Mastering MODX: MODX MIDI Settings Explained

When set to communicate with external devices, knowing about MODX and how it does MIDI will be important. One thing that we need to make clear is MODX can and does work internally without you ever concerning yourself with MIDI commands. It does not address itself with MIDI. But you need to know that the […]

When set to communicate with external devices, knowing about MODX and how it does MIDI will be important. One thing that we need to make clear is MODX can and does work internally without you ever concerning yourself with MIDI commands. It does not address itself with MIDI. But you need to know that the moves and gestures you make on the MODX can and do generate MIDI messages that can be documented Out via MIDI. Those messages can be recorded and played back to the MODX to recreate every move you make, both subtle and dynamic.

These messages that MODX generates for itself to interpret, can be confusing to just any connected device – therefore connecting an external device will require that you utilize the special ZONE MASTER feature (covered separately). An important thing to know is that what the MODX sends OUT via MIDI can largely be determined by you. We’ll begin with the 8 important parameters that you need to be familiar with when setting up the MODX to communicate via MIDI.

We will concern ourselves with the three major situations where you will be addressing things via MIDI:
1) you are using the MODX as a MIDI Keyboard Controller – transmitting to external devices
2) you are recording MIDI to an external DAW or Sequencer – transmitting and playing back MIDI data
3) you are using the MODX as a MIDI Tone Generator – receiving MIDI data

The messages that are generated by playing and moving controllers of MODX come in two categories: those intended to be returned to the MODX in order to control the internal tone engine; and, those intended to control external devices. What this means is there is a specific function within each Performance that allows you make sense of what gets transmitted Out via MIDI. (We’ll cover this in more detail with the advanced features). For now, let’s navigate to the main MIDI I/O screen:

– Press [UTILITY]
– Touch “Setting” > “MIDI I/O”:

Here you can see the various MIDI settings and the MIDI Signal Flow diagram for how MIDI is configured at the time you recall this screen. Notice the *shortcut* box in the lower right-hand corner (“Control Number”). This will take you directly to the current PERFORMANCE’s Controller Assignment page, where you can see what CONTROL NUMBERS are being sent Out via MIDI currently.

Each Performance can have a custom setup for the physical Controllers you set here.


Determines how MIDI communication is going to be established between the MODX and the external MIDI devices.


When you have selected USB, you will be connecting to a computer or an iOS device (iPad/iPod/iPhone) via the USB “TO HOST” jack with a standard USB cable and appropriate adapter. USB-MIDI is a multi-port connection. A Port is defined as the equivalent of a MIDI IN and a MIDI Out – 16 Channels, coming and going. Each port is used for a different purpose… here Yamaha has opted for the following functions:

There are 3 Ports on MIDI IN/OUTs via the USB connection:
Port 1 – used by the MODX internal tone generator for music performing (note-ons, controllers, tempo);
Port 2 – is used for Remote Control commands between the front panel of the hardware and DAW software;
Port 3 – connect one external device via standard 5-pin MIDI I/O Ports. Items routed from the computer on “MODX Port 3” will be passed through the MODX and go OUT the 5-pin jack on the back panel. And conversely, any information arriving at the 5-pin MIDI IN of the MODX will be routed through to the DAW as “MODX Port 3”.

Important Note: If you select MIDI I/O = USB, MODX will send and receive via the USB connection; while the 5-pin MIDI IN/OUT jacks will allow you to connect an external device discreetly to the computer (as port 3). Therefore, it is NOT that the 5-pin MIDI ports don’t work when you select MIDI I/O = USB, they work to address one external device (both IN/OUT, to and from the computer). You can trigger that device by looping the signal through the computer: Port 1 In to Port 3 Out.

Most Frequently Asked Question (USB): What generates the most questions is how to play the MODX keys and trigger an external MIDI device (that is connected via 5-pin MIDI cable) all while connected MIDI I/O = USB to the computer. The answer is: literally, through the computer. Here is the MIDI Signal Flow:
• MODX key press, Local Control is Off, MIDI messages go Out via USB on Port 1 to a MIDI Track set to receive MODX Port 1 as MIDI IN.
• Set the Track’s MIDI OUT to MODX Port 3.
• Port 3 is the 5-Pin MIDI Out jack that goes to the external synth. DAW signal routed on Port 3 triggers whatever you connect to the MODX MIDI OUT.
• You can trigger that external keyboard module while connected to your DAW. You simply THRU the data (it passes thru the MODX on PORT 3) – because typically, when working with an external DAW “Local Control” is Off, only if you set the MIDI Track’s Out PORT to 1 will it trigger the MODX tone generator.
USB-MIDI communication also includes bulk data transfers. When the size of the data allows, you can bulk individual Performance data from your computer, phone or tablet making it convenient to transport your favorites. This communication is handled on Port 1 between the MODX and the “host” device.


When you have selected MIDI IN/OUT = “MIDI”, MODX will typically be playing the role of master keyboard controller connected directly to other synths or modules via standard 5-pin MIDI cables: OUT-to-IN for transmitting. You can also setup to control the MODX from an external MIDI device; connect the OUT of your external controller to the MIDI IN of the MODX.

If you wish, you can connect the MODX via standard MIDI cables to a computer, however, you will need to send and receive messages via an external (MIDI interface) device. Computers do not feature 5-pin DIN connectors in this particular reality timeline.

Most Frequently Asked Question (MIDI): What generates the most questions is how to play the MODX from an external controller that can only transmit on a single MIDI channel. A MODX Performance can occupy 16 Parts, one per MIDI Channel. You can link as many as eight Parts, via what is called KBD CTRL, for simultaneous play. Unlike its workstation predecessors the MODX multi-timbral Mode is not built around a Sequencer. This means that you do not play multiple Parts by changing the Part’s MIDI Receive Channel and transmitting to them via the Track’s MIDI Out Channel; in MODX, your Parts maintain their own discreet channel, and you can transmit to them (when necessary) on separate MIDI Channels. The MODX keyboard can transmit data Out simultaneously on as many as eight channels simultaneously.

If each MODX Part is on a different MIDI channel, 1-16, how can you play those big Multi Part (8) Performances from a single channel Controller? The answer is, “MIDI I/O Mode” = Single or Hybrid. Found in [UTILITY] > “Settings” > “Advanced”, you can select a Single Channel on which to communicate to the MODX Tone Generator. This allows you to play the MODX sounds in the same fashion as if you were playing the MODX keys. “Single” makes the MODX transmit and receive on just one channel. Great when you want to use a Multi Part Performance alone.
“Hybrid” does the same as Single but additionally allows those Parts not linked by KBD CTRL to be used individually on their correspondingly numbered MIDI Channel.

When you successfully connect devices, the top line of the screen will indicate either a 5-pin MIDI jack icon or the familiar three forks of the USB jack icon, in blue. The icon will light bright blue when you have a working connection. All Signal Flow screen diagrams update to show what is happening.


Normally, when playing the MODX, Local Control is set to On. This allows the MODX keyboard and physical controllers to address the synthesizer tone generator – this is referred to as “local control”. When set to Off, the “local” connection is broken, and the key presses and controller messages are only sent Out as coded messages via MIDI, to be received by the DAW MIDI Track, which echoes back (also called “Thru”) the data to the MODX tone generator… which then generates audio. When Local Control is set to Off your musical interactions with the keyboard and its physical controllers are translated into MIDI messages — you are not directly in touch with the tone engine, instead, all communication is via the external DAW and the routing as setup in the MIDI Track.

When working with a computer-based DAW, it is common practice to work with Local Control Off when recording MIDI data – placing the DAW MIDI Track, literally, between the MODX keyboard and the MODX Tone Generator. You will notice that when Local Control is Off, moving a Control or striking a key gives you no response unless you “complete the circuit” through the DAW MIDI Track(s) back to the MODX Tone Generator.

In the illustration you see a diagram of the MODX LOCAL CONTROL OFF scenario: In this example the Keyboard transmits OUT on Channel 1 – this arrives in the DAW MIDI Track. It is the active (currently selected) MIDI Track’s MIDI OUT, Channel (3), which determines what Tone Generator PART is going to recognize the data and generate sound.

It is a fact everything that you do with the MODX keyboard and controllers is sent Out via MIDI as some kind of coded message. You can record and have the MODX faithfully reproduce every musical gesture and nuance. However, we will mention that there are some things that MODX does that can only faithfully be captured as audio.

For example, the A/D INPUT can be used as a modifier/modulation source in the synthesis engine and because that A/D INPUT could be another hardware music synthesizer, or your drummer, or your guitar player… its interaction is “live” in the real time sense. It must be captured fresh (particularly if the source is a non-MIDI controllable source)!

MIDI Messages:

The messages that MODX generates via MIDI are both standard Channel-based Control Change, PB, AT, etc., type messages and global System Exclusive (Parameter Change) messages. You will want to activate or ensure your DAW is set to both Record and Thru Sysex Data. Do not assume that it automatically records it, many DAW (including Cubase) filter Sysex data by default (because it is for advanced users). You want to be able to both record it and play it back. If your DAW cannot or does not handle System Exclusive, you will want to know — if this is the case, you will opt to use Channel based CC (Control Change) numbers instead.

Specifically, the Super Knob position and movement can generate either System Exclusive messages or standard Control Change messages. The significant difference is if you opt to send a standard Control Change (cc) message, it will be merged with the data on MIDI Channel 1. If you select to send System Exclusive, it does not have a specific Channel but can address the MODX from any Track (convention is to see the messages on Track 1, however, many “pro” DAWs will allow you isolate and record this data to its own Track.

Why this is important: having the System Exclusive messages on a separate Track will allow you to have this track active along with any other MIDI Track. Since the Super Knob (being “super”) can address any, and all, of the 16 Parts at any time, if you wish to isolate a track and yet still have it respond to Super Knob movement, you can simply activate (‘solo’) both the Sysex Track and the MIDI Track in question. The System Exclusive messages can ”automate” things within your setup.

Typically, you work with Local Control = OFF; you can activate this Sysex Track so that MIDI message “complete the circuit” back to the Tone Generator. This allows you to activate and deactivate the “automation” of the effected parameters, when desired. If your Super Knob is “frozen” while connected to a DAW. this is the likely cause. You must ensure the “round trip” of these messages – be they Sysex or CC.


Determines if the Arpeggiators are sending MIDI data or whether the direct key presses/controller movements you make are output via MIDI. A DAW Track cannot differentiate between keys pressed by you and notes output by one of the Arpeggiators. To the receiving DAW they are just MIDI events. Logically, it can record one or the other but not both, simultaneously. This is an important thing to understand – there is a difference between you pressing a key and creating a note-on event, and the Arpeggiator creating a note-on event. But unless we sort that out for the DAW it will not appreciate which ones you want to keep.When “Arp MIDI Out” parameter is set to On, this literally shifts the location of the ARPEGGIATOR block so that all key messages for a PART with an assigned ARPEGGIO, must pass through it prior to going to the MIDI OUT. This way it can determine if your actual key presses or the notes generated by the Arp phrase should be sent to the MIDI Out. The Arpeggio block can prevent your key presses from ‘confusing’ the receiving device:


In most instances, you want the receiving device to receive one or the other, not both.


Determines where MODX is looking for tempo commands… “Internal” would be its own clock. It is typical when working with a computer-based DAW that it, the computer, becomes the clocking source (master) and other all devices (slave) external to the computer run in sync with that clock. Cubase, for example, does not slave to standard MIDI clock, it must be made the master MIDI Clock… set MODX MIDI SYNC = “MIDI”. You would use the “A/D In” when using an external device to create an audio derived tempo. The source can be any playback device, a microphone or direct signal. The Auto Beat Sync detection can analyze tempo from audio input sources.


Determines if MODX sends Clock. Defaults to ON. There is one master clock for user functions. It serves as the timing reference for all tempo driven functions. By setting this “On” you can use the MODX clock as a reference for external devices. Please ensure that your external device can slave to standard MIDI clock.


When you want send and/or receive Start/Stop messages to control the MODX’s internal PLAY/REC function. The messages sent here will start and stop hardware sequencer. (The Remote Control commands for computer based DAW control are not yet available from the MODX transport buttons). You can use you computer software to start/stop the MODX Play/Rec function.


Determines how your MIDI Controller Reset protocol defaults when a new Program is recalled. This will change the behavior of your controllers when you initially recall a PERFORMANCE – will the values *reset* to the default as specified in the MIDI Specification when a RESET ALL CONTROLLERS message is sent. If HOLD is selected, the Controller values will remain as they were left last – meaning you inherit the current values. Many players prefer that the Foot Controller controlling overall VOLUME remain “live” at all times, rather than having a pre-determined stored VOLUME setting recalled. This is the function that will determine your instrument’s behavior.


Determines what messages are generated by the Foot Switch, the Super Knob, and the Scene buttons:

  • Foot Switch Assign – this is the one Assignable controller that is globally assigned. The reason is simple, in order to be useful you want the Foot Switch function to apply across all programs. For example, say you want a FS to advance through a set list of Performances, you would create your set list as a “Live Set”; you could then set the FS to “Live Set +” (advance). This now applies to all Performances without having to enter each one and set FS to “advance”.
  • Super Knob CC – when set to “OFF” the Super Knob generates Sysex. When set to a number 1-95 it generates that Control Change message on MIDI Channel 1.
  • Scene CC – when set to “OFF” the Scene buttons generate Sysex. When set to a number 1-95 it generates that Control Change message on MIDI Channel 1.


If you use standard MIDI In and Out cables, you need an external MIDI interface. Those I/O cables equal Port 1.
If you use a USB connection (multi-port connection), the standard 5-pin MIDI jacks work as an external MIDI interface for one external device (and this port will be identified in your DAW as MODX-Port 3), and the MODX engine itself uses MODX-Port 1.

These eight MIDI related settings, described above, are memorized in the three QUICK SETUP Templates: [SHIFT] + [UTILITY].


Think of the above MIDI settings as your “preferences” – and the 3 user definable Quick Setups as your places to store your MODX setup configurations for when you connect to your computer. It is recommended to have at least three configurations for immediate recall:

  • For regular standard MIDI recording
  • For recording Arpeggio generated MIDI data
  • For basic audio recording 

You should decide what you need to add/change from the factory default “MIDI Rec on DAW” template and the “Arp Rec on DAW” both of which require MIDI routing changes, especially concerning the “Super Knob CC and Scene CC” assignments – and update the Quick Setups. Likewise in your DAW, lock in your “preferences” for basic MIDI recording.


  • MIDI I/O = USB
  • ARP MIDI OUT = Off
  • CLOCK OUT = On
  • GLOBAL ASSIGN (FS/SK/SCENE) = Arp Sw, 95, 92


  • MIDI I/O = USB
  • CLOCK OUT = On
  • GLOBAL ASSIGN (FS/SK/SCENE) = Arp Sw, 95, 92

Next time we’ll take a look at some of the more advanced MIDI features of the MODX.

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