Piano skills necessary to compose on OP1?


I want to get more into song-writing. I’ve been a musician most of my life, and have some basic piano skills. One of the things I aim to do with the OP1 is to use it as a song composition sketchpad, recording vocals and guitar, and using the OP1 for at least drums, and anything else the song needs.

Should I bother spending time now to improve my skills on a “regular” keyboard? For example, I don’t know keys well enough to play chord triads inversions in keys besides C. Or should I just focus my limited time on learning to do that on the OP1?

I am not trying to get performance chops with keyboards.

Any thoughts?


  • Joe

I’m in similar situation…know basic triads and guitar, but not fast or always sure where to find chords on the OP. I printed out a small label with letters A-G, cut them,and put the little stickers next to the appropriate keys on the OP-Z. So I’m just leaning as I go. The looping and jamming nature of the OP is giving me lots of practice, one key at a time. Whatever song im working on, i find compatible chords, try inversions, and find a scale i like.

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Scales, IMHO, are super important. Once you understand your scales, things like chord inversions will be much more intuitive. You can practice scales on the OP-1. Learn the pattern of whole and half steps in C major, then apply that pattern to scales starting on other notes. Learning this may be tedious, but there is no mystery to it. I wouldn’t worry about using correct pianist fingerings. The point is more to understand scales. You don’t need to have fast technique to enter notes into the sequencer, but it does help to understand what you’re putting into the sequencer.

Good luck!


You can get some coloured dot stickers and stick them on the keyboard to help remember your scales, I usually have 2 sets of them on :slight_smile:

First, thanks for all the helpful replies!

A bit more about what I know about piano and “correct” fingerings. I spent a few months teaching myself to learn the first steps in left and right hand technique in climbing the C scale. And I learned the F and G scales, and the triads, 7th chords, and a couple of inversions.

WoO-1, just to make sure I’m tracking with you, it sounds like I should go ahead and spend some “lesson” time using the OP1 to get proficient at a few more scales. And not worry about traditional technique.

As for scales, lots of lesson books teach a technique and then command everyone to practice it in all twelve keys. But in my time playing bass with praise bands, most of the time the keys used are C, G, F, A, E, and their relative minor keys.

BTW, one thing I did for a song is record on the OP1 a few chords in inversions that sounded good to me. IIRC, the voicings kept the root notes closer together. Then I copied from the tape to the drum sampler. Not the keyboard sampler! And then I chopped so that the chords I wanted mapped to the roots on the drum sampler. FWIW, I thought it worked really well, and I want to try it again.

But my next song is in the key of F#minor or D major. Black keys, oh no. So that why I started this thread.

Any other tips?


  • Joe

pfig, sounds like a good idea.

Absolutely upskill your piano skills.

Not just for the OP-1 but for life.

Piano skills are the single most important musical foundation for composition. There is a reason why every serious music education institution forces non-pianists to take piano lessons.

Also, piano is awesome.

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the most exciting and vibrant music tends to come from those who are young with rudimentary skills and understanding of musical theory. example are early garage rock, punk and 80s house music.

While the most boring and dull music tends to be made by very competent and knowledgeable professional musicians. for example, prog rock from mike oldfield, genesis and yes.

ok, so maybe this claim doesn’t hold up in all cases. there are plenty of counter arguments. and i have even heard that some people actually like prog rock.

if you want to make mike oldfield stuff, then yeah…get your music theory sorted out. if you’re more on the punk, early house and early hip hop side of things and want to make music for this weekend for people to lose their shit to on the dancefloor, then you can go a long way without knowing too much about music theory and making chords. but you’ll need a good ear to make sure all the elements work together.
and if you don’t have a good ear, then knowing some chords and how to resovle a chord progression will make things so, so much easier.
at the very least, buy a book of chords and scales.

me, i have a shit ear and little knowledge of chords, so i bought a korbot…now i’m all herbie hancock meets stevie wonder

If the conditions are favorable, I suggest to have a piano. It’s an awesome instrument and doesn’t need electricity :wink:

Now about scales, I would start with learning one (maybe Cm, that is more convenient on little keyboards) and the chords you can play from it. The rest will come in due time.

I am making a similar move.

I think the most helpful thing is just understanding how chords are built and then applying that to the keyboard. I read somewhere someone saying that when they play guitar they think in shapes when the play piano they think in intervals.

So a chord is build up with major and minor thirds. So a Maj 7 chords is
1 major third, followed by 1 minor third, followed by 1 major third. On guitar this isn’t very helpful, but on keyboard that means:

Pick your root note, skip three keys and play the 4th (major 3rd) now skip two keys and play the third (minor third) Now skip three more keys and play the 4th (major 3rd).

So if you start on C, (skip three keys: C sharp, D, D sharp), gets you to E (skip two key: F Sharp, F) gets you to G (skip 3 keys: G Sharp, A, A sharp) Gets you to B. CEGB = CMaj7

You can start anywhere on the keyboard and build chords like this and you start getting used to what a group of 3 keys looks like and what a pair of keys looks like. So you can ‘fake’ any chord just by picking your starting note and counting up in groups of 2 / 3

The patterns for chords:

Major 3rd = Play a key, skip three keys, play the 4th key
Minor 3rd = Play a key, skip two keys, play the 3rd key

Major 7 ( Maj 3rd, Min 3rd, Maj 3rd)
Minor 7 (Minor 3rd, Major 3rd, Minor 3rd)
Dominant 7 (Minor, Major, Minor, Minor)

Combine this with the fact that you can use Endless to either save chords (Play all the notes at once on a single step) or Arpegios (Play each of the intervals on a single step) you can then just move the root note around you can ‘fake’ playing almost any chord you are ever going to use in root position.


There is a notion, out there, that knowing something about music theory is only useful for recreating already-created music, and conversely, that knowing very little about music theory allows us unrestrained creativity. Part of this notion is that these two different methods are mutually exclusive. Choose one or the other. Are you going to be a soul-less technician or a true artist who speaks directly from the heart?

I’ve thought the same for a long time…
Thing is, whatever the knowledge, the more you know the more you feel humbled by what you don’t. Which can be paralyzing.

Whatever the art is, you can have a lot of knowledge, it’s the practicing that does it all, and let you digest what you learned and appropriate the fragments that resonates with your skills and taste.

With practicing you can rediscover ancient theories, which is a good way to learn.
With theory, you can open new ways when you’re stuck, which gives new food for practicing.

Choosing ignorance to be true to your (he)art is in my very humble opinion a mistake.

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Before I bought my Op-1, I read a lot of testimonials about it. A recurring theme involved screwing around with the dials, not really knowing what one was doing, but nevertheless stumbling upon a cool new sound or mix or whatever. The display and controls for some of the OP-1’s synthesizers are sometimes bizarre and imho, not helpful toward understand what they are doing. I wonder if TE purposely focused their interface towards users lacking formal music instruction (seriously, where is the demo button?). Though I frequently end up with unexpected sounds when using the OP-1, I find it more helpful to start with an idea, then see if it is reproduce-able on the OP-1.

On a side note, I think I’ve found the appropriate finger stroke for playing fast passages on the OP-1 keyboard. The finger is brought down rapidly from a position over (not on) the key. The finger hits the key and pushes it down, but the finger rebounds before it and the key hit hard against the key bed. This method strikes me as healthier on the hands and on the OP-1 keyboard. I am trying to avoid unnecessarily hard key presses. The technique for sustained sounds, of course, is different. And the technique for entering notes into the endless sequencer, well, is a real piece of work. I put my LH ring finger on the shift, my LH pinkie on the forward arrow, and I use the remaining 8 fingers to play on the keyboard. Somewhat awkward, but doable.

Ah yes the old “Knowing music theory makes you less creative” argument. It’s BS used by lazy people to rationalise avoiding it.

Music is a language. Theory is having a broad vocabulary and knowing how to construct a sentence. However, having a large vocabulary doesn’t necessarily a poet make. Also, one does not need a large vocabulary to construct a profound statement.

Being verbose (or extremely wordy) doesn’t necessarily make a statement more clear or more profound. Sometimes a penny word is worth more than a $5 word in a sentence and too many $5 words can render a sentence unintelligible.

The cat sat on the mat VS The feline ensconced atop the pallet.

However, an articulate person who knows how to construct sentences and choose nuanced words and phrases has more control over the meaning of their statement and increases the likelihood of being understood and persuasive.

Blah blah blah you get the idea.

The short version is, yes there are exceptions to the rule that you need music theory to be a great musician or create something musical… however, almost overwhelmingly it is the case that the best creators in any musical field have a functional music theory knowledge under their belt in the same way a poet is great at the language they write poetry in.

If you know theory you can find the sounds you are after faster and will construct stuff that works without flailing around with rudderless searching for the right sound.


Doesn’t seem like we’ll solve the raw-creativity-and-talent vs. learned-knowledge-and-technique debate completely here!

Regarding the real chops needed for the OP1, one reality check to bring up… doesn’t your technique change quite a bit anyway to play on the OP1? For the people who’ve played piano for years, you can’t be using the complete two-handed techniques anyway.

My guess is you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater to adapt to the OP1, but there is a lot of adaption with small keys and a small keyboard. Even if you have all the theory in your head.


  • Joe

WoO-1, thanks for some of the finer point here on Op-1 mechanics.

  • Joe

It is possible to have considerable music theory knowledge and to still produce crappy, boring sounding tracks on the OP-1. That pretty much sums up me and the OP-1 after three weeks of use. The notes are correct, the rhythms are correct, the harmonies are correct. Yawn.

What I think is most challenging, regarding the OP-1, is making decisions about individual parts/tracks…so that the parts/tracks, when brought together, create a balanced texture. This means that an arrangement needs to be though of as the product of its parts, rather than the sum of its parts. The product of the parts is so much more complicated that the sum of the parts; complicated to the point where it may, realistically, require experimentation and reliance on aesthetic sense, rather than raw, musical knowledge, to achieve the balanced texture. Which is why, I’m guessing, some of the best material produced on the OP-1 is by musicians with relatively little formal training.

That doesn’t excuse us from learning music theory, however.

I think about harmony/theory/voicing/etc a lot when I make music.
I’ve definitely noticed I think a little differently with the OP-1 vs a standard keyboard.

So for me, though a lot carries between piano and OP-1, the shapes of the tools influences what I make with them. (I wouldn’t say I “play” piano, but I definitely “use” it as a tool for composing)

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I think it’s important to know be able to play those chords pretty accurately on the Op-1, since it’s all very live and there is no way to “sequence” them perfectly. I made this sheet for myself to color in the hand placements of the chords for a specific scale, so I can basically practice and learn. Hope this helps you.



Nice looking graphics. One suggestion that might make them more useful to others: Use enharmonics for the “black” keys. For example, D# can also be listed as Eb. This may seem like a nit-picky request, but when spelling scales, it is incorrect to have two adjacent scale degrees share the same letter name. Also, the key of A# has 10 sharps (resulting in 3 double-sharped notes) in the key signature; you are better-off spelling the Bb scale, which only has 2 flats. If adding flats makes the diagrams too crowded, you could create different diagrams for different keys; some of the diagrams could have sharps listed, some could have flats.