, Swing, …), playing staccato or legato, playing softly or loudly, playing modal scales, etc.
- How sideman monitors your playing volume and adjusts the accompaniment volume to match.
- How Sideman responds to keyboard inactivity, for example if you pause your playing to take a sip of wine. Or someone comes up to you and wants to ask you how incredible your performance sounds. You pause playing, and Sideman pauses right with you, ready to resume when you are.
- How Sideman detects when you are ‘vamping’ on a set of chords, or when you modulate to a new Key Signature.
- How Sideman monitors you chord voicings. Are you playing simple triads? Are you playing primarily major chords (common with standards and ballads). Are you playing extended voicings (min9, min11, sus, altered dominant). Are you playing Latin II-V voicings?. Are you playing ‘funk’ chords?
- How Sideman responds when you play Left Hand bass patterns along with Right Hand chords.
The idea is that Sideman behaves similar to how a Bass player, guitarist, drummer, etc. ‘listens’ to the pianist and provides accompaniment that enhances the pianist.