Friday, May 21, 2010

The Story Behind Styles: An Interview With a Yamaha Style Programmer

Styles can serve almost any musical purpose - they can provide hours fun playing around with different musical ideas, they can help you learn about chords and harmonies, or they can provide a totally customizable accompaniment for a performance. They're so simple to use and flexible that they can seem almost magical, allowing you to control every aspect of full band sound with only your left hand. We here at Yamaha's Online Services were curious about what exactly goes into making that magic, and figured that anyone else who uses style files on a regular basis would feel the same way.

So, to shed light on the finer points of Yamaha's style files, we turned to one of the lead style producers from Yamaha's research and development division in England. As a member of a small team of the programmers responsible for all of Yamaha styles, he has worked on every Premium Style as well as the styles that come pre-loaded on Yamaha's keyboards. In our brief interview he let us in on some information that should come in handy to anyone using styles, and will hopefully give you some new insight that you can put to use in your keyboard performances.

Q. What, exactly, is a style file?

A. A Style File contains music (MIDI) and system parameters that are played by
the Style Engine. All Yamaha keyboards featuring Styles have a Style Engine
built in their software. It smoothly and seamlessly recognises and follows
chord progressions played on the keyboard, then instantaneously plays the
selected Style File to sound the correct chord and instruments to provide an
interactive accompaniment.

Keep reading for the full interview
, including tips for cool uses for style on your instrument, details on what makes Yamaha's files the highest quality files around, and what exactly goes into the style production process.

Q. What goes into making a style file? What's the basic process, and where do you come in?

A.After deciding what to make, the actual 'making' process is quite

First up is writing the music. Our creative programmers compose the Style
introductions and endings, the main sections, fill-ins and rhythm breaks,
ensuring they will work within the style system parameters, whilst also
capturing the essence of the required musical image.

After creating the musical aspects, the style is then technically checked.
This is a detailed process which includes playing each style section in
every key, using all recognised chord types.

The final stage of 'making' is mixing. Yamaha's studio technicians set
volumes, DSP effects, EQ and many detailed audio parameters, carefully
engineering the final sound field of each style.

Yamaha has a huge range of products, many of which have completely different
sounds. Another creative job is cross-grading Styles so that they get the
best out of each instrument in the range. This ensures customers experience
the best possible quality from their instruments Styles.

My role includes overseeing the creative processes but changes depending on
whether the style itself is destined to be in a product or sold via the
internet as a Premium Style. It's probably a good time to mention that all
Yamaha Premium Styles go through exactly the same 'making' process as the
styles built in the products themselves, ensuring they are of the highest

Q. How is producing a style different from producing a MIDI song file?

A.A MIDI song file is linear and plays a specific song. A Style reacts in
realtime to chords you play on the keyboard, producing an accompaniment or
'backing band' for the music you are playing.

From a producing point of view, you would either be making an arrangement of
a song or a sound alike, in both cases no original composition is required.
When making a song you don't take care that it sounds good when transposed
into different keys, whereas this is hugely important when making a style.

As a user, for MIDI songs you can turn tracks on and off, adjust the tempo
and transpose keys, but you don't have any real control over the song, it
just plays... With styles you are in control of what the band actually
play, leaving you free to sporadically repeat a chorus or create a new

Q. Yamaha puts a lot care into making sure that their instruments are top quality, and that same care goes into style file creation. But what does that mean in the final product? How does Yamaha's famous quality come across in a style file?

A.The care and attention to detail of Yamaha's content creating staff is
nothing other than obsessive, the team always goes that extra step to push
the bar ever higher. In the final product this passion becomes clear. Of
course you have the overall sound which has been carefully crafted, but each
individual part of every style has been produced so it plays and sounds like
a real instrument. If you solo parts of the Style like drums, bass, guitars
etc., you can hear the detail that goes into realising each of these parts.
Put the parts together and you have a Style that really sounds and plays
like a band or orchestra.

The content team uses the best possible musicians and technicians to
compose, arrange, check, mix and finalise each style to make sure it sounds
and plays great in our products.

Q. What are some of the coolest uses for styles that you've seen?

A.I think experimenting by turning different parts of a style (RHY, BASS,
CHRD1 etc.) on and off, you can really create some nice results. If you
think of the parts of a style as your band members, you are effectively
changing your line-up.

The vast range of musical genres covered by Yamaha's Styles makes it easy to
experiment playing with different grooves and sounds, discovering new ways
to express your music.

- Doug