Christmas is around the corner and many jazz pianists might be finding that they are busy with holiday parties. Playing solo lounge piano during cocktail or dinner soirees can be fun but after awhile, we may get a bit tired of playing by ourselves and wish we had a few other musicians to "trade off" with. The problem is, the boss spent the extra money on Christmas bonuses and can't afford to hire 2 other musicians for upright bass and drums. But... Steinberg's Groove Agent and MainStage can help you out.
First, let's look at layout to show how we're going to pull this off. Many pianists have done the left hand bass/right hand piano split and this is easy to setup. As for the drums, we're going to lay them out to be triggered on the top and bottom key range of an 88 note keyboard. We're also going to have strings controlled by a volume fader if we want to add another layer to the piano sound and 2 other volume faders for piano and master output.
On our layout page we add an 88 note controller with 2 keyboard layers for piano, bass, and strings. The drums start on the bottom 5 notes of the keyboard but we're going to also use the top 5 notes of the keyboard too for drum triggering. You'll notice that we can only see the drums on the bottom of the keyboard but I'll explain this later on.
Next, we add 3 faders to control our piano, string and master volume and map the parameters in "Edit" mode. I use an Alesis QS 8.1 which has faders to control this.
Finally, we need to add 10 drum pads in the layout mode and assign the upper and lower range of keyboard notes we want to trigger the drums using the Keyboard MIDI Controller as the input.
Now, you may be asking why we need a separate drum layout since we're going to trigger the drums with the keyboard. And also as mentioned before there are only drums on the lower half of the keyboard but we want them on the top. The trick is that we want only one software instrument instance of Groove Agent to save on memory. We also need to have the keys on the piano trigger a different MIDI note for Groove Agent. The keyboard layout won't let us assign separate notes like a drum pad does. Slightly confused? Groove Agent works as a regular drum sound trigger (snare, kick, etc.) from Bb4 down. But from B4 up, it becomes a trigger for drum beats. We don't want those note to conflict with the piano sound. So, with Mainstage, we can assign keyboard note A-1 to trigger note B4 in Groove Agent (which actually stops the drum beat) and keyboard note A#-1 could be used to trigger C5 (or any note we want) which is one of many drum beats. As Groove Agent goes higher up in note value, the drum beats become busier. A nice feature, which I love, is how a harder struck note triggers a drum fill. I assigned the top row of drum pads to the bottom 5 notes of the keyboard and the bottom row of drum pads are the top 5 notes of the keyboard.
To assign the drum notes to trigger patterns, we need to be in "Edit" mode. Click the first drum pad to highlight it , go to the Screen Control Inspector, select "Drums" (which is the track that has the Groove Agent plugin), select MIDI Notes, and choose note B3. Again, this note will stop the drum beat and I recommend the bottom key of your keyboard (A-1) as it's easy to remember. To trigger more drum patterns, simply select other drum pads and choose any note above B3. I find I like putting busy drum patterns on the top 5 notes of the keyboard.
Now what if we want different drum patterns like latin or rock? Simply duplicate it by selecting your patch and drag it down while holding the Option key (or Command+D). Then open Groove Agent and change your style to whatever you want.
Finally, I highly recommend that you have a "Tap Tempo" button so you can change the tempo from song to song / patch to patch.
This setup is fun to play and we also could map keyboard notes to switch between brushes and sticks, and the fill button or add a splash cymbal for accents. Enjoy and hopefully your "tip jar" might get a little more full too!
Check out the Mainstage tutorials to learn more!