Zynthian Tips and Tricks

I’ve only had the Zynthian hardware a week, but here’s some tips and tricks I’ve discovered along the way.

These tips and tricks are all possible using the ZynSeq feature branch of Zynthian OS. If you are missing a feature or menu item described here, make sure you are using the ‘feature/zynseq’ branch, and have recently updated your Zynthian.

  • When on an instrument or effect screen, a short click on the layer rotary controller will swap between layers. This is super handy when fine tuning instruments after programming something worthwhile.
  • The replace effect function is very handy, especially when auditioning similar filters and effects.
  • Routing multiple instruments through an instrument effect layer can be useful, but there’s another way to re-use effects and effect chains without sacrificing an entire midi channel. Some effects offer an input port that other instruments can be routed to, even when they are attached to a host instrument. Routing in this way has other benefits too. Routing the instrument back to one of the main outs will effectively mute an effect or chain, and routing it back through the effect will send it through the outputs defined by the host instrument. Finally, although I haven’t yet benchmarked anything to verify, logic dictates that less instances of a filter means less demand on the Pi’s hardware resources, hopefully resulting in less xruns.
  • Although I haven’t managed to get live input working on ZynSeq, there is another way to record input. Queue up your existing patterns, then head to the MIDI Recording screen. Start and stop recording as appropriate. Skip back to pattern you want to edit, and import your newly created MIDI file. There’s a couple of things you need to be aware of tho. First up, make sure you have the correct input channel selected, or nothing will be imported. Also, be aware that if the midi is longer than the length of the pattern, subsequent patterns may be overwritten.
  • A gain layer as the final effect on every instrument gives you a quick and easy way to fine tune mixes. This is especially handy, as effects often have their own volume controls, and as instrument controls aren’t laid out in any kind of consistent way, with the primary volume control for an instrument often buried deep in the page list. If I remember correctly, it’s on page #7 of Calf Monosynth’s settings, for example, but it will be some time before my slow brain manages to map any other setting or instrument.
  • Sometimes a rotary controller slips onto another menu item after you’ve clicked down on it. Releasing the select controller now would at best waste your time sending you to the wrong screen, or inadvertently delete an entire instrument, or even delete ALL of your carefully tuned instruments and effects. But if you notice a slip and you’re quick, there’s another way. Nudge the controller in the desired direction and then release. If you were quick enough, the desired action will be performed, instead of another, potentially destructive one.
  • An easy way of benchmarking instruments and effects is to SSH into the Zynthian, and run htop. I think this was installed by default, but if not an ‘apt install htop’ should sort you out. You can see and sort processes by CPU and memory usage, to help you easily identify greedy effects and instruments.

Anyway, these are the main ones I noticed as I flipped through my notes from the last few days. Hopefully they are useful to someone else too.

I still haven’t dug into the Zynthian repositories, but when I get the chance, I will add some more bug reports and feature requests. Certainly a confirmation dialogue before deleting all instruments is essential, getting live input working in the pattern editor would save a couple of steps, and I’d love to see some consistency with regards to placement of common instrument controls. I know these are refinements tho, I’m finding the Zynthian an absolute joy to use as is.

If you have any tips or tricks, please do share them! This device is so flexible, I imagine everyone is using it in a slightly different way.


A few things I’ve found handy:

  • All the MIDI effects. If you haven’t looked into them, do so. Great stuff include evolving arps, velocity randomization, easy sequence transposition, etc.
  • Running several sequences into the same instrument. A great way to have a bunch of small sequences turn into one big evolving piece.
  • The map to MIDI CC functions. It’s super handy that it’s available directly on the instrument via the top right encoder.
  • Bold press on the bottom left encoder enables scrolling between the pages on an instrument or effect. Great if there’s a lot of pages.

This has just caused me to have a brainwave! Just last night I was wondering why I couldn’t send multiple pad groups in the sequencer to the same MIDI channel (thereby building multiple layers I could mute etc). I haven’t really started playing with MIDI effects yet, so it hadn’t crossed my mind that they may be able to help. I can probably just forward notes from one channel to another, and be able to build on my sequences like I could on the MPC!! I will try later for sure.

I didn’t know about this either! Thank you for sharing your tips. Even more looking forward to playing around this eve now.

I better get some work done!

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I couldn’t help myself, with work still to do, I just had to have a play.

I couldn’t get this to work? I can bold press the right (select) encoder to enter a scroll mode, but the left (back) encoder doesn’t appear to scroll pages irrespective of mode or press state. Are you on a newer build? I’m on stable with features/zynseq atm.

I did manage to get this working tho! I used a new MIDI Channel Mapper MIDI effect layer to send channel X to channel Y, but at first, no dice. After digging around, I found the MIDI Routing page in the layer options, routed it through to the instrument, and there was life!!

This has opened up a world of creative potential for me. Thank you again for sharing @sidor!!

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You scroll with the same encoder that you bold press on - as far as I remember.

Thanks sidor, I had figured out the scrolling, but I thought you were referring to a kind of page-down functionality, so I could quickly skip between the effects and instrument controls in the list.

There’s a discussion on GitHub somewhere about it, and I wondered if some new functionality had been implemented.

You don’t think we’ll let all this go on without extracting the occasional :face_with_monocle: do you …?

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hahahahaha. OK, OK, disclaimer first tho!

This is the first musical whateveryacallit I’ve made since I sold my MPC a decade or more ago. I recorded in the Zynthian for convenience, but had previously had the layers split so the mixing leaves a lot to be desired. I would ordinarily spend days on tweaking things but I just wanted to get something to you because you’re all awesome for helping make this beautiful little box of musical joy what it is today.

In order to demonstrate the above ideas that @sidor’s tips inspired, I only used three instruments. The main loop is one (ZynAddSubFX), the bass line is another (Calf Mono), and then a Fluid Drums 808. Otherwise I’ve just created MIDI Channel Map layers, of which there are five.

I ZynSEQ to sequence the drums, starting with the main pattern. I then copied this to five other pads and patterns (this took some practice - I somehow managed to blow a couple of patterns away :frowning: ) allocated them to the mapped MIDI channels, then removed and occasionally added steps where it felt appropriate.

There’s only a few effects on each channel, Zam or Zyn usually, echo, reverb, compressor, equaliser, saturation. I think that’s it. There’s some intentional distortion, and some caused by the bad mixing mentioned above. There’s so much I could and want to do. This was started and finished tonight.

I don’t know what else to say. Thanks for the tips, and for making Zynthian as great as it is!