Quick links

Using SoundFonts in Harmony Assistant

Enrique Feás

This article explains how to use MIDI SoundFonts as an alternative to the instrument sounds given by the Myriad digital soundbase (GMsebase.rsr). The article refers to SBLive! series soundcards in Windows, but can be of use for any SoundFont-compatible soundcard in any operating system


Although Harmony Assistant is initially designed to work in digital output mode with its own digital soundbase (GMsebase), this software is also a good MIDI sequencer. When you select the MIDI output for your score instead of the digital output, the realism of the sound will thus be given by the quality of both the MIDI synthesizer and the General MIDI (GM) soundset included in the soundcard.

Several soundcards (among which the Creative SoundBlaster Live! or Audigy series, the Emu Systems Audio Production Studio APS, the Terratec AWS EWS series, or the Creamware Power Sampler) give the possibility of replacing the default standard Midi soundset with personalized sounds called SoundFonts. Soundfonts are to music what TrueType fonts are to text documents: the same music looks very different depending on the quality of the sounds you are using.

What are SoundFonts?

SoundFonts are merely wave-form samples (.wav files) that have been treated and transformed by a SoundFont editor into MIDI-controllable instruments which can be loaded onto your soundcard and used by your sequencer. Several wave samples (one for each pitch or group of pitches) form an instrument. One or more instruments are grouped into banks. Each instrument in a bank has an ID number which is called program number or patch number. SoundFont Banks (files with .sf2 extension) can contain definitions of from 1 to 128 instruments and 1 drum set. 

Preparing Harmony Assistant to work with MIDI

In Harmony Assistant you work by default with the digital output mode. This means that the instruments of your score sound according to the built-in wave synthesizer and the sounds given by the GMsebase included in the GMDigit subfolder of the Harmony folder in your computer.

If you want to use alternative SoundFonts for your instruments in Harmony Assistant you should follow these steps:

  • Configure the Midi output in Harmony
  • Select Midi output mode for every single staff in your score

Configure the Midi output in Harmony

Hardware.gif (79091 bytes)

1. Select Configuration>Hardware configuration
2. Select Midi 1 output: 'A: SBLive! MIDI Synth'
3. Select Midi 2 output: 'B: SBLive! MIDI Synth'

Do not select the "Creative S/W Synth", because this is the built-in basic synthesizer of the Creative card, but not the synthesizer that uses the Emu chip that allows SoundFont handling. If you have the "Creative S/W Synth" as the only possible choice in the listbox, then your soundcard is not capable of handling soundfonts (although you have a basic MIDI synth).

Select Midi output mode for every single staff in your score

If you want an instrument to be played with a SoundFont, its staff has to be put in MIDI output. If you want some staves with MIDI and others with digital output, you will have to deal with synchronization issues. Here we will just relate all staves to the MIDI 1 output.

Relate.gif (35713 bytes)

1. Select Instruments>Relate output device
2. Press the "All" button to highlight all the instruments of your score
3. Select the "MIDI 1 output" in the right box
4. Press the ">>Relate>>" button so all instruments use the 'Midi 1 output'

Configuring SoundFonts in your SBLive!

1. Open 'Audio HQ' and select 'SoundFont'
2. In the 'Options' tab change your 'SoundFont Cache' to set the amount of system RAM you want to use for your SoundFonts. The SBLive! allows you to use up to half of your system RAM for the 'SoundFont Cache': (for instance, up to 64MB SoundFont Cache for a 128MB computer)

ConfBank.gif (53977 bytes)

3. In the 'Configure Bank' tab load the soundbanks you are going to use in your compositions. There will probably be a default installed bank called '4MBGM/GS Bank' or '8MBGSFX E-mu'. It will be loaded in the 'Bank 000' and preceded by the word 'Synth'. This means that this is the default soundbank. The soundbank loaded in Bank 000 is normally a standard General MIDI compatible SoundFont soundbank, that is, a bank that includes 128 instruments and a drum set in a particular order. It is made of SoundFonts, and will sound through the A/B MIDI Synth of the soundcard. If you want to load additional SoundFonts, you can use all the available remaining banks ranging from 'Bank 001' to 'Bank 127'. Click on an empty bank and 'Load' your sf2. The allocated memory will increase with each sf2 you load, so load only the SoundFonts you intend to use. If you need to free up 'SoundFont Cache' clear unused banks, or load a smaller GM bank.

As said before, Soundbanks are but groups of SoundFonts. The SoundFont Manager lets you not only load additional soundbanks but also configure specific instruments of one of the pre-loaded banks.
¿Why would you want to configure an instrument? Let's imagine you have a wonderful soundfont called NylonGuitar.sf2 that you want to use for your guitar staves. You have two choices:
   a) Load your NylonGuitar.sf2 in the Bank 001
   b) Replace the Nylon Guitar instrument of the default MIDI soundbank (instrument 024 in the Bank 000) with your brand-new SoundFont (this requires that the NylonGuitar.sf2 contains only one instrument)
   In the first case, you will have now two guitar sounds: the one given by the default soundbank (Bank 000, Program 24) and your additional soundfont (loaded in, for instance, Bank 001, program 024). If you want to use NylonGuitar.sf2 you will have to tell Harmony to select the Bank 001.
   In the second case, the default Nylon Guitar sound will be from now on your NylonGuitar.sf2. All the staffs that include a Nylon guitar will be using the new sound.

In general you should tend to first load your SoundFonts in free upper banks. Try them, and when you find one that you will never leave, replace the default instrument.

Selecting SoundFonts in Harmony Assistant

1. Before using your soundfont in Harmony, get sure you have noted its localisation: Bank number (for instance, Bank 001) and instrument number (for instance, 024, also called program number or patch number).

2. Select the staff where you want to use your soundfont and edit the instrument (Staff>Edit related instrument, or from the button EditButt.gif (902 bytes) of the left toobar). Press on 'Standard sound' in order to switch to 'User-defined sound' and edit the MIDI parameters (if you get a wave graphic instead of MIDI parameters, it is because you have not selected the MIDI 1 output).

Guitar.gif (76181 bytes)

3. In the box 'Bank' put the number of the Bank where you have loaded your soundfont bank (for instance, 1)
4. In the box 'Program' put the instrument number of the instrument you want to use of this bank
5. Apply the panning, reverb and chorus effects, if required. Many soundfonts do not require these effects ,but if you want to use them you should previously create an Environmental Audio set for MIDI sequencing.

Further questions

  • Can I use SoundFonts with digital output? Yes and no. SoundFonts are designed to respond to MIDI commands. In digital output mode you can only import the original wave samples that the SoundFont is made of (and you can only import up to 12 samples). To do this, set a User-defined sound digital output mode, clear the existing wave and import the SoundFont sound samples from the Action menu. These are raw sounds, and do not account for all the possibilities of MIDI SoundFonts
  • Can I make my own SoundFonts? Yes, you can. It can be a bit cumbersome, but if you like your real instrument you can sample its sounds and define your own SoundFont. You will need a SoundFont Editor software like Vienna SoundFont Studio 2.3, freely distributed in the Soundblaster.com site.
  • Where can I learn more on MIDI and SoundFonts? Complete tutorials on MIDI are available at Harmony Central or in the JGlatt page. As for Soundfonts, a list of available tutorials is given at Soundfont.com.
Home > Resources > Experience Sharing > Using SoundFonts

Top of page
Legal information Last update:  (c) Myriad