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Fun With Phrases

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Phrases are a great feature of the XW synths. Record what you play on the keyboard along with your manipulation of controllers including the wheels and the knobs and then play it all back at the push of a button. You can record up to 1600 notes (somewhat less with controller movements). You can even trigger a phrase from the keyboard over a selectable key range and transpose it.

That’s all great for live use except that selecting different phrases is not quick. You have to go through the menu system, which takes a little time. It isn’t possible to select a phrase simply by pushing a single button, like you can select some tones (if you have pre-configured things right). A phrase also can’t normally play a tone that isn’t set up for play on the keyboard within one of the XW’s four zones. And you certainly can’t play more than one phrase at the same time on the XW-P1 or more than two at a time on the XW-G1 (the extra phrase using the Multi-function area of the keyboard). Right?

Wrong. You can do all of the above things in a Performance if you program it correctly. Here’s how.


The first step is to program one of the knobs to address the Step Sequencer Start/Stop NRPN command. Next, program a pattern in a sequence so that Control Track 4 (Ctl4) implements the Phrase function.  Program the first step in the step-sequencer pattern to “Start” the phrase. In the parameters for Ctl4 choose a phrase number and a control channel (part) that the phrase will play (either 1 or 8 to 16).

Program control track 3 (Ctl3) to control the knob chosen for the Step Sequencer Start/Stop NRPN command. Set the track’s length and note value so that the track ends just after the phrase ends (to a maximum length of 7.5 seconds at the default tempo of 120 bpm). Program values of 127 in every step except the last chosen step of the track, which should contain a zero.  (Note: This assumes you want the phrase to play only once.)

Program the other seven patterns in the step sequence similarly, each playing whatever pattern you desire in whatever part you desire (1 or 8 to 16). Save the step sequence and save the Performance.

In live play, after selecting the Performance hit the STEP SEQ button. Select a phrase to play by hitting a pattern button. Press START/STOP to play it (or the footpedal configured to start and stop the step sequencer). While a phrase is playing in this way you can play back a different phrase using the phrase sequencer; they are independent. (On the XW-G1 you can play back a total of four phrases at the same time, two of them using the multi-function area of the keyboard.)


Need to transpose the phrase selected by a pattern button? Hit KEY PLAY and use the keys in the lowest octave of the XW's keyboard to select a transposition amount, just as you would with a step sequence.

For more about this see section 5.2.2 of The XW-P1 Companion, Volume 1 (Rev 4 or later)  For an example, see here.

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Phrases and arps are so much fun. The PX-5S has these as well and really can get the creative juices going! 

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