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Yamaha QY10

Music Sequencer

The phrase "size isn't everything" could have been written for this pocket-sized sequencer and synth expander. Simon Trask predicts big things.

It's a multitimbral tone generator, a drum machine and an eight-track sequencer - yet you can hold it in the palm of your hand. Could the QY10 be the start of something small?

PICK UP A VHS videocassette from that pile of Neighbours tapes you've never got round to watching and hold it in the palm of your hand. Now when I say that Yamaha's latest variation on the workstation concept is compact and portable you'll know exactly what I mean, because the QY10 is the size of a videocassette and weighs just a few ounces more than one when batteries are fitted for portable use. It even comes in its own protective videocassette case - on which the legend "Yamaha QY10 Music Sequencer" is boldly emblazoned in order to prevent you from returning it to the video hire shop by mistake.

Although Yamaha call the QY10 a Music Sequencer, in addition to an eight-track sequencer its compact frame contains an eight-part-multitimbral PCM sample sound source and a combination of preset and programmable accompaniment patterns - all for under £300. The front panel miraculously crams in a 1x16-character non-backlit LCD and a total of 46 buttons, cleverly laid out and colour-coded to clearly indicate different operational aspects of the instrument. The power on/off switch is located on the left side panel, volume slider on the right side panel, and power input, MIDI In and Out sockets and 3.5mm stereo line out socket on the rear panel (Yamaha provide a 3.5mm-to-two-phono lead with the QY10).

With its front-panel "micro keyboard", the aforementioned battery power option (which gives you 5-6 hours operation), and a 3.5mm stereo headphones socket on the right side panel, the QY10 is nothing less than a portable workstation - or a "walkstation", to use the term coined by Yamaha UK - which you can use wherever you are for "jotting down" rhythms, basslines, melodies and chord sequences for later use.

You can also use the QY10 as a ready-made four-part backing band by drawing on 76 preset Patterns and programming chord sequences for them to play. From this perspective, the 24 user Patterns which you can program into the QY10's internal RAM memory can act as a means of "spicing up" the preset Patterns. Not that they necessarily need spicing up. If you think that presets must equate with foxtrots, sambas, waltzes and cha cha chas, think again. The QY10 is part of a trend in portable keyboards and the like which is seeing the foxtrots and the cha cha chas being squeezed out in favour of more contemporary rhythms. In fact, the Music Sequencer is probably the best example to date of this trend, not just because it includes a sizeable selection of modern dance rhythms alongside the likes of r'n'b, rock, country rock, hard rock, heavy metal, pop, jazz, reggae, ballad, salsa and bossa nova, but because many of these dance rhythms are, well, eminently danceable. Clearly the programmer(s) responsible know what they're about in the good groove department - surely it can be no coincidence that the presets were programmed in London (at Yamaha's R&D Centre) rather than in Tokyo or LA. The "authenticity" factor is helped by the fact that the QY10's drum and percussion sounds work well in the modern rhythmic context - as do a number of the other, pitched sounds.

So what is this strange beast? Is it a preset machine with a little bit of programmability thrown in? Or is there enough programmability and enough memory to make it a reasonable first workstation for the budding musician on a tight budget? Is it worth buying simply as a portable musical notepad for those moments of inspiration which occur in the most unlikely of places? Is it worth buying simply as an eight-part multitimbral expander? So many questions...


THE QY10'S 31 voices cover a satisfactory variety of sounds, including acoustic and electric pianos, organ, clavinet, strings, brass, electric guitar, marimba, vibes, synthlead, breathy flute, bowed bell and jazz, picked, slapped and synth bass. However, no-one's going to claim that these samples - and the circuitry used to output them - represent the best that technology has to offer. For one thing, sampling memory is clearly at a premium, as sample loops typically start as soon as possible after the attack and in most instances have clearly been kept as short as possible, so that sustained sounds noticeably thin out. The 'RckOrgan' and 'Organ' Voices are actually the same sample, the only difference being that a touch of modulation is applied to one of them. Similarly, the 'HiStrEns' and 'LoStrEns' Voices are the same sample, the latter being pitched an octave lower and given a slightly slower attack - the idea presumably being that you use the "Lo" Voice for low strings sounds because low strings naturally have a slower attack. The loop on the strings is noticeable, and if you listen carefully you can hear a slight click - but the overall effect with chords is to give sustained sounds more of a sense of movement.

The QY10 scores well with a powerful bass end and some funky sounds such as the clavinet and muted electric guitar. The pianos, on the other hand, are on the anaemic side - and there's a glaring change in tone between two adjacent samples in the 'RckPiano' Voice.

Voice 31 (Drum Set) is actually a collection of 26 drum and percussion samples with factory-fixed MIDI note and micro-keyboard pad assignments (the latter indicated on the pads themselves - you use the up and down arrow buttons to switch between two sets of 13 samples). Samples include three bass drums and four snares (including the inevitable 808 bass and snare - now seemingly public property), open and closed hi-hats, crash and ride cymbals, claps (808), low and high agogos and timbales, and low, mid and high toms and congas.

Overall, the QY10's Voices work best when they're working together in ensemble, where they complement and support one another very effectively, meshing together to create a pleasingly warm, gritty, low-tech but solid and punchy sound.


THE QY10 HAS two performance modes: Pattern and Song. In Pattern performance mode it behaves like a drum machine, looping the currently-selected Pattern until you select another one, then playing to the end of the current Pattern before moving on to the new one. Except the QY10 isn't confined to playing drum rhythms. Each QY10 Pattern consists of four tracks: Rhythm (RT), Bass (BS), Chord 1 (CI) and Chord 2 (CII). This labelling reflects the function of each track within the QY10's preset Patterns, the idea being that each of these Patterns provides not just a drum and percussion backing but a complete accompaniment, drawing on the collection of 31 Voices in order to do so. Voice assignments (one Voice per track), tempo (30-250bpm), track volume (0-99), track pitchbend range (±0-12) and track output pan (Left, Centre, Right) are stored per Pattern - factory-fixed for the 76 preset Patterns, user-programmable for the 24 user Patterns. The BS, CI and CII tracks can each play any Voice, but the RT track is limited to the Drum Set. Alternatively, if you want to use an external sound instead of an internal one for a particular track, you can set the track to Voice 32: Off, which disables internal playback but not MIDI transmission for that track.

As the QY10 is eight-part multitimbral, there are four parts available over and above the four accompaniment tracks. Yamaha call them Tracks 1-4, although they aren't internally sequenceable in Pattern mode. You can assign one Voice to each of these Tracks, globally rather than per Pattern, and play one Track/Voice at a time from the QY10's micro keyboard, or sequence/play all four at once from an external MIDI sequencer or appropriate keyboard controller. In this way you can have a four-track accompaniment playing away while you tap out a melody on the QY10's micro keyboard or sequence/play something more ambitious using an external source.

The QY10's Tone Generator is 28-voice polyphonic, and allocates its voices dynamically across the eight parts, so in most circumstances you shouldn't find yourself running out of notes. Further good news is that Voice overlapping has been implemented ie. a patch change within a track doesn't cut short any active notes/Voices.

MIDI channel assignments on the QY10 are fixed, with Tracks 1-4 assigned to MIDI channels 1-4, and the CI, CII, BS and RT tracks assigned to MIDI channels 5-8. Unfortunately there's no way of disabling MIDI note transmission or reception, so if you wanted to run two QY10s together you'd either have to put something like an Anatek Pocket Filter between them or else run them both off a sync box such as Korg's KMS30.

In addition to MIDI notes and velocity, the QY10 can respond to, record and transmit patch change, pitchbend and sustain pedal data, and transmit and receive standard MIDI sync data (with the exception of Song Position Pointer) in both Pattern and Song modes. Transmission and reception of MIDI sync data can be disabled if need be - for instance, if you want to use the QY10 solely as a multitimbral expander in conjunction with an external sequencer which is transmitting MIDI sync data.

"Overall, the QY10's Voices work best when they're working together, where they mesh together to create a pleasingly warm, gritty, low-tech but solid and punchy sound."

I mentioned earlier that you can program chord changes into the QY10. That comes in Song mode, but in Pattern mode you can actually tap in chord changes while a Pattern is playing and the QY10 will respond instantly, adjusting the notes it plays to fit the new harmony. The actual notes programmed into the CI, CII and BS tracks within each preset Pattern are based on a single harmony (C dominant), the idea being that the Patterns are harmonically "static" so that you can impose your own chord changes on them. When a Pattern is playing you can scroll to an LCD page which allows you to enter chord changes by playing the chord root on the QY10's micro keyboard and selecting the chord type from the numeric keypad, then pressing Enter at the moment where you want the chord to change.

Each number button is labelled with two chord types - you tap the button once or twice to select which type you want. The QY10 provides a total of 20 chord types, including major, minor and dominant 7ths and 9ths, dominant 13th, augmented and diminished, 6th and suspended 4th - enough to keep most people happy, though perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the more jazzy chord types aren't available (dominant 7th flattened 9th, dominant 9th flattened 5th, dominant 13th sharpened 11th...).

Selecting chords in real time takes a bit of practice (the trick is to select the root and/or type in advance, then press the Enter button when you actually want the chord to change), but it is possible to change chords every beat once you become adept at it - providing the tempo isn't too murderous.

Just changing chord types can be interesting - for instance, you can move between dominant 7th, 9th, 13th and 7th sus 4th chord types as a means of introducing variation into the accompaniments. Tapping in chord changes with the left hand while soloing on a MIDI keyboard with the right hand offers an interesting exercise in coordination.

Selecting different chord roots and chord types with the user Patterns can give some very unusual results, because of course when you program the Pattern you aren't restricted to notes of a single harmony. For instance, if you've programmed in the chord sequence FM7 - AbM7 - EbM7 and you select C13 as your chord, the QY10 changes the G in the AbM7 harmony to an A natural! It doesn't attempt to change all the notes to fit the selected harmony, so maybe the A is just a desperate attempt to get the dominant 13th in there somewhere. But what's interesting is that you can actually apply chord changes to the user Patterns just as you can to the presets.

User Patterns can be up to eight bars long, and can be recorded in overdub and/or step record modes. Overdub recording is the familiar drum-machine method: the Pattern loops in record mode and you can add new notes to the existing ones on each pass. However, it seems that you can only delete notes in step-time edit mode, which is a shame.

Not only the RT track but also the BS, CI and CII tracks can be recorded in overdub mode, so that as with the drum parts you can build up the bass and chord tracks over several passes. You can record from the QY10's front-panel micro keyboard and/or a MIDI keyboard.

The former only allows you to play monophonically, so if you want to record chords you have to play them in one note at a time, on different passes. The micro keyboard's physical 13-note range can be extended several octaves in each direction by successive presses of the up and down arrow buttons. As you might expect, the keyboard pads aren't velocity-sensitive, though the QY10's Voices are themselves velocity-sensitive and the sequencer can record velocity via MIDI and in step-time mode.

Step-time recording allows you to program in events from the QY10's micro keyboard or a MIDI keyboard. You select a bar, beat and clock position to begin from (the QY10 records to 24-clocks-per-quarter-note resolution), program in a step time (1-96 clocks), a note (C2-G8), a gate time (1-99) and a velocity (1-127) and then press the Enter button to take you on to the next step. There are various options available before you press Enter, selected using the numeric buttons with and without the Shift button: rests, triplets, ties, dotted notes, a chord entry mode, quick ways of entering preset step, gate and velocity values, and delete and back delete.

The QY10 also allows you to copy preset Patterns to user Pattern locations, so that for instance you can change the tempo or the Voice assignments. As well as whole Patterns you can copy individual tracks, which means you can use, say, a preset drum pattern as the basis of your own Pattern. It also means that you can take parts from different presets and combine them into a new Pattern. In fact, you can come up with some great Patterns this way. The only restriction is that you can't combine parts from preset Patterns of different length, but as most of the presets are four bars long this isn't too much of a problem. Copying is also possible from one user Pattern to another.

One feature of the QY10 that's definitely worth a Mars bar or two is track muting. Press the Trans/Track button and you can use the eight "white key" buttons on the QY10's micro keyboard to mute and unmute tracks while the sequencer is running in Play mode - so that you can, for instance, drop out the drums for a few bars, or drop out the two Chord tracks and leave just the Bass and Rhythm tracks running for a while.

Notes that are playing when a track is muted aren't cut short by the QY10 but are allowed to play for their recorded duration. One problem with track muting occurs if you've recorded a user Pattern using sustain pedal on a Voice such as strings - if you mute a track while the sustain pedal is held down, the Voice hangs because the QY10 ignores the subsequent matching sustain pedal off command. Oops.

"If you want to use an external sound for a particular track, you can set the track to Voice 32, which disables internal playback but not MIDI transmission for that track."

Pressing the Trans/Track button again takes you to the Master Transpose page, where you can transpose the overall pitch of the QY10 up or down an octave in semitone steps - useful if you want to practice playing over an accompaniment in different keys, for instance.


IN SONG MODE the QY10 becomes an eight-track sequencer. Tracks 1-4 are linear, or continuous, while tracks 5-8 are pattern-based in that they're created by chaining together QY10 Patterns. As in Pattern mode, these eight Tracks transmit and receive on MIDI channels 1-8.

The QY10 allows you to record a modest eight Songs, each of which can be up to 299 bars long. You can set a master tempo for each Song which overrides the tempi of the individual Patterns, and give each of Tracks 1-4 within a Song its own Voice assignment.

A Song is created initially by programming chord changes and Pattern selections into a track known as the BCK (BaCKing) track. A Pattern assigned to the BCK track will continue to play until a new Pattern assignment is encountered or until the Song ends, which makes life easy if you only want to use one Pattern throughout a Song. The Song end point is defined as the highest-numbered bar into which you've program a chord change.

If your Song has a lot of chord changes and pattern changes, programming the BCK track can get a bit tedious. It's a real pity the QY10 doesn't have a facility for "auto-compiling" live pattern selections and chord changes made in Pattern mode into a Song. It seems to me that companies should be looking at this sort of musical approach - which returns the emphasis to what you hear and feel - as an alternative to the "computer operator" approach of having to scroll through bar and beat numbers in an LCD screen, and tap in chord changes and pattern selections, without being able to hear a note of music.

Which isn't to say that the latter approach should be done away with, because it allows you to do things that you couldn't do the "live" way. For instance, as well as being able to assign preset and user Patterns to the BCK track you can assign them to each of the accompaniment tracks individually. For instance, if you assign Pattern 45 to the BCK track and Pattern 43 to the CII track, the RT, BS and CII tracks play the relevant Pattern 45 parts and the CII track plays the CII part from Pattern 43. You could then assign, say, Pattern 71 to the BS track and that track would play the bassline from Pattern 71. Accompaniment tracks which are assigned their own Patterns use both the Voice and the notes of their Pattern's part, unless you assign a Pattern to the BCK track after assigning Patterns to the individual accompaniment tracks, in which case the latter use the notes of their own Patterns but the Voices of the BCK Pattern - something you have to discover for yourself, because the manual doesn't tell you (except that now you won't have to discover it for yourself, because I've told you).

A Pattern assigned to an individual accompaniment track in Song mode plays only once, then the track reverts to playing the Pattern assigned to the BCK track. In other words, Yamaha seemingly conceived this approach as a means of dropping in variations or fills. However, if you want an accompaniment track to keep playing a certain Pattern, you can always assign the Pattern to the relevant track every four bars (for a four-bar Pattern, that is).

Tracks 1-4 are continuously recordable, which means you can record lengthy solos if you want - but equally you can start and stop recording anywhere within the Song length defined by the BCK track, so you can record in short sections, too. Both real-time (replace or overdub) and step-time recording are available for these tracks, with input accepted from the QY10's micro keyboard or an external MIDI keyboard.

Tracks 1-4 aren't affected by the chord changes of the BCK track. However, you can transpose all or part of each track within a ±1 octave range in semitone steps, which allows you to match any changes you make in the BCK track's chord sequence. Other editing functions for Tracks 1-4 are Mix Track (which mixes two different tracks onto a third track), Quantise Measure(s), Copy Measure(s) and Combine Track. The latter rather intriguingly allows you, say, to combine the timing data of Track 1 with the note data of Track 2 and the velocity data of Track 3 and place the result on Track 4. Erase Measure(s), meanwhile, can be applied to any one of Tracks 1-8 or the BCK track, while Create, Insert and Delete Measure(s) operate across all eight Tracks.

Get Parts allows you to extract part of a Song track (Track 1-4) into a user Pattern, while Put Parts allows you to copy an accompaniment part from a preset or user Pattern to any position in a Song track. If you specify a chord root and type before Putting a part into a Song, the QY10 will copy the notes it would play in Pattern mode to fit that chord, rather than the actual notes programmed into the Pattern - the idea being to match any single chord in the Song's BCK track.

Another Song function, Auto Chord Record, provides a rough 'n' ready way of trying out a chord sequence on the QY10 when there's no MIDI keyboard to hand. Program the chord sequence and a Pattern selection into the BCK track, select one of Tracks 1-4 and "Cho" record mode, then play single notes on the QY10's micro keyboard as the Song records. The QY10 automatically plays and records chords in whatever rhythm you tap out, using the chord sequence in the BCK track to determine what the chords are and the notes you play to determine the inversion of each chord (E over a C major chord in the BCK track results in a first inversion C major chord, for example). Then you can always tap out a melody on the micro keyboard while listening back to your chord sequence. Who knows, you might compose a chart-topping song while sitting in a rush-hour traffic jam one evening.


THE QY10 MAY be small in dimension but it's big on possibilities. The preset accompaniment Patterns are a lot of fun to play around with and along to, and in their provision of some modern dance rhythms should actually appeal to contemporary tastes. With the facility for both live and programmed chord changes there's plenty of scope for song composition, and for using the QY10 in a "music minus one" sense to practice playing to a variety of accompaniments and over all manner of chord sequences.

At the same time, the inclusion of live track muting, programmable Patterns and four programmable Song tracks offers scope for original music creation. There are practical limitations to be borne in mind, however. With internal RAM offering approximately 6000 notes, fitting in eight Songs using just preset Patterns is easy, fitting in eight Songs and 24 user Patterns you should be able to manage at a pinch if you don't overdo the complexity of the Patterns - but you'll have to juggle recording user Patterns and Song Tracks 1-4. What's more, the only form of storage is via MIDI SysEx, which means some external storage device is required - probably an Alesis DataDisk SQ, which of course costs more than the QY10 itself. And, without something like the DataDisk, live use of the QY10 is going to be a bit unrealistic. It all depends how ambitious you want to be. However, if you have a computer-based or dedicated sequencer at home and you fancy the idea of having a use-anywhere musical notepad to carry around with you, the QY10 is certainly worth checking out.

Price £266 including VAT (17.5%)

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Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Music Technology - May 1991

Donated by: Mike Gorman, Ian Sanderson

Scanned by: Mike Gorman

Gear in this article:

MIDI Workstation > Yamaha > QY10

Review by Simon Trask

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