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Composing Secrets 2: Basic instrument sounds Composing Secrets 2: Basic instrument sounds

Topic started by rjay (@ on Thu Aug 24 13:57:03 EDT 2000.
All times in EST +10:30 for IST.

Though MIDI started as a way of controlling
electronic instruments, one of its major values
was in making a standard set of instruments,
a basic set. In early 80s, each manufacturer
started implementing their own set of controllers, and
Roland came up with the best definition and it
was adopted by everyone else and called General
MIDI. It is basically a language to describe a
performance in terms of notes, instruments and controls
to a synthesiser, so that it can play it.

As a first step, it defines 128 instruments in
16 groups:

2. Tuned idiophones (bells?) or (melodic percussion)
3. Organs
4. Guitars
5. Basses
6. Strings
7. Ensemble strings and voices
8. Brasses
9. Reeds
10. Pipes
11. Synth Leads
12. Synth Pads
13. Musical effects
14. Ethnic
15. Percussion
16. Sound effects

A good composer must use instruments from all these
groupings. Piano, guitars are versatile and
can play melody and harmony and even percussive

Organs are generally used for harmonic backing
and so are strings. Brasses, Reeds and pipes
play solo but also can play in ensemble, an
harmony. Synth leads (lead is a name for
melody) Synth Pads (harmony). Ethnic instruments
generally play melody, though I have used
Koto for harmony recently. Musical effects
and sound effects are just the sixth group
we have not talked about!

Let us take each group and look at the sounds


Piano is one of the greatest instruments ever
invented. It can play melody, harmony and solo.
A single pianist can play and create the impression
of a whole orchetra.
It can play a wide range of notes (from very low
pitch to very high pitch) it can sound soft (piano)
or strong(forte).

There are eight variations on the piano sound.
0. Acoustic Grand Piano
1. Bright Acoustic Piano
2. Honky-Tonk Piano
3. Electric Grand Piano
4. Electric Piano 1
5. Electric Piano 2
6. Harpsichord
7. Clavichord

This weekend I will upload a same piece played
one after the other, in each of these
sounds. And you can see the uniqueness of each.

0 and 1 are used in all classical compositions.

EX 4: List some TFM songs in which you have heard an
acoustic piano. (most cases when the hero is
singing for the heroines Bday party and
the third guy is proposing to marry the girl!

MSV had an excellent player (Was it Joseph Krishna or
Henry Daniel) who played in Pasa Malar movie.
V.Kumar has some great piano songs. Raja created
great emphasis for piano solos and used very
complicated chord progressions.

Our own Naveen Jebaraj has an page (
with his acoustic piano recordings. And he has
rendered some of the best piano based TFM songs on
his MIDI page. (Unnidam mayangugiren, Enna enna

Honky Tonk piano sounds a little detuned, and was
used in Jazz and country (boogie) music. I think it
has been used for comical effect in TFM. (?)

Electric Grand piano and the other two sounds are
recent innovations. This is how they came about.
When the first synthesisers (analog and FM synths)
tried to create piano sound, they created their
own version of it and people started using them.
So they wanted them in GM palette.

Harpsichord is the father of piano and was a
velocity insensitive loud fellow, but can be
used in a majestic way. Bach's best compositions
sound divine in H.chord.

Clavichord or clavinet. I dont know much about this instrument,
though I have heard it used in a Raaja song. From the
sound I suspect it to be the electronic simulation of
a harpsichord!

Ex. 4.1 Do exercise 4 for each of the above.


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