Sound Modules and Samplers

       Last month we talked about what midi is and this month we’re going to begin exploring what midi does. On of the thing s that midi does is to playback samples either through a sound module that stores samples or through a sampler that records and plays back samples. In this instance, you depress a key on your midi keyboard or your midi sequencer plays a note and the sound comes out of the speakers or headphones—How does this happen? Let’s start at the beginning

       As you recall from last month, midi information consists of what note was played, how long the note was played and the volume of the note (as determined by the velocity of the key press). With a midi keyboard, the information is sent instantly via a midi cable to the sound module or sampler. The sound module recognizes the information and plays back the desired patch (sound) at the appropriate volume for the correct length of time. What is happening here is that for every patch (sound) in the sound module there are many samples (actual recordings of tbat instrument) that correspond to individual notes and for each individual note there are a number of samples that correspond to different volume levels. This is known as multi-sampling and results in a much more authentic sound. For instance, a note softly struck on a piano sounds entirely different from a note that is struck loudly. Older sound modules had one sample for as many as 4 or 5 notes and simply transposed the note up or down depending on the pitch. Modern sound modules have multi samples for each note. The sound module uses velocity switching to determine which sample to play for a particular velocity level. Sound modules usually include chorus and reverb effects and some even allow you to adjust the attack, sustain, delay and release for each patch as well as portamento, breath, etc. Keep in mind that every keyboard is just a sound module with the midi keyboard attached so that when you use a sequencer to trigger notes on the keyboard, you are basically just treating it as though it was a sound module.

       Samplers are sound modules that allow you to record your own samples into them and are generally used for percussion and drum tracks. Hip-Hop artists use these in creating beats. Some include keyboards and/or programmable pads that allow you to play them as though they were percussion instruments. They have varying degrees of sophistication as far as the number of samples per note, etc. but deep down they’re really all the same.

       Up until recently, sound modules were available only in the hardware flavor but with increasing computer speed and complexity, it has become possible to use a midi keyboard hooked up to a laptop via midi or usb and play a software sound module just as though it were a hardware based model. This opens up a whole realm of possibilities for live performances and well as studio work. 

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Roland Fantom-XR Sound Module
Roland Fantom-XR Sound Module