Synchronizing Multiple Synthesizers - dummies

By Jeff Strong

To create any kind of music with MIDI, you need to synchronize your synthesizers to one another. The first thing you have to do is decide which device is going to send MIDI commands (called the master) and which devices are to receive them (called the slaves). The process for synchronizing MIDI devices varies slightly from configuration to configuration.

You can synchronize a synthesizer and a sound module (or another synthesizer). In this case, your keyboard is the master because this is the instrument that you actually play. Start by attaching the MIDI cable to the out port of the keyboard and to the in port of the sound module.

The following illustration shows the setup for two synthesizers. If you have more than two devices, you can run a cable from the thru port of the second device to the in port of the next one, and so on. You can connect up to 16 devices this way.

Synchronizing two synthesizers involves connecting the MIDI cables as shown.
Synchronizing two synthesizers involves connecting the MIDI cables as shown.

The next steps involve configuring each device in the chain so that each device recognizes its place and responds only to those messages that you assign to it. Keep in mind that all devices operate differently, so be sure to read your owner’s manual for your device’s specific procedures. The following steps give you a general idea of the process involved in synchronizing two synthesizers:

  1. Go into your master keyboard’s system parameters and choose Master.

    This is generally a dialog box located within the software of your device.

  2. Choose Slave for each of your other devices.

    You usually do this by going into the MIDI synchronization menu in your software.

  3. Make sure that each device in your chain is set to mode 3 or 4, depending on whether you want polyphony.

  4. Assign a MIDI channel for each device that’s down line (connected to the out port) from the master.

    You can find channel assignments within your device’s system parameters. For example, in a ddrum4 sound module, you press the System button until the light next to the word MIDI illuminates. You then use the dial to choose the MIDI channel that you want to use.

    You can choose from 16 channels (1–16), but if you have a drum machine, set it to channel 10 because this is the default drum channel for GM (General MIDI) devices.

  5. Play the master keyboard.

    This makes your other MIDI devices play the appropriate sounds (hopefully). If you don’t hear anything, make sure that you have the appropriate MIDI channel selected.