Roland JV series sound modules (such as the JV-90, JV-1080, etc, or series based upon it such as the XP series) often seem confusing to many people. Although Roland's user manuals are serviceable in their content (ie, they do contain most of the information that you need to know), some folks seem to find the language and presentation a bit too jargon-ish and terse. This article attempts to give you a broader understanding of the design of a typical Roland sound module, so that when you dig into the user manual for specific details, the manual will make more sense to you.


A typical Roland multitimbral module such as the JV-90 has numerous banks of patches. According to the MIDI specification, a MIDI bank can have, at most, 128 patches in it. But Roland often arranges patches into smaller "groups" so that they better map out to buttons upon the front panel. For example, Roland often puts 16 buttons on the front panel (dedicated to the selection of patches), in 2 rows of 8. The top row selects among 8 "subgroups" of patches. In each subgroup, there are 8 patches, and you select among those 8 using the bottom row. In this way, you always have access to 8 patches via one button per patch (ie, each bottom row button selects a different patch). You don't need to press 2 buttons in order to switch between patches, as long as you stick with those 8 patches. Of course, if you want to switch to a different subgroup of 8 patches, then you have to use the top row of buttons as well. Now, there are a total of 8 times 8 (ie, 8 subgroups of 8 patches each), or 64 patches that you can switch to at any given moment using Roland's grouping of 16 buttons on the front panel. So that's why Roland tends to arrange patches into groups of 64. Roland typically refers to such a "partial MIDI bank" (ie, half of a full, 128 patch MIDI bank) as a "Patch Group".

To switch the buttons to select between 64 other patches (ie, a different Patch Group), then you usually need to press one of the "Patch Group" buttons on the Roland. Roland gives various "labels" to these Patch Groups. Groups which are stored in a ROM chip are typically labeled with letters following the word "Preset", for example, the first 4 groups in ROM may be labeled as "Preset A", "Preset B", "Preset C", and "Preset D". Since these patches are in ROM (ie, READ-ONLY MEMORY), you can't store any edits you make to them (unless you store the newly edited patch into some patch location in a RAM-located "User" group, thus overwriting that user patch). Hence the designation "Preset". Typically, Roland also provides some battery-backed RAM where you can store your own, customized patches. There may be one or more Patch Groups in this RAM, and they are typically labeled with letters following the word "User" or "Internal", for example the first 4 groups in RAM may be labeled as "User A", User B", "User C", and "User D". You can edit these patches and store your changes back to those patch locations in RAM.

Also, Roland tends to arrange the various additional "components" of a module into their own patch groups. For example, Roland modules sometimes have patches on "data cards" that are inserted into a slot (sort of looks like PCMCIA) in the back of the unit. The module may also have a connector whereby a "voice expansion" board (to allow more polyphony) can be internally plugged into the module, and this card contains further patches. Many modules can also use a "wave expansion" board (to allow new waveforms to be used in patches) which contains yet more patches. Roland typically puts the patches upon each of these components into its own Patch Group which you select by pressing some Patch Group button on the front panel (appropriately labeled, such as W-EXP for the patches upon the wave expansion board). Although the data cards often contain battery backed memory so that you can edit and store customized patches upon them, the wave expansion board typically has only 1 group of ROM patches. As far as the VE-JV1 voice expansion board is concerned (and all subsequent comments about voice expansion concern this board), it has RAM patches (and just 1 very small group containing only 8 patches), so that you can edit those patches' settings. But it isn't battery-backed, so every time that you turn on the unit, you have to reload the desired 8 patches into the voice expansion's RAM by sending System Exclusive MIDI messages to its MIDI input. (Roland offers an easier alternative by allowing you to internally transfer 1 Performance, and its 8 patches and drum kit, from the module's main RAM or ROM to the voice expansion's RAM. It still takes a few seconds just like a SysEx dump over MIDI, but there's no external cable connections to be made).

In conclusion, Roland typically arranges its patches into groups of 64 (or less), called "Patch Groups". There are usually 16 buttons upon the front panel which allow easily switching among 1 Patch Group's 64 patches. In order to setup the buttons to switch among a different Patch Group's 64 patches, you need to press one of the Patch Group buttons.

Rhythm Sets

A Roland "Rhythm Set" is simply a "drum kit" (ie, one mapping of various drum sounds across the entire note range of the keyboard, where each key plays a different drum sound. Henceforth, I'll simply use "drum kit" in lieu of Roland's "Rhythm Set" designation). Roland typically offers several drum kits to choose from (but sometimes you can only use 1 at a time). For example, there may be an "808 Rhythm Set" which features electronic drum sounds mapped across the keyboard. There may also be an "Orchestral Rhythm Set" which features orchestral percussion such as various timpani pitches and concert cymbals mapped across the keyboard.

Just like with patches, sometimes Roland has a few "preset" drum kits in ROM. You can't edit the settings of these kits. They may be labeled "Preset A", "Preset B", etc, just like the ROM patches. There may be one or two kits in RAM, whose settings you can edit. These are typically labeled "User (or Internal) A", "User B", etc.

The voice expansion board typically is limited to playing 1 drum kit stored in its own RAM. As with the board's RAM patches, you can edit this kit's settings (but those settings need to be saved to external media in order to be permanently saved), or load another kit into the board, thus overwriting that kit's settings.

I'll discuss the editing and creation of drum kits later.


Roland often has groups of things referred to as "Performances". For example, there may be a group of Performances labeled "Preset A" in ROM. There may be another group of Performances labeled "User A" in RAM. A Performance is mostly just a "setup" of various parameters, often having to do with multi-timbral operation, such as MIDI channel assignments, but also other settings such as settings for built-in hardware effects, what MIDI messages the keyboard generates when you play it, how the Roland Patches respond to incoming MIDI messages such as Volume, Pan, etc, controllers, etc. I'll get into more details about Performances later.

The voice expansion board typically has only 1 Performance in its own RAM, and it is limited to playing only this Performance. You can load another Performance into the board, thus overwriting that 1 Performance with new settings, but that involves sending system exclusive messages to the board's MIDI input. In fact, the voice expansion's Performance is limited to playing only those 8 Patches also loaded into its RAM, as well as the 1 drum kit loaded into its RAM. The voice expansion is essentially a "mini JV-880" in of itself, rather than an actual augmentation of the main module.

Performance Play and Patch Play modes

"Performance Play mode" is essentially the module's multi-timbral mode, whereas "Patch Play mode" is more suitable to playing only 1 patch at a time from the local keyboard, or quickly auditioning patches in a Patch Group when you're deciding which ones to select while creating a given Performance. Some Roland modules disable multi-timbral operation when in Patch Play mode, and/or automatically set the local keyboard to play the currently selected Patch regardless of whether the keyboard is set to broadcast upon the same MIDI channel as the Patch is set to receive. This can be a boon when you're auditioning Patches to be used in a Performance, as it's often a lot more hassle (especially upon older modules) to audition Patches in "Performance Play mode" than it is to merely drop back into Patch Play mode.


Typically, Roland modules contain numerous digital waveforms in ROM. These are the raw "sounds" that you use when creating Tones, and ultimately Patches and Performances. Some Roland modules offer a special "waveform play" mode where you can hear the raw waveforms without any kind of processing such as effects or filtering applied. (The non-percussion waveforms are typically looped automatically so that you can use them in patches that "sustain", but other than looping, no other settings are applied to the raw waveform itself). But upon other modules, you may have to create a Tone using that waveform in order to hear it. Usually, Roland lists the names of all raw waveforms in the user manual under "Waveform List". (Adding a wave expansion board will give you even more waveforms with which to create Tones, and that board will usually come with a list of its raw waveforms).

A Roland Tone is merely one of the raw waveforms with various settings, such as volume, tone, and pitch shaping applied to it. The Tone has settings for a Voltage-controlled Amplifier (ie, VCA), Voltage-controlled Filter (ie, VCF), Voltage-controlled low frequency oscillator (ie, VCO), and other settings that can be applied to the raw waveform to change its tone, pitch, volume, etc.

For example, a particular Tone may be using a raw waveform named "Jazz Organ" (ie, a waveform of a typical Hammond B-3 sound). You could use that Tone's VCA to cause the waveform's initial attack (ie, volume) to slowly fade in. You can then create another Tone that uses the exact same waveform, but alter the Tone's VCA settings so that the waveform has a fast attack, and perhaps use that Tone's VCO to add some constant vibrato.

In conclusion, Tones are used to create a variety of sounds based upon the raw waveforms, using VCA, VCF, VCO and other Tone settings applied to some raw waveform. (Note: Lately, the Roland manuals have begun referring to Tones as "Waves". And the description for the Tone settings is within the chapter that describes editing a Patch since nowadays each Patch in Roland modules has its own individual 4 Tones. Contrast this with older designs where Patches had to pick 4 Tones from among a more limited number of shared Tones. In other words, nowadays a Patch contains 4 unique Tones, and their settings, embedded inside of it. For example, in the JV-90 manual, the Tone settings are described in the "Patch Edit mode" chapter, starting with the heading of "Parameters accessed by pressing [WAVE/LFO]).

A Roland Patch typically consists of upto 4 Tones set to play across the keyboard range. (A Patch isn't required to use all 4 Tones. It can use only 1, 2, or 3, if desired. If you don't want to use one of the Tones of a Patch, then switch that Tone to "Off").

Of course, the Patch has various settings that can be applied individually to these Tones.

For example, the Patch has a volume setting for each Tone. So, if one Tone happens to be inherently louder than another Tone, but you want them to sound equally loud within the patch, you can balance their respective volumes. (Note: In newer Roland modules where each Patch has its own unique 4 Tones, the individual Tone volumes are actually among the Tone settings). Or, if you deliberately want some Tone to be very soft (ie, maybe to "flavor" the sound without being a prominent component of the sound), you can turn down its overall volume.

So too, the Patch has a pan setting for each Tone. For example, you can have one Tone panned to the right (ie, set to sound out of only the right "Audio Out" jack) and another Tone panned to the left to create a stereo effect between the Tones. (This is particularly useful for creating spacious "stereo patches" of a single instrument. Typically what you do is create 2 Tones that use the same waveform, but apply slightly different Tone settings to them, for example, making one slightly sharp and the other slightly flat, or use the VCF cutoff to make one brighter than the other. Then you pan those 2 Tones in stereo within a given patch. See my article Arranging for MIDI sound modules for ideas on creating stereo patches. Just substitute the word "Tone" for the word "Part" when reading the various, suggested techniques).

Also, the Patch has separate settings for the note range over which each Tone plays. So, rather than stacking the Tones so that they play over the same note range (and thus building up a thicker, perhaps stereo sound), you can limit the Tones to playing in only specific note ranges. For example, you can limit one Tone to playing over only the top 3 octaves of the keyboard, and limit another Tone to playing over only the bottom 3 octaves. (ie, You can set up "split keyboard" patches, where one Tone using a given waveform plays over a certain note range, and another Tone using an entirely different waveform plays over a different note range).

You may also be able to set the velocity range over which each Tone plays, so that, for example, playing loudly sounds only 1 Tone whereas playing softly sounds a different Tone only (ie, velocity switching or cross-fading). For example, you can setup a patch to switch between playing a picked or slapped bass note depending upon how hard you press the key.

There may be other Patch settings that determine how received MIDI controllers such as Volume, Expression, Hold Pedal, etc, or MIDI messages such as Pressure (ie, aftertouch), Mod or Pitch Wheel affect the Tones. For example, you may be able to set increasing MIDI Pressure to increase the depth of the LFO applied to a Tone (ie, increase a vibrato effect).

Upon newer modules, there may also be settings for effects such as Reverb and Chorus (although, except for the Patch's level settings for Reverb and Chorus, these are typically overridden by Performance settings when in "Performance Play mode").

A Roland Performance typically consists of several Patches set to play simultaneously (ie, in multi-timbral mode), with the keyboard (or some external controller) perhaps playing one (or maybe even more) of those patches. Actually, a Performance consists of several "Internal Parts" in Roland terminology, but since you assign 1 Patch to every "Part", you can think of a Performance as consisting of several, simultaneously playing patches. For modules that have a built-in keyboard such as the XP-50, a Performance also has settings for how the keyboard generates MIDI messages (ie, how the keyboard functions as a controller).

Older Roland modules have Performances that are limited to playing only 8 (or fewer) patches simultaneously (ie, the Performance is limited to 8 "Internal Parts"), and ultimately limited to playing patches upon only 8 of the 16 available MIDI channels simultaneously. With the addition of a Voice Expansion board, that board gives 8 more Parts, and can therefore be set to handle the remaining MIDI channels for full multi-timbral support. (But be aware of the limited patch storage capabilities of some Roland voice expansion boards, mentioned earlier. I really wish Roland had designed the voice expansion board to access the main RAM and ROM patches/performances in the module, instead of being limited to accessing patches and the performance only within its own limited RAM. On the other hand, one really nice thing is that, because the board can be treated as its own module, with its own MIDI input disconnected from the main MIDI input, if you have a multi-bus MIDI interface, you can greatly reduce MIDI data clogging by running separate MIDI Outs to the disconnected MIDI inputs of the voice expansion board and main module).

Each Performance "Internal Part" can be assigned to a MIDI channel. Normally, you'd set each Part to a unique MIDI channel (so you have independent MIDI control of each Part).

Then you assign one Patch (from among all of the various groups of Patches) to each Part. Of course, you can always change a Part's Patch at any given moment by sending the module a MIDI Program Change message upon that Part's MIDI channel. So, think of this assignment as merely a "default", temporary setup which is automatically initiated whenever you select this particular Performance, but which can be dynamically changed over MIDI very quickly and easily. Further note that the various Parts of a Performance can choose their Patches from among any group. For example, one Part can be using a Patch in "Preset A" Patch Group and another Part can be using a Patch on a group in the wave expansion board. (One exception is with the voice expansion board. As mentioned, the board can access only the 1 Performance, and its 8 Patches and drum kit, currently loaded into its RAM. And the Performances in the main module can't access the voice expansion's Patches).

Each Part has its own individual volume so that you can balance the volume of its Patch against the other Parts' Patches. It typically also has individual pan and tuning settings. (Think of these as master settings which affect any respective settings you made when editing the Patch). Note that a Part's volume and pan are dynamically changeable via MIDI controller messages on that Part's MIDI channel, just like the Patch assignment can be changed over MIDI. Again, think of these as merely "default" settings.

There may be other Part settings such as whether it responds to various MIDI messages such as Hold pedal or Volume controller. (For example, maybe you don't want external gear to be able to change that "default" volume you set for the Part. In that case, disable receipt of Volume MIDI messages).

The Performance also has reverb and chorus settings that are applicable to all Patches. (On older modules, the individual Reverb and Chorus levels for each Part are set in that Patch's settings. On newer modules, the Performance itself may have individual effects levels for each Part which override the Reverb/Chorus levels in the Patch settings). These settings are active only in Performance Play mode (except if you're using an older module whose Patch settings don't include settings for the effects, in which case the Performance settings are active in Patch Play mode too).

There are also settings for how the module responds to some keyboard controller (or in the case of modules with a built-in keyboard, how the internal sounds respond to that keyboard). Note that the JV modules that have built-in keyboards were also designed to function as MIDI controllers of other MIDI modules (ie, besides the internal sound module). For this reason, you have separate settings for what MIDI messages the keyboard generates, versus how the internal sound module responds to the keyboard. The Performance settings that apply to how the module's internal sounds (ie, its "Internal Parts") respond to the keyboard are typically referred to under the heading "INT ZONE". The Performance settings that apply to how the keyboard generates MIDI messages are typically referred to under the heading "TX ZONE". (Obviously, rackmount modules have no keyboard, and therefore would have no "TX ZONE" settings). These are entirely independent settings. In other words, you can setup the keyboard not only to control the internal sounds while also generating MIDI messages to control other modules, but also have entirely different ways of controlling both. For example, you can set the module's Pitch Wheel to affect the internal sounds, but not actually transmit Pitch Wheel messages to the MIDI Out. You can set the keyboard to play Internal Parts that are assigned to MIDI channels 1 and 2, but have the keyboard simultaneously generating MIDI messages upon channels 4, 5, and 6 instead, for example. So, you need to think of the keyboard's internal sound routing, and the MIDI output setup as two entirely different setups. (This can sometimes be confusing to folks who are accustomed to modules whose keyboards are more closely tethered to the internal sound module. While Roland's approach can be very flexible, it can also confuse a guy when he's got a situation such as the preceding MIDI channel setup. Let's say that he records a part into his sequencer. During recording, there's no problem because he's got the local keyboard playing his two Internal Parts assigned to channels 1 and 2. But the module is actually outputting messages upon channels 4, 5, and 6. Now when he plays back that sequencer track, it's going to play whatever Internal Parts are assigned to channels 4, 5, and 6, rather than the Parts assigned to than channels 1 and 2).

Here I want to delve into a further discussion of Parts. As mentioned, a Performance has "Internal Parts". An Internal Part is simply a Part that plays some internal Patch in the sound module. An Internal Part can be played by the keyboard, or some external controller (including a sequencer). The INT ZONE settings determine how the keyboard/sequencer plays these Internal Parts (ie, the INT ZONE settings are for the 8 Internal Parts).

A Performance (upon a module with a built-in keyboard) also has "MIDI Parts". A MIDI Part does absolutely nothing except broadcast MIDI messages to MIDI Out when you play the keyboard. Typically, there are as many MIDI Parts as there are Internal Parts. For example, a JV-90 has 8 MIDI Parts. The TX ZONE settings determine how the keyboard generates MIDI messages when you play it (ie, the TX ZONE settings are for the 8 MIDI Parts). Like with Internal Parts, each MIDI Part can be assigned a MIDI channel, and then assigned to "play" over a certain note range of the keyboard. What do I mean by "play"? I mean that when you press down a key within that note range, the MIDI Part sends a Note-On message to MIDI Out upon that Part's MIDI channel. The MIDI Part itself makes no sound because it is not attached to anything inside of the module. It connects only to MIDI Out. When you move the Pitch Wheel, the MIDI Part sends Pitch Wheel messages to MIDI Out upon that Part's MIDI channel. Since the JV-90 has 8 MIDI Parts, its keyboard can simultaneously broadcast upon upto 8 different MIDI channels. (And just like with Internal Parts, if you don't want to use all 8 MIDI Parts, you turn off the unneeded ones). So, you can setup "MIDI splits", for example, setting two MIDI Parts to broadcast upon different channels and limiting one MIDI Part to "playing" over only the bottom half of the keyboard, and the other MIDI Part playing over only the top half of the keyboard. (Incidentally, most JV modules have buttons pertaining to the Parts. For example, the JV-90 has 8 buttons that are used to turn on/off Parts when in "edit mode". If you're editing INT ZONE settings, then these buttons select the 8 Internal Parts. As soon as you switch to editing TX ZONE settings, these same 8 buttons now turn on/off the 8 MIDI Parts).

Let's take another example that shows the difference between MIDI Parts and Internal Parts (ie, the difference between TX ZONE and INT ZONE settings). Let's say that you want to transpose all of the Parts of only 1 Performance to play a half step higher. Rather than using the master transpose (which would affect all Performances you select), you want to transpose only this 1 Performance. (Maybe you want to set up 12 Performances, each transposed a different amount, so that you can easily change the key of any song just by selecting the Performance with the appropriate transpose amount. This is just an idea of some things you can do with Roland's approach). OK, you go into your Performance's INT ZONE settings. For each of the 8 Parts, you set its TRANSPOSE setting up a half step. Now, you play the keyboard and you do indeed hear any Patches being played a half step up. Next, you record a sequencer track, and play it back. The patches are no longer playing a half step up, but rather, have reverted back to normal tuning. What went wrong? Well, you forgot to go into the TX ZONE settings, and set all of your MIDI Parts to transpose up a half step. (ie, The MIDI Parts have their own TRANSPOSE setting under TX ZONE). The net result is that, while the keyboard did indeed transpose its notes when playing the Internal Parts, it simultaneously generated MIDI note numbers that weren't transposed -- and your sequencer recorded the latter. When you played the track back, those non-transposed MIDI notes were sent to the Internal Parts.

In conclusion, you must understand the differences between the INT ZONE and TX ZONE settings in order to setup a Roland Performance properly. (I can't stress this enough as an understanding unlocks the potential of having a very versatile controller, as well as eliminating a lot of the problems you may be having with getting the sequencer playback to sound the same as what you heard when you recorded the track). Usually, you'll want to have them correspond to each other, for example, in that sequencer scenario, you'd want the TX ZONE settings to be broadcasting MIDI messages upon channels 1 and 2, to coincide with having set the INT ZONE settings such that the keyboard played the Parts which were assigned to channels 1 and 2. But sometimes, you may want the TX ZONE different than the INT ZONE. For example, I have a separate MIDI module which I use to play my left hand bass parts. I wanted it so that my JV-90 Performances played internal sounds only upon the upper half of the keyboard, and the bottom half of the keyboard played only that external module. Here's what I did:

  1. In all of my Performances, I limited the Internal Parts (that the keyboard was set to play) to only the upper range of the keyboard. I did this using the KEY RANGE UPPER and LOWER settings of INT ZONE.

  2. I made sure that no Internal Part was assigned to MIDI channel 2, as that channel was being reserved for my external module.

  3. I set one MIDI Part to "play" over only the lower half of the keyboard (using the KEY RANGE UPPER and LOWER settings of TX ZONE), and assigned it to channel 2 (using TRANSMIT CHANNEL of TX ZONE). I likewise set other MIDI Parts (ie, as many MIDI Parts as I had Internal Parts being played by the keyboard) to play over only the upper half of the keyboard, and assigned them to the same MIDI channels as those Internal Parts which the keyboard was playing.

The net result is that, no matter what Performance I select, I always have a MIDI split happening, and the JV-90's internal sounds are limited to playing over only the top half of the keyboard. If I record the JV's MIDI Out into a sequencer, and play that track back into the JV-90 and my bass module, then it will properly playback with that same MIDI split.

There may be other settings in the TX ZONE and INT ZONE. For example, there is a velocity curve. Maybe you have some external module that has a vastly different response to note velocity than the Roland's internal sounds. (ie, Perhaps when you use the Roland keyboard to control the external module, the module plays too softly upon soft notes and/or too loudly upon loud notes). So, you can set the VELOCITY CURVE under TX ZONE for the MIDI Part which is controlling that external module. And yet, for the Internal Parts, and the other MIDI Parts which you've setup to correspond to those Internal Parts, you have separate VELOCITY CURVE settings.

There's a lot of flexibility in using a Roland keyboard as a controller. Explore it. Use it where it helps you.

Finally, we come to the issue of the "Rhythm Part". Every Performance has at least one Rhythm Part. Sometimes, the last Internal Part is hard-wired to being the Rhythm Part (ie, the "patch" that you select for it must be one of the drum kits, or Rhythm Set as Roland calls them). On newer modules, one or more of the Internal Parts may be set to play a drum kit. Although the Rhythm Part's settings globally affect whichever drum kit is selected (much like any other Part's settings globally affect a Patch), the individual settings of a given Drum Kit are edited in "Rhythm Edit mode". (And just like with other Parts, the drum kit that the Rhythm Part uses can be changed on-the-fly with a MIDI Program Change message on the Rhythm Part's channel. So too, can the "default" volume and pan settings be altered with respective MIDI controller messages).

Creating/Editing a Drum Kit

When creating a drum kit, you need to visualize the entire keyboard range. To each key, you assign any one of the various raw waveforms. (The raw waveforms include a selection of drum sounds. It's true that you could select a pitched waveform instead, maybe a Trumpet waveform, and assign it to that one key in the drum kit. You could even assign that same waveform to several adjacent keys, and set each key to transpose the pitch a different amount in order to create a musical scale mapped over an area of the drum kit. But that's sort of an odd approach, unless maybe you want to try some microtonal setup since each individual key has its own fine tuning in most Roland modules' drum kits).

Each key has its own settings. For example, each key has its own volume so that you can balance the various drum sounds.

So too, each key has its own pan setting. For example, you can have one drum panned to the right (ie, set to sound out of the right "Audio Out" jack) and another drum panned to the left to create a stereo drum kit.

Each key typically has its own VCA, VCF, and VCO so that you can shape the drum's pitch, timbre, and volume (ie, decay).

There may be other individual (per key) settings such as setting how the drum responds to velocity, and choosing to have one key cut off the sound of another key (ie, to have a closed hi-hat cut off an open hi-hat sound).

There is usually also some global settings, such as for effects like Reverb and Chorus (although, except for the Rhythm Set's level settings for Reverb and Chorus, these are typically overridden by Performance settings when in "Performance Play mode").

Further reading

The article Understanding the MIDI Implementation of your Roland manual guides you through your manual's MIDI Implementation chapter. The RECEIVE DATA section contains useful information in helping you to understand what MIDI messages your sequencer (or other device) can send to your Roland Sound module to control its Parts. In other words, this may help you understand what sorts of things you're likely to be able to setup in INT ZONE. The TRANSMIT DATA section helps you to deduce what kinds of MIDI messages your Roland can send to other devices (ie, when it is used as a MIDI controller). In other words, this may help you understand what sorts of things you're likely to be able to setup in TX ZONE.

Also, the article Changing patches over MIDI using Bank Select Controller has an example for a Roland JV-90. It's use of Bank Select controller is similiar to other Roland Sound Modules, and may help you in understanding how to utilize your manual's listing under the "Bank Select" sub-subsection of the RECEIVE DATA / CONTROL CHANGE section.

The Roland Audio Card FAQ has information specific to Sound Canvas and RAP-10 units. The more basic Sound Canvas models often have hardwared Tones that you can't edit, limited Patch editing, and also only one multitimbral setup with limited editing (ie, 1 Performance which likely isn't even identified as such), for example, the SC-7. So, a lot of the programmability described in this article is not applicable to those units.

Questions about Roland architecture

Questions in this FAQ are:

"How do I pick out a Performance that uses the Patches I want?"
"What's this 'control channel' nonsense?"
"Why is my sound module playing only some of the MIDI channels?"
"How do I check what Patches a given Performance has assigned to it by default?"
"How do I edit (and save those edits of) a Preset Patch/Performance in ROM?"
"What do you recommend doing after one first gets a Roland module?"

I want to use my module in Multi-timbral mode. Does that mean that I have to be in "Performance Play mode" and must find a Performance that happens to have the particular Patches that I want to use?

Yes, you should be in Performance Play mode, but I'm not sure if you necessarily need to be searching for a Performance that is already setup with the desired selection of Patches. Rather, it seems to me that your only concern is switching around the Patches assigned to the Internal Parts of any given Performance. You can do that by simply sending the Bank Select and Program Change messages to change a Part's Patch assignment. For example, assume that, for the currently selected Performance, you've got 16 Internal Parts, and you've set them to the 16 MIDI channels (ie, Part 1 is set to channel 1, Part 2 is set to channel 2, etc, Part 16 is set to channel 16). Now, at the start of the song, you maybe set Part 1 to play the "Trumpet" Patch. You do this by sending a Bank Select and Program Change messages on MIDI channel 1 to select the Trumpet Patch. In the middle of the song, you wish to switch this to the Oboe Patch. You simply send the Bank Select and Program Change messages on channel 1 to select the Oboe Patch, and then Part 1 starts playing the Oboe Patch -- all without changing to another Performance.

Remember that all a Performance is, is the 16 (or however many) Internal Parts and their settings (ie, which MIDI channel each Part uses, each Part's volume, each Part's Patch assignment, each Part's MIDI response such as whether the Part responds to various controllers, what key range over which the Part plays, whether the Part is layered with other Parts or perhaps split, etc). But remember that many of these Part settings can be quickly altered on-the-fly during playback via MIDI messages. (ie, Volume controller changes the Part's volume, Pan controller changes the Part's pan position, Bank Select and Program Change alter the Patch used by the Part, etc). So for merely switching the instrumentation of the 16 Internal Parts, and altering Part settings such as volume, pan, etc, you only need send appropriate MIDI messages to the Performance's Parts (ie, on their respective MIDI channels). It may be easier to use your computer sequencer software to pick out the desired Patches (from a nicely displayed graphical listing of all of the names), and let it send the Roland module the appropriate Bank Select and Program Change messages. This is really easy if your sequencer is setup with a "Definition File" for your Roland module. Simply manually switch to a Performance that, while it may not have the 16 Patches that you want assigned by default, is otherwise setup as desired (ie, all 16 Parts are enabled, and they are set to different MIDI channels. You may even want to create such a "template Performance" for use with your sequencer).

Of course, there are times when you want to change Performances. Remember that the effects and other global settings are also settings of a Performance (ie, whatever reverb to use such as Hall or Plate or whatever, etc). Furthermore, the keyboard settings are made in the Performance (ie, which Parts the keyboard is set to play, what kind of scale tuning is employed across the keyboard, choosing which velocity curve you desire for note velocity, etc). So, you need to change the Performance when you need to change these particular settings, for example, switching from one Performance that has the effects set to use a Hall reverb, to another Performance that has the effects set to a slap echo.

Otherwise, you won't need to search for a Performance that has the desired Patch assignments, nor even create such a Performance yourself (although I think that you should create a few Performances as "templates" which you frequently use. It makes things easy if you got a Performance already setup with 16 desired patches, and their respective volumes, and with the effects setup as desired, routed to the desired outputs, etc, etc, etc. After all, there is some Performance setup that you can't do over MIDI, for example, set the MOD wheel to control filter cutoff for a particular Part. You have to edit the Performance anyway to set that up).

For the purposes of sequencing, I suggest that you setup the first 16 Performances as templates. Turn off the Control Channel (described later). In all 16 Performances, turn on all of the Internal Parts, and set each to a different MIDI channel (ie, set Part 1 to MIDI channel 1, Part 2 to MIDI channel 2, etc... and Part 16 to MIDI channel 16). In each Performance, set the keyboard to play only 1 Internal Part, but assign a different Part than the other Performances. In other words, for Performance 1, set the keyboard to play only Internal Part 1. For Performance 2, set the keyboard to play only Part 2. Etc. In each Performance, turn on only 1 MIDI part, but assign it to a different channel than the other Performances. In other words, for Performance 1, set that MIDI Part to channel 1. For Performance 2, set that MIDI Part to channel 2. Etc. In this way, you can pick out the respective Performance based upon the MIDI channel you wish to use. For example, if you want to record a sequencer track where the MIDI data is on channel 3, then manually select Performance 3. If you subsequently want to record another sequencer track upon channel 16, then manually select Performance 16. (Of course, you'll need to put Bank Select and Program Change events, as well as Volume and Pan controllers, at the beginning of your sequencer track to make sure that each Performance you select gets automatically setup with the proper selection of Patches and mix). The net result is that you'll be able to quickly and easily reassign the MIDI channel that the keyboard generates messages upon, and still keep it playing the desired Internal Part, simply by manually selecting from among these 16 Performances.

What's this 'control channel' nonsense?

Normally, MIDI Bank Select and Program Change messages change the Patch assigned to a given Part (ie, the Part that is assigned to the same MIDI channel as the message is broadcast upon).

But what if you want to change from one Performance to another Performance using MIDI messages? Well, that's where the control channel comes in. When the control channel is not off (ie, it's set to one of the 16 MIDI channels), that's the channel which is used to control the Performance settings themselves (rather than an individual Part within the current Performance). For example, sending a Bank Select controller, followed by a Program Change, both on the control channel, causes the module to change to another Performance (perhaps one within another group of Performances).

There's one caveat to this scheme. The control channel eats up certain messages on its channel before any Part sees them. For example, assume that you assigned Part 1 in the Performance to channel 16. You have also set the control channel to 16. The net result is that you'll never be able to change that Part's Patch assignment (from its default). Why? Because the control channel grabs those Bank Select and Program Change messages on channel 16, using them to switch Performances, before the Performance's Part ever sees those messages. (Indeed, the Part never does see them). Hence, the Part never can have its Patch assignment changed over MIDI.

In other words, you can't have the same MIDI channel used to control both a Part's settings as well as control the Performance. So, if you have 16 Parts, but want to use the control channel, then 1 Part (that is set to that same MIDI channel) will always lose some MIDI control. I prefer to turn off Control Channel, and manually change Performances when needed (which isn't often since I tend to use external MIDI control to alter any given Performance's Parts as desired, rather than switching among various Performances).

By default, the control channel is often turned on, and set to the last (ie, Rhythm) Part's MIDI channel.

Why is my MIDI sound module playing only some of the MIDI channels? I played a MIDI file that has tracks on MIDI channels 1 to 16, but I heard only some of the tracks.

First, make sure that you're in "Performance Play mode". Some modules disable multi-timbral operation in other modes.

Secondly, does your sound module support all 16 MIDI channels simultaneously in its multi-timbral mode? Some older models do not. For example, a JV-90 has only 8 "Internal Parts", which means that it can play a maximum of only 8 MIDI channels simultaneously. You get to pick out which 8 channels to play (ie, by setting the MIDI channel for each Part), but you're still limited to 8 MIDI channels at any given moment (unless you get a voice expansion board).

Third, did you check that the Performance you selected has all of its Internal Parts turned on, and assigned to different MIDI channels? It does no good to select a Performance that has all but 1 Part turned off, or has all of the enabled Parts set to the same MIDI channel, if you want to play a MIDI file with multiple tracks upon multiple channels.

Furthermore, if you've got a voice expansion board, make sure that the 8 Parts of its Performance are set to different MIDI channels than the 8 Parts in the Performance currently selected for the "main module". Remember that the voice expansion has its own 1 Performance that it always uses, and is totally separate from the main module's Performances. You don't want the voice expansion's Performance to be duplicating the same MIDI channel assignments. You want it covering the remaining MIDI channels. Also, make sure that your sequencer is actually getting data to the voice expansion. If you don't have a direct connection to the expansion's MIDI IN jack, then flip the switch to connect it to the main MIDI input.

How do I check what patches a given Performance has assigned to it by default? I could guess that a Performance with a name of "Vibes" may have a vibraphone Patch assigned to a Part that the keyboard is playing, but what about the Patch assignments for the other Parts? How am I to know what Patch assignments the other Parts have?

Well, you don't really know what Patch each of the 16 Parts is assigned in any given Performance offhand. But, you can press a button and get a listing of the Patch number for each Part, and then use the list in your manual to look up the corresponding name. Let me explain how I do it on my JV-90.

Say that I call up the first Performance in the User Group. It's name is "Plucky". What Patches are the JV-90's 8 Internal Parts using? Well, there are a group of buttons on the left which Roland calls the "Edit Palette" buttons. Each of these buttons has a different function depending upon whether you're in Patch or Performance mode (or you can even get into modes whereby Roland cuts off all the effects and filters and plays the raw waveforms. There are other modes you enter where you're selecting the Patches and/or Performances on Wave Expansion cards or Data cards or whatever, and these buttons may take on different functions in those modes too). So, there's a button that, when I'm in Performance Mode, displays the Patch numbers for the 8 Parts. It says "Patch" over the button (ie, in the row that is labeled "Perform". In the row that is labeled "Patch", that same button has the label "Wave" over it, to allow me to find out what 4 Tones are being used by a Patch when I'm in Patch mode). Suddenly, my display changes and it shows me which Patch number is used by each Part. For example, maybe its says that Part 1 is using patch A71 (ie 71 in Preset A patches). I look up A71 in my Patch list in the manual, and it says "Nylon Gtr 1". So, that's what Part 1 is using for this Performance. Of course, if you alter the Patches from the factory defaults, then the manual's listing is no longer applicable. You should keep a list of what customizations you make.

There's a nice Preset Patch/Performance I like which, with minor edits, would be great. The problem is that it's a Preset in ROM, and I can't save the edits to that same Group. What do I do?

Call up the Patch/Performance you like. Get into Patch/Performance Edit mode. Make all of the changes that you want. But, before you exit from edit mode, first choose to WRITE the Patch/Performance (ie, perform a Write command) to some location within a RAM (ie, User or Internal) Patch/Performance group. Sure, you'll have to overwrite whatever Patch/Performance was previously stored in the user location you finally choose, but if it's a Patch/Performance you'll never use, you don't care.

What do you recommend doing after one first gets a Roland module?

  1. Read this FAQ.

  2. Read it again. Some people have poor reading skills, and they miss or deliberately skip over important points the first time. Worse, they tend to "fall asleep at the wheel" unless they're kept awake with periodic excursions into crass, obnoxiously provocative humor -- much of which is readily available at this web site. Indeed, I blame all of my many lapses into bad taste upon people with poor reading skills. If it wasn't for having to keep them awake, I could instead concentrate upon delivering an unwavering, myopic, textbook (ie, of no practical use) drone like the typical college instructor does.

  3. Read the manual. (Notice a trend here? And yes, I'm actually one of those guys who, when he gets a new piece of gear, excitedly unpacks the manual first and reads it cover to cover, quite willingly, before even plugging in the gear. That's why I can't buy Casio gear. By the time I'm halfway through the pigeon-english in the manual, I'm already tying the noose to the rafter).

  4. Dump the factory Patches/Performances. These things are just designed to hook impressionable listeners in music showrooms. They're designed to be played, and hopefully sound decent, upon crummy, mono PA systems. They're typically gawdy effects with dreadfully slow attacks and fade-outs for the sake of the nouveau keyboardist who is buying his first keyboard and doesn't know how to play beyond a snail's pace nor use the sustain pedal. I've discovered that many of the raw waveforms aren't ever even used in the factory Patches (so you won't hear them unless you make your own Patches), and they're some nice raw material. Furthermore, there typically aren't any Patches with nice stereo imaging. That makes a world of difference in the "thickness" and "complexity" of a Patch. I seldom ever use any Roland factory Patches, and of the few I've liked, they all needed a bit of tweaking to get them sounding better.

  5. Get your divorce papers ready for filing. Your wife will have left you by the time you get around to experimenting with Performance Edit mode... if she knows what's good for her.