So I’ve had my Yamaha Motif XF6 now for just over a year now and I have to say that while I love this synthesizer, I haven’t yet uncovered most of its cool functionality.  It is a massively powerful computer wrapped up in a keyboard and there are so many features that it is possible to enjoy the keyboard while still not understanding everything about it.

That is, in fact, the biggest drawback; there are insufficient training resources for this cool toy.  There are eight manuals that accompany the keyboard.  EIGHT!  What the hell is up with that?!?!?

I’ve even searched for a teacher on Kijiji without response.  I specified fluency in the XF series and got nothing back.

The best resource I’ve found is a website called Motifator.  This site is an awesome resource for all things Motif or MOXF.  They have a fellow there who goes by the name BadMister.  He’s the Motif Guru and has been very helpful to me both directly and indirectly through his support of other users.  Thanks dude!

I purchased the Motif as the primary synthesizer for the New Wave band I play in called Fizzbin.  Fizzbin consists of two members; Myself and John Hall, drummer extrodinaire from the Aaron Garner Band.  We’re both drummers but formed this band to play instruments outside our comfort zone.  In Fizzbin we record MIDI and analogue tracks onto the Motif and then play along with them.  This often involves recording live drum tracks and storing them in the Motif.

As with all new toys, the first thing I looked at were options for the unit.  These included the Flash RAM and the FireWire interface.  The Flash RAM made a lot of sense so I added 1GB.  It is REALLY expensive and Yamaha uses proprietary RAM that they charge you way too much for.  Still, it’s extremely useful because you don’t have to load all your samples each time you boot up.  If you use a number of recorded tracks like we do it can be time consuming.  With the Flash RAM the samples remain in the Motif until you say otherwise.  That said…

Managing the Flash memory can be a bit tricky.  When data is in the Integrated Sampling memory or Local Memory it can be manipulated and edited.  Once it is moved to Flash memory it is fixed.  If you want to alter a sound it must be copied back into the keyboard’s local memory, edited then copied back to the Flash.  Not too much trouble but tricky to work out at first.

I have to say the keyboard is outstanding for what I’m using it for!  The sound libraries are excellent with many cool choices available.  I immediately added the Vintage Keys and the Bee’s Knees sound banks.  Vintage Keys provides some excellent samples of…. well…. vintage keyboards.  Moogs and Korgs and Oberheims and more.  One of the Journey samples is used in our Coming of Age cover of Who’s Crying Now.  

The Bee’s Knees is a Hammond B3 sample pack that finally makes my bandmate John happy.  He (and my buddy Rick) are B3 freaks and only accept the real thing.  While the organ samples that came with the Motif are pretty good, this package is…. well….. the bee’s knees.   The modelling is incredible including the Leslie speaker and drawbars.  If you have a Motif but not this library you are missing out!

The Modes I use on the keyboard are primarily Song and Voice.  Song Mode is the multitimbral mode which allows up to sixteen voices to simultaneously play.  If you have MIDI files in your computer that you want to play through the keyboard this is the mode to use.  We take it one step further;  Once the files are satisfactory we record them into the Motif.  The USB port allows the Motif to act as a MIDI device on your computer.  While the FireWire interface provides access to each channel of the Motif (all sixteen) the USB interface is more of a bulk thing.  For the most part, however, that’s all that is required.  Several software packages provide an interface to the Motif through the USB port but we’ll get to them later.

One nice feature the Motif sports is Assignable Outputs.  These are secondary Left and Right Outputs.  We use them to assign drum tracks to a separate set of speakers so as not to muddle the sound coming out of the Mains.  That’s only one use they can be put to.  Very handy.

As a performance tool I’ve found the Motif to be excellent.  Not too heavy it sets up quickly on my Hercules stand with four cables (2 for stereo and 2 for stereo drums out the Assignable Outputs).  Once you’ve got your set loaded into memory you don’t have to drag any USB sticks along with you.  That is unless you didn’t buy the Flash RAM to load your samples.  If that’s the case then bring your stick and calculate load time into the equation.  Oh, and pray the power doesn’t fail.

The Sound:  The Motif’s sound is  awesome!  Come on, we’re talking Yamaha and samples.  You really can’t go wrong.  I’ve created my own samples, purchased add-on samples and used some of the vast array of sounds that come with the Motif.  It’s an incredible synthesizer, the flagship of its manufacturer.  The only difference between the Motif XF 6, 7 and 8 is the keyboard.  They 8 has the high-end weighted keyboard.  Thy guts in all three are the same.  I cannot stress how high quality this keyboard is.

Not only are the samples incredible on the Yamaha Motif XF but the routing and effects are an awesome add-on.  Choose from a wide variety of effect to route your sounds through.  There is even a Vocorder available for playing with vocals.  Two inputs are available on the Motif for microphones or other sample inputs.  Internal effects routing allows you to shape your sounds and create just what you’re looking for.

There are numerous Modes on the Motif, some which I haven’t even explored.  Those include Master, Pattern and Perform  Modes.  I have a basic understanding of how each of these modes works and where it is used but I haven’t yet had occasion to explore them in depth.  These are another area of the Motif where some external guidance would be useful.

Samples vs wave generation:  I was brought up in the ’60s and ’70s which meant the dawn of analog synthesis.  It wasn’t until the ’80s when Ray Kurzweil decided to start sampling sounds and playing them back.  That said I have to say that while samplers like the Motif are absolutely outstanding at re-creating sounds, there is nothing like sculpting sounds from the oscillator on up.  When I purchased my Motif from a fellow I found on Kijiji he showed me the Korg Kronos which he purchased to replace the Motif.  The Kronos doesn’t use samples like the Motif.  Now I sort of understand why he switched platforms.  Not that I want to switch.  I really love my Motif and it works perfectly for what I need it for.  I do, however, long for the joys of analog waveform shaping.

I think I might buy a Moog Sub 37 – stay tuned ; )

Back on topic – There is also some cool software you can use along with the Motif.  These include the vastly useful Motif XF Editor by Yamaha and John Melas’ Motif XF Tools.  These latter are an invaluable set of tools to control various features on your Motif.  While all the functions it performs can be done directly on the keyboard they are far more easily accessible through software.

The caveat to using the software, however, is learn to use the machine’s features.  If you’re on stage during a sound check with no computer and you need to adjust the EQ of an instrument you’d better know how to use the Motif natively.

There are also iOS applications for the Motif to control its various features.  Here is an interesting little disappointment however;  if your Motif is using a wired Ethernet connection you cannot use wireless CoreMIDI applications.  For example, my Motif is plugged into my network via an Ethernet cable.  This is incredibly useful for loading, saving, transferring and backing up files.  My iPad is connected to this same network through a wireless router.   Even so, the Yamaha iPad applications cannot talk to the Motif over the network.  I must either purchase a wireless adapter for the Motif (not going to happen) or plug the iPad into the Motif’s USB connector using the iPad Camera Connection Kit.  That’s too bad because the iPad application for the Motif are quite comprehensive.

So there you have it.  My first year with the Motif XF6 has been an adventure in learning.  Learning mostly that there are very few resources which can fully help me understand this incredibly powerful machine.  Still I was able to manage to interface the Motif to my DAW (Reaper by Cuckos), load it with songs and samples and most importantly, use it live to perform.  It is an excellent workstation who’s capabilities I haven’t even begun to discover.  As I do, I’ll write about them here.