I'm preparing the keyboard part for a local amateur musical and I'd like it to make use of a number of sounds.

The keyboard that's probably going to be used is one of the standard consumer MIDI keyboards with a big list of sounds and a keypad to punch them in. Often the problem with these is during a quick patch change it's too easy to hit the wrong key and get the completely wrong sound.

I have always assumed that professionally all the patch changes are pre-programmed and the player simply advances to the next sound via a pedal or button on a dedicated MIDI box.

What are the best ways for me to achieve this? Are there some cheap (ish) MIDI controllers that I can program with a list of sounds for the player to use? Should I hook the keyboard up to my laptop and invest in something like QLab?

What is the 'standard' way to run keyboards in modern pits? I'm interested to learn what kind of options are available to me.

3 Answers 3


You just need a one-button change of patch? Assuming your synth doesn't have programmable buttons readily available, the Behringer FCB1010 pedalboard can do this for you, and is actually quite cheap.

It can be a hassle to program it, but once you learn how, isn't difficult. (A basic programming guide can be adapted from here: http://www.voes.be/fcb1010/pdf/fcb1010%20programming%20without%20software.pdf)

Alternatively, you can get some software to program it from your PC here: https://secure.mtnsys.com/faq-fcb/pceditorbeta.htm Once programmed of course, the PC is no longer needed.

It has 10 banks or so, so you should be able to line up all of your patches no problem. 10 buttons per bank are available. As a bonus, you get a pair of variable pedals.

  • Thanks, that's exactly the sort of thing I was looking for +1
    – Mark Pim
    Apr 11, 2011 at 10:34

Speaking from my experience, here are some basic ideas:

  1. Be familiar with your instrument. If you are trying to remember how to do X while onstage, you are much more likely to screw it up. Get familiar with the kit you'll be using in a practice setting before you try to use it onstage.
  2. Set up patchsets if you can that have only the patches you want for the given piece loaded, then save them under the name of the piece. This way you can load "Song X" and know you only have the patches you want for that song.
  3. Write down a cue sheet for yourself to make it simple to set up as you go along.
  4. Practice the patch changes, instrument setup, etc. until they're second nature.

Live, I've used a MIDI patch manager to load patchsets into my keyboard per song, and have also used Ableton Live and Garageband as VST hosts for synthesis and effects.

Ideally, you want to be able to think about the music and not about setting up your instrument, so everything you can do to make that easier for yourself is key - especially practicing the steps you need to set up for each song. You might want to either have a gigging setup of your own (MIDI controller or synth you like, paired with the laptop running Ableton Live or even Garageband), or see if they'll loan you the keyboard so you can get familiar with it.

I have to say that my experience with Somebody Else's Keyboard is similar to that with house pianos: unless the venue takes really good care of its instruments, you'll have a similar experience but even moreso because now you have electronics to go bad as well as mechanicals.


The standard way to go through a long list of patches during a show may be

  1. Having a central unit (laptop, sequencer, guy backstage) send patch change messages to all keyboards used, or
  2. Having a workstation synth or performance synth that has a Live Set feature or similar, which is a list of patches to be stepped through, or a mapping of patches to single button presses (the pads on the Roland Fantom G, or the F2-F7 buttons on my JUNO-G etc.).

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