Multiple layers + external midi controller + stage piano?

Hello Zynthians, I think as a newbie to Zynthian (Kit 4.5, RPI4, 8GB) I need a little help to get a setup idea running. I like to build a setup where Zynthian acts as a flexible keyboard expander for live playing with multiple instant available instrument/synth plugins, also with multiple activated/layered instruments in parallel.

And in a second step I like to integrate a stereo looper and use Zynthians big choice of instruments for having live looping fun. But because of missing functionality in the SooperLooper plugin (undo/redo not working, only mono) I pushed back the looping idea at this moment. Maybe I will use an external looper device in the future.

For now my idea is to have multiple layers setup on Zynthian with different instruments and that you can switch on/off and control volume of multiple layers with the help of an external midi controller (NanoKontrol2) while playing live. There is one stage piano (Korg SV-1) that acts as the midi input for notes and sustain pedal. Other incoming midi events are filtered by Zynthian. Here a foto from my setup just for some impressions:

While volume control exists in all relevant synth layers I haven’t found a midi implementation of Zynthian to active and deactivate layers that can be controlled by an external midi controller yet. So the idea was to use a midi fx layer with the “simple channel filter” added to each synth layer and midi learn the channel filter linked to Korg NanoControls buttons and clone midi data from the input midi channel. But this doesn’t seem to work properly. There are some strange midi routing/learning issues. To have on/off switching I think is a good idea to take care on available system ressources.

Maybe I am on the wrong track with this setup. I am looking foreward to your suggestions and ideas. Have a nice evening :slight_smile:

Hi pianissimo! Here is my suggestion for you.

I assume you are feeding sounds into a looper and the SV1 transmits on only one midi channel.

Try the Zynthian in Stage mode. Load four synths into 4 midi channels. Assign program changes to the 4 S- buttons on the Zynthian (the nano cannot transmit program changes). Learn some of the Nano faders to control volume, filter cutoff, etc. Loop your songs.

Later on, when you get comfortable with scripting your own MIDI rules, you can use multi channel mode, clone your midi output to several midi channels, then layer, split, fader and filter to your heart’s content.


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It sounds like you should be looking towards the current testing branch in the code base.

The above is becoming the new core functionality for the zynthian and as you can see it’s very much built around a mixer presentation.

I happen to have the self same nanoKontrol2 as well but in a slightly different hue.


Wow this looks really great! I am looking foreward to the next core release. Will it be possible to link mixer controls to external Midi controllers?

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That is not currently implemented but we plan to implement mapping to mixer controls. You can already control it via OSC.


Hi Sam, thank you for your suggestion. Until now I don’t used program changes and will try this. Are you able to flexibly turn different synths/instruments on and off with program changes while you are playing live and during a single song? I will try it the coming weekend.

At this time unfortunately I don’t have a separate looper device available. I tried to start with the SooperLooper and with ALO plugin. With SooperLooper you have only very less options available right now and undo/redo is not working. An ALO is a little complicated and I had some issues with recordings. I became aware of ALO through other topics here in the forum.

Have a nice evening,

Looping comes up regularly around here and you have pretty much summed up the situation!

It’s on the list of things that will be addressed but the heavy coders appear to be involved in some fairly major structural rebuilds deep within the depth of the zynth so I wouldn’t expect any progress too soon.

The introduction of wiring configs for switches may well help to contribute to looper development because we can start to consider defined sets of controls for the membrane switches and other controls to allow a specific layout to be defined. That at least means we have a decent well warn path to allow us to examine the interface with some degree of consistancy when it is considered.

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Using multiple layers in parallel for live playing is now working! I have reached a great goal with Zynthian for my live setup. :smiley: And because I like to dive into live looping I added a Boss RC-300 Looping station to my setup. Here some information on my setup:


  • at this moment 4 active layers
  • layer 1: Pianoteq
  • layer 2: LinuxSampler Synth with Drums loaded
  • layer 3: FluidDrums
  • layer 4: ZynAddSubFX and some pad sounds
  • added Midi FX to each layer with Midi Event Filter to block pressed keys from my stage piano. So you can indirectly “switch off” a layer. This function is learned to the Korg nanoKontrols mute button.
  • added audio FX reverb effect to some layers and learned this function to nanoKontrols potis.
  • generally blocked all midi events from my stage piano (Korg SV-1) except key and sustain events. This is done with Zynthians general midi filter, setup in Web UI.

Korg nanoKontrol2

  • connected to Zynthian to have some more live controlls
  • changing volume for each layer
  • switch layers on and off
  • change reverb or other effects for each layer
  • soon: start/stop recording, panic button

Korg SV-1

  • Stage Piano
  • connected via classic Midi to Zynthian
  • Zynthians audio is connected to Korg SV-1 audio input

Boss RC-300

  • live looping board with 3 tracks and foot buttons
  • audio output from Korg SV-1 and Zynthian connected

Many thank to the great Zynthian developers and community!

Are you running stable or testing?

Here a quick and simple improvisation, made with my setup, just for a little impression. I am just at the beginning using a loop station. Drums and pads come from Zynthian, bass and string sound from my stage piano SV-1. While improvising I thought of our worldwide tense situation…

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Just running the last stable release from september last year

Would it be helpful to switch to testing to help testing new functions and provide some feedback? I can use a second SD card for this to save my actual setup.
And how does the mute function of the new zynthian mixer work? Is it only audio muting or does muting act like deactivating a layer?
In my setup deactivating layers is necessary because if you switch muted layers on in a live situation older key press events can produce sustaining unwanted sounds.

Mute acts at the mixer level, i.e. it mutes the audio of the mixer channel. It does not stop the sound engine creating audio.

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At this moment I am a little frustrated with Zynthian. There are strange issues when using multiple synth layers. Midi routing maybe seems not to work correct and sends midi events to the wrong layer. And most strange problem is that Zynthian hangs with an “error boot logo screen” when I try to shutdown or reboot Zynthian.

Here is what I try to configure:
Layer 1: Pianotek
Layer 2: Linux Sampler
Layer 3: Fluid Synth
Layer 4: ZynAddSubFx
Layer 5: Fluid Synth

To each layer there is a Midi Event Filter added for blocking Note Events. I use this Midi Filter to “deactivate” a layer. And there is also a Audio FX Effect (Tal Reverb) added to each layer.
With my NanoControl I linked controlling volume, reverb amount and blocking Midi for each layer.

I tried to do this configuration several times from scratch, but always ended up in strange errors (i.e. one of the layers is not working, no sound) that I cannot reproduce right now. I am using the last stable build from september 2021 and did a software update via web configuration ui.
Am I using to many layers/effects? (It’s a Raspberry Pi with 8GB).
Will perhaps the actual test branch be more stable than the last stable release?

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Hi @pianissimo

I have configured my Zynthian V3 with RPi3 with a configuration like you describe and it is working as I would expect. I am using a development branch, i.e. a fork or testing and not stable. I would not say that testing is more stable than stable - indeed it is going through significant change. The work I have just done on this development branch may facilitate the release of a new stable soon but that needs to go through proper testing and change control and is at the discretion of @jofemodo.

You may wish to post a snapshot file here to allow us to see the actual configuration you are using rather than our interpretation.

Are you using stage mode or multi-timbral mode?

[Edit] Also, what are you trying to achieve? If you want any external keyboard to play a single engine at a time then you can accomplish this with stage mode. You can also layer engines to play multiple engines at the same time. I wonder whether what you want to do may be achievable with the existing Zynthian workflows without resorting to clever MIDI filters (which are likely to cause problems because it can leave hanging notes if the note-off commands are filtered). Also, what MI|DI channel are you using. Ensure you don’t use the Master Channel or that Master Channel is disabled.

Check your power supplies. My Pi3’s behave strangely when short of power.

Thank you for your hints. I try to check if the problems are caused by a specific layer or synth next few days and will upload my configuration here.
I am using the official raspberry pi 4 power supply. Is this maybe not reliable enough?

I left my Z3 overnight with this config and when I looked this morning it was not functioning. MID was not being detected. Patachage was empty and unresponsive after launching as were other GUIs and trying to add a new layer froze when I had selected to bank, not showing list of presets. (setBfree).

top showed no excessive CPU usage and 25% RAM availability. I ma not sure if this is related to your issue or some other thing that locked up my box.

[Edit] After recovering UI (by bold press BACK to get to mixer screen) then removing layers and adding single layer some things got better like the UI behaved and I could run Patchage. I can see that MIDI Routing seems to have failed. There are no MID routes made in jackd and none are created when adding an instrument. There certainly seems to be something broken but my symptoms differ from yours so maybe separate issue reports in github.

Hi @pianissimo !

I suspect you are complicating things in excess. Perhaps you can achieve what you want with a simpler setup, using stage mode and subsnapshots.

Could you explain what are you trying to achieve? Perhaps we could suggest an alternative way to turn around the problems.

Anyway, things should work and you shouldn’t have these strange errors, so we will try to fix the issues too, although it could take more time.

Best Regards,

BTW, do you have a license for Pianoteq? Remember that the “trial” version included on the zynthian SD-image will run for 20 mins only. I suppose you already know this, only to be sure :wink: