Using effects isn’t just for guitarists and studio recording. Keyboardists can use them, too. Keyboard delay effects are great for adding dimension and dynamics to sounds.
Delays (think “echoes”) are easily my favorite effect to use on my keyboard sounds. To use delays effectively (I’ll see myself out!), it’s important to adjust settings properly, but it’s also crucial to adjust your playing style.
Plugging in the delay effect
If you are assigning an onboard delay effect within your keyboard, follow your keyboard’s instructions. Setup using an outboard delay pedal made for guitar is easy: simply plug in your keyboard’s output, then run the pedal’s output to your amp or DI box.
When using software instruments, you will have the option to set up your effect as an insert effect in your sound’s channel strip, or as a send effect on an auxiliary channel, to which you would then send a certain amount of signal. If you want to send multiple sounds through the same delay, set it up as as a send effect. For simplicity in the video, I set up Stereo Delay as an insert effect in Mainstage 3.
Settings for keyboard delay effects
No matter what form they take, keyboard delay effects will have most of the same settings.
Level: Start by mixing in enough effect delay to clearly hear how the other settings sound.
Length: Length can be set either as an absolute value, in milliseconds, or as a rhythm note value, relative to a given tempo. Delays shorter than about 80 milliseconds do more to color the original note than to create discernible echoes. For longer lengths, you will almost certainly want to sync them to tempo.
You will likely tend toward longer note values for faster tempos and shorter values for slower tempos. However, there are no rules, so feel free to experiment. You might try two different note values for the stereo delay. Also, dotted note values create a cool syncopated effect.
Feedback: This setting determines how many echoes will be created for each note played. Low feedback values will result in only one or two echoes. Raise the level for more echoes of each note.
Filter/EQ: Use this to shape the sound of the echoes. Full-spectrum echoes can often overwhelm the sound. Using the filter to cut out the low frequencies, and perhaps some of the highs, will create a more subtle and pleasing effect.
Don’t forget to adjust the effect level again before moving on. It’s a good idea to assign a MIDI controller for real-time control, if possible.
Adjust your playing style for keyboard delay effects
There are three major considerations for playing with a delay effects.
The first is to remember that the delay effect will create more notes, so you should play less. Otherwise, the echoes will be overwhelming.
Second, give extra care to playing accurately. Any note played wrong or out of time will be repeated! Be precise.
Third, pay attention to how your notes interact harmonically with the echoes, positively and negatively. On the negative side, if I have a quarter note delay set up on a melody line that’s moving one step on each quarter note, it results in dissonance. Be sure to adjust your melody or your delay length to fix this.
Or use it to your advantage. If I play a scale of sixteenth notes with an eighth note delay, the echo will sound two notes later, creating a series of thirds, which sounds really cool if I play it right.
Watch the video below to hear these concepts.
Start delaying right now
With the right setup and approach, keyboard delay effects can add tremendous depth and dimension to your sounds!
For more on playing great keyboards with great effects through your Mac, check out the Mainstage Keyboard Course.