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Yamaha QY8

After last month's test‑drive of Yamaha's top‑of the‑range QY300 music sequencer, Martin Russ now takes its baby sibling, the QY8, for a spin around the block.

The QY300 explores the outer limits of what you can do with a hardware sequencer by adding lots of bells and whistles. In contrast, the QY8 aims to provide as many useful facilities as possible, but in a small and low‑cost box. The packaging says it all — bright, bold colours reminiscent of something you might buy to use on the beach on holiday. And that is certainly one use for the QY8 — especially for anyone who dreads spending two weeks away from music making!

Yamaha call the QY8 a 'music sequencer', which probably brings images of sophisticated hi‑tech hardware to mind. But at first sight, the video‑cassette sized box looks much more Walkman‑like, especially with a pair of miniature stereo headphones plugged in. In fact, calling the QY8 a Walkman for music is probably the fairest way to describe it. It has a sophisticated auto‑accompaniment system, with high‑quality sampled sound playback, and also sports four additional sequencer tracks for you to record your own music, either as additions to the accompaniment parts or on their own. In short, the size of the box in no way accurately reflects what is hidden inside!

Putting a sampled sound playback instrument, a sequencer and auto‑accompaniment (including a drum machine) together in one box provides scope for a large range of possible uses. You could use the QY8 as a practice tool, and create accompaniments that you can play along with. Or use it to compose and arrange song ideas almost anywhere. The MIDI In socket lets you use the built‑in preset sounds and drum machine as additional sound sources for an existing MIDI rig or computer. And the auto‑accompaniment functions can be used with other keyboards that have no accompaniment features.

The View From Outside

If the QY8 does all that, I hear you mutter, then it must be covered in buttons and lights, and be hard to use, surely? Actually, there are only 12 buttons — six on each side of the LCD display. The two sets of six buttons fall neatly under the fingers of both your hands — any resemblance to Nintendo or Sega game controllers must be a coincidence. The focus of your attention is the display — a custom LCD with a simple menu system at the top of the screen, a bar/beat ruler at the bottom, and a central section devoted to setting chords, time signatures, styles and so on. After only a little practice, your fingers get very adept at moving the flashing cursor around the screen, and you can begin to concentrate on using the machine to make music. The one down side to the cursor movement system is that there is quite a lot of button pressing needed to access some functions. Then again, you don't have to search through lots of buttons looking for the one you want!

Song Creation

Once you've played through the demo song, it's time to get down to producing your own masterpiece. A few cursor movements take you to the Option menu, where you can clear one of the existing songs ready for data entry. You then toggle across the menu bar to the Style and Chord menus, which are where you enter the structure of the song. You choose a style for the bar and press the Enter button, then advance through bars with the '>' button until you reach the place where you want the next change of style, and 'enter' the new style. Chords follow the same sort of procedure — you rewind to the start of the song, choose a root note, type of chord, and an optional bass note if desired, and then press the 'Enter' button. The '>' button now moves in quarter note intervals, although the entered chord will continue playing until you change it. That's all there is to it. Translating a few chords into a basic song only takes a few minutes.

Styles contain different sections, with descriptive names like Intro, Main A, Fill AB, and Ending, and these sections are strung together to form the song structure. The styles have preset instrumentation which is designed to suit the genre of the style: so the 'Folk' style has a jangly guitar, whilst the 'Blues' style has a chugging bass and choppy organ.

With the accompaniment finished, the scene is set for the melody — which is where the four sequencer tracks come in. You can record in real or step time using an external MIDI keyboard, or in step time using the QY8's buttons and the musical stave display. You can set the key and time signatures, pitch, volume, accidentals and phrasing (staccato, tenuto and slurs/ties) — and enter rests and chords too. The Undo button undoes the last entry, whilst for older mistakes you can '<' to the beat where the error is and enter nothing, which deletes the note. For real‑time recording, you can set the QY8 so that it quantises to the nearest note as it records.

For tidying up songs, there are a few 'Option' commands which let you mute parts, change key, erase, delete, copy, and insert bars. You can transpose a part, or even combine two parts into one. Inside a song, 'repeat' symbols let you repeat bars, and even miss out bars on a second repeat. One thing you can't do is change the volume of a part (except mute it!), and there's no mixer for controlling the playback either — what you record comes out as you played it.


The QY8 lets you send the current song out as a system exclusive dump to a QY20, QY300, MIDI Data Recorder or another sequencer. It will also accept 'QYSEQ'‑type data when the Song Select mode is selected. The instruments used in the styles appear at the MIDI Out as note messages, and you can use the QY8 as an 8‑part expander by using the four sequencer parts (MIDI channels 1 to 4) and the four accompaniment parts (MIDI channels 5, 6, 7 and 10). External MIDI keyboards can also trigger the auto‑accompaniment, and you can set the range of notes to which the QY8 will respond.

Further Possibilities

Merely entering chords with a single fixed style into a box like the QY8, and then playing melody lines over the top to produce sanitised songs may be fun at first, but it hardly stretches your creativity. Here's some ideas for using auto‑accompaniment to help explore some slightly more interesting song ideas:

1: Try exploiting the 'chords per measure' feature.
The QY8 lets you have four changes of key or chord per bar, and this can produce excellent rapidly rising or falling hooks and riffs. Rising sequences of chords tend to work especially well — the technique is beautifully illustrated by Jane Child's 'I don't wanna fall in love' single of a few years ago, where the clichéd key change at the end of the song is replaced by more than a whole octave's‑worth of breathlessly rapid key changes, one after another in just a few bars.

2: Ignore the style and section names.
Especially the section names. Just because a section is called 'Intro' or 'Ending' doesn't mean that you have to use it just for that! Intros can make very effective breaks, whilst looping an intro and an ending together can create a whole new style which can feel very different from either of its parents.

3: Change styles.
The QY8 only allows one style per bar, but by using the 'multiple chords per measure' feature to set different bass notes to play against the root chords, you can change the feel quite nicely. I have produced some wonderfully jazzy styles from the QY8, just by misusing the styles and reworking the bass harmonisation in this way. Two or four bars can be wonderful if looped and given a different style for each bar — particularly if the styles are carefully chosen. Beware, though, as the same bars can sound dreadful if the styles do not match up nicely!

4: Avoid song structure.
Auto‑accompaniment is designed to lead you along a neat and tidy intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, ending scheme. Fine for producing songs, but when you're working out your own music this can force you along quite the wrong route. Try setting up two, four and eight bar loops and then fiddling around with styles, section and bass accompaniment. Just let things happen. Assemble the results into a song only when you have a good groove.

5: Try muting accompaniment parts.
Using only some of the accompaniment parts can alter the feel — especially if you then use one of the sequencer tracks to add your own replacement part. Unfortunately, on the QY8, the part muting acts on a whole song — which forces you to add more of your own music! Still, look on it as a spur to creativity...

6: Use the QY8 with a sequencer.
By using the MIDI Out socket, you can drive another MIDI synthesizer or expander and then use different sounds from the presets in the QY8. By recording the output from the QY8 into a sequencer, you can edit the patterns as well. The usual method would be to sync to the MIDI clock of the QY8, but this can upset some sequencers. What seems to be happening is that the QY8 MIDI clocks are not very stable in the short term, although on average the tempo is correct. This can cause problems when the sequencer attempts to derive a tempo map (one of the QY8 songs produced a minimum tempo of 71 bpm, and a maximum tempo of 166 bpm, when the real tempo was 100!). These tempo changes only last for fractions of a beat, and so they aren't audible — the QY8 timing sounds fine, but your sequencer may not like it! The solution is not to sync to the QY8, and to filter out the MIDI clocks when you record — you will need to add in bar intervals to the resulting sequence, of course, but many sequencers can now do this automatically. Expect a more detailed report on these micro‑tempos sometime in the future.


The QY8 is lots of fun, and nowhere near as simple as it first appears. It lets you rough out a song quickly, and if used in combination with an external MIDI keyboard, you have a simple but capable music production facility that sounds much bigger than it looks. If it was more expensive, then I could complain about the lack of user customisation, but at this price, the high‑quality sounds, portability and economy of design make for a bargain.

Big Brothers

The QY300, reviewed last month, has 16 sequencer tracks, on‑board effects, a much more versatile and customisable accompaniment system, a larger display, much bigger storage capacity, and a thoroughly professional feel. The price of all this enhancement, however, is considerable — at £899, just under four times the price of the QY8!

The QY20, reviewed May '93, costs £449, and has the functions and capability that you would expect from something pitched mid‑way between the QY8 and the QY300. Although the QY20's box is the same size as the QY8, it has a two‑octave set of 'mini‑keyboard' buttons, eight sequencer tracks and a more graphically complex display. Despite the size, the QY20 is a powerful and capable music making tool.

Second Opinions

Always eager to take the reviewer's art to new heights, I took the QY8 to a party and unleashed it onto some unsuspecting victims. I gave minimal instructions to the first recipient, and requested that they pass it on to someone else when they became bored with it. I then left them alone, and hoped that I would be able to find the QY8 again at the end of the evening.

Now I hasten to add that this wasn't the sort of party where you can't hear yourself think; where you spend the entire evening with your plastic cup pressed against your chest as you fight your way through hordes of people; where there's a constant queue for the bathroom and bedrooms; and only the wise venture into the kitchen. No, this was a slightly more formal gathering — intelligent conversation, random dot stereograms on the wall, decent banquet‑style food, and a wide range of people.

Despite the lack of loud background music, the only major complaint was the lack of volume in the headphones. No chance of 'walkman deafness' with the QY8! The boredom time seemed to vary from about five minutes to half an hour or more. Everyone said that it was great fun, although they also said that it was difficult to use without instructions, and some people got much deeper into it than others. Opinions varied as to its price, with estimates ranging from £100 to £200. Several people asked me where they could buy one, but I doubt if any of these potential purchasers would ever venture into any kind of music shop, or even buy this magazine!


  • 20 Songs (about 6,400 events) plus one fixed Demo song.
  • Four sequencer tracks.
  • Four preset accompaniment tracks: Rhythm, Bass, Chord 1, Chord 2.
  • 50 Preset Styles, each with six sections: Intro, Main A, Main B, Fill AB, Fill BA, Ending.
  • 25 types of chord, with separate bass note setting.
  • Repeat blocks of bars up to 99 times.
  • Skip bars on second repeat.
  • Step and Real‑time record for sequencer tracks.
  • 24 clocks per quarter note resolution.
  • 28‑note polyphonic.
  • AWM (Advanced Wave Memory = S+S) sounds.
  • 16‑part multitimbral.
  • 40 preset instrument sounds.
  • 58 drum sounds.
  • Custom LCD — not backlit.
  • Battery or mains eliminator powered.
  • 3.5 mm stereo jack socket for mini‑headphones.
  • MIDI In and Out sockets.
  • Battery‑backed memory (five years).

Fake Sheets

I get strange looks from so many musicians when I mention fake sheets that I wonder if I have got the terminology wrong. Have I inadvertedly picked up an Americanism?

Fake sheets are a simple but effective way to write down music in a very compact way. You get the melody line written in normal music notation on a stave, but this is enhanced by the addition of chord names. From this basic information, your average busking barn dance band, jazz group, one‑man‑band or even MIDI musician armed with auto‑accompaniment can produce the necessary walking bass, arpeggiated chords and melody that make up a passable version of the whole song. It says a lot about music that you can compress it in this way, but it also tells you how much skill is needed from a musician in order to interpret block chords and make them sound correct in context.

In the case of auto‑accompaniment units, this 'context' is the style. Whereas a musician instinctively knows that a specific instrumentation and playing style is required for a particular song, the auto‑accompaniment unit needs to be told — and this is the job of the 'style' setting. So the way that a folk song is orchestrated will be very different from a funk workout — even if the chords and melody are the same.


  • Small, neat and cheap.
  • Wide range of possible uses.
  • Partial GM compatibility.
  • Does not lose memory contents when you power it down!


  • Fixed style orchestration.
  • No playback mixer.
  • User interface requires lots of cursor button presses.
  • Only one 3/4 time signature (Waltz) — the rest are all 4/4. No 7/8 or 9/8!


Fun to use, and not just a toy, the QY8 is more useful than a first glance might suggest. This is a handy device that repays careful exploration.