Zynthian Tips and Tricks
It's been less than a week since I received the hardware for my Zynthian, and I've spent every spare minute playing and exploring, troubleshooting, writing bug reports and articles, and generally learning as much as I can.
The following are some tips and tricks I've discovered along the way. Although they relate specifically to the Zynthian, there's some generic advice that might apply to any music production tool or environment.
These tips and tricks are all possible using the ZynSeq feature branch of Zynthian OS. If you are missing a feature or menu item described here, make sure you are using the 'feature/zynseq' branch, and have recently updated your Zynthian.
- When on an instrument or effect screen, a short click on the layer rotary controller will swap between layers. This is super handy when fine tuning instruments after programming something worthwhile.
- The replace effect function is very handy, especially when auditioning similar filters and effects.
- Routing multiple instruments through an instrument effect layer can be useful, but there's another way to re-use effects and effect chains without sacrificing an entire midi channel. Some effects offer an input port that other instruments can be routed to, even when they are attached to a host instrument. Routing in this way has other benefits too. Routing the instrument back to one of the main outs will effectively mute an effect or chain, and routing it back through the effect will send it through the outputs defined by the host instrument. Finally, although I haven't yet benchmarked anything to verify, logic dictates that less instances of a filter means less demand on the Pi's hardware resources, hopefully resulting in less xruns.
- Although I haven't managed to get live input working on ZynSeq, there is another way to record input. Queue up your existing patterns, then head to the MIDI Recording screen. Start and stop recording as appropriate. Skip back to pattern you want to edit, and import your newly created MIDI file. There's a couple of things you need to be aware of tho. First up, make sure you have the correct input channel selected, or nothing will be imported. Also, be aware that if the midi is longer than the length of the pattern, subsequent patterns may be overwritten.
- A gain layer as the final effect on every instrument gives you a quick and easy way to fine tune mixes. This is especially handy, as effects often have their own volume controls, and as instrument controls aren't laid out in any kind of consistent way, with the primary volume control for an instrument often buried deep in the page list. If I remember correctly, it's on page #7 of Calf Monosynth's settings, for example, but it will be some time before my slow brain manages to map any other setting or instrument.
- Sometimes a rotary controller slips onto another menu item after you've clicked down on it. Releasing the select controller now would at best waste your time sending you to the wrong screen, or inadvertently delete an entire instrument, or even delete ALL of your carefully tuned instruments and effects. But if you notice a slip and you're quick, there's another way. Nudge the controller in the desired direction and then release. If you were quick enough, the desired action will be performed, instead of another, potentially destructive one.
- An easy way of benchmarking instruments and effects is to SSH into the Zynthian, and run htop. I think this was installed by default, but if not an 'apt install htop' should sort you out. You can see and sort processes by CPU and memory usage, to help you easily identify greedy effects and instruments.
Anyway, these are the main ones I noticed as I flipped through my notes from the last few days. Hopefully they are useful to someone else too.
I still haven't dug into the Zynthian repositories, but when I get the chance, I will add some more bug reports and feature requests. Certainly a confirmation dialogue before deleting all instruments is essential, getting live input working in the pattern editor would save a couple of steps, and a lot of time, and I'd love to see some consistency with regards to placement of common instrument controls.
I'm loving the Zynthian right now, and the fact it's being actively developed means it will only get better. Every device has its idiosyncrasies, but given how robust and considered this device already is, and the enthusiastic community who help develop it, I imagine anything considered a bug will be ironed out before long.
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