Exploring the Yamaha DX7, Part Two: Songs

This is Part Two of Exploring the Yamaha DX7, focusing on the individual songs it was used on. Click here for Part One.

Twin Peaks Theme

For me, the Twin Peaks theme’s soft electric piano sound encapsulates the Yamaha DX7’s classic sound. The patch in the theme is the DX’s most famous sound: the E.Piano 1 preset, which is factory preset 11. The synthesizer player for the shows soundtrack, Kinny Landrum, confirmed in a reddit AMA that “a Yamaha DX-7 and TX-7 were used for all the electric piano sounds.“, with additional synths used including the Roland MKS-70 and D-550 for strings, and a Linn 9000 for drums. The velocity sensitivity of the patch allows it be expressive, similar to a real electric piano. Learn more about the synths of Lynch’s surreal masterpiece by checking out Reverb.com’s videos, The Synth Sounds of Twin Peaks.

Whitney Houston Ballads

The Yamaha DX7’s electric piano sound is heavily associated with 80s ballads, in part because of a slew of Whitney Houston ballads that used the E.Piano 1 patch. There is some debate as to which songs were DX7, modified Fender Rhodes, or layering of the two, but some songs to check out are and I Have NothingGreatest Love of All and Saving All My Love for You. Because of the popularity of the patch in the 80s, virtually every digital synth that came after the DX7 featured some sparkling electric piano preset that emulates this famous sound. Arturia DX7 V has a nice, FX processed patch called RoadsForMe that nails the sound. Use it sparingly!

Dire, Dire DX7

The Yamaha DX7 EP sound even makes an appearance in the Nintendo 64 classic, Super Mario 64 . The soundtrack was composed by Koji Kondo, and the water level theme Dire, Dire Docks sounds like a souped up version of the DX7’s electric piano. The basis of the patch is similar to the E. Piano 1, with some subtle changes to the operators to make it sound even brighter.  There is also chorus, delay and reverb effects to give it that wet sound. The patch appears in the Arturia DX7 V factory presets, called Dire Dreams, although the envelope decay time needs lengthening to sound like the original patch.

Take On Me

The Yamaha DX7 wasn’t just a one-trick-pony, it could also produce fat, complex bass sounds. The FM basses sound more like a bass guitar than the growling analog synth basses produced by the subtractive synths before it. The slap bass sound in a-ha’s Take on Me is the DX7’s 15-Bass 1 patch run through a chorus effect. DX7 V’s onboard Analog Chorus effect sounds great, just be sure to take the width down to preserve the track’s mono power.

The Take on Me lead sound is a Yamaha DX7 doubled with a Roland Juno-60, with the Juno providing the bulk of the sound and DX adding some percussive clarity to the recording. The DX7 patch is 02 Syn-Lead 3, and I used TAL U-NO-LX to recreate the Juno synth part. To learn more about Take on Me‘s troubled recording, check out Sound on Sound’s Classic Tracks article.

Take My Breath Away

Take My Breath Away features another classic DX bass sound, this time the patch 16 Bass 2. The song was written by Italian disco legend Giorgio Moroder, and collaborator Arthur Barrow recorded the synth parts, with the bass track being unmistakably Yamaha DX7. The song actually seems to have influenced Julee Cruise’s Falling from the previously mentioned Twin Peaks. The song was written for the film Top Gun, which also featured another classic DX7 song: Danger Zone, which makes use of the DX7’s slap bass patch.

What's Love Got to Do With It

Tina Turner’s producer seriously loves the Yamaha DX7, at least he did when recording 1984’s What’s Love Got to Do With It. The synth had only been out for a year at that point, but it ended up being used for the flute, electric piano, bass and harmonica tracks. The opening flute sound is the patch 20-Caliope, which uses uneven ratios to achieve its complex sound. The bass guitar is the 15-Bass 1 patch again, and the harmonica part that plays during the pre-chorus sounds like a modified 24-Flute 1 patch. There is also some sparing use of the electric piano patch before the chorus. To read more about the recording, check out the Sound on Sound article.


Queen guitarist Brian May was also a fan of the Yamaha DX7, which he used for its orchestral capabilities, such as the patch 14-SYN-ORCH for the intro of Who Wants to Live Forever. The SYN-ORCH patch uses algorithm 25, which has five operators set to carriers. These carriers are all tuned to different ratios, and this is what gives the patch its epic quality. The intro of One Vision also sounds like it could be the patch 04-STRINGS 1. May also used the DX7 for live performances, and can be seen playing it in their Wembley 1986 live video.

Brian Eno

Brian Eno is one of the rare masters of the Yamaha DX7. Instead of using the DX7 as a preset machine, he actually used it how Yamaha intended people to use it: to develop never before heard sounds. The DX7 quickly became Eno’s main synth, and at one point he owned seven of them. 

U2’s The Joshua Tree was produced by Eno in 1987, and he is specifically credited with DX7 programming. The ambient organ introduction to album opener Where the Streets Have No Name certainly has a DX flavour to it, and Eno would’ve been using it heavily at that time, so it’s a fair guess that that sound is a DX processed with lots of the shimmer reverb that is his and co-producer Daniel Lanois’ signature. For the below video, I used the fantastic ValhallaDSP Valhalla Shimmer software reverb, which emulates the pairs reverb sound.

“Brian has some very good sounds in his machine. He spent about a year just working on sounds. On top of that, we put all the DX7 sounds through a Mesa Boogie, including the sequences.” – Daniel Lanois

Eno loved the DX7 so much he even shared some of his favourite patches with Keyboard Magazine in 1987, in the form of parameter instruction for recreating the patches. The magazine shared four patches, called Kalimba 2, Tamboura, Glide and Violin 3. I’ve recreated the patches in Arturia DX7 V, with some use of the onboard effects to bring the patches to life, and you can download them below. I used edited versions of the Glider patch for the An Ascent cover and the Arturia factory preset Ice Organ for the U2 Where the Streets Have No Name cover.

The reason I love the DX7 so much is because it teaches me so much about sound. Compared to samplers for example, it is a new concept in sound-making. Samplers are fine and dandy, but not conceptually different from a tape recorder or a Mellotron. The DX7, on the other hand, is a cute new way of generating sound.” – Brian Eno

Toro y Moi

Toro y Moi crafted many of the sounds for his 2017 album Boo Boo on a Yamaha DX7s, and said about it in an interview: “I recently got this Yamaha DX7s synth. It’s awesome. I’m using that on everything right now.” You can read more about it in my Reverb.com article, Recreating Toro y Moi’s Synths with Software Instruments, where I look at a few of his songs, and how they can be played in Arturia DX7 V.
Yamaha DX7 Toro Y Moi

Versace on the Floor

The DX7’s electric piano sound made a comeback in 2017 when it was prominently used in the Bruno Mars track Versace on the Floor. The song is an obvious nod to the R&B of the 80s, and the DX7’s use to conjure that era is no accident. 

The synth player on the song was Greg Phillinganes, a prolific session keyboard player who recorded some of the Michael Jackson classics, and he actually used to use a DX7 when playing live shows for MJ! You can hear the velocity sensitivity at work, where softer playing sounds more like a dull Rhodes piano, but harder playing sounds more bell-like. You can also add chorus to bring this sound to life – I used Ableton’s Chorus with the mix set to 25%.

An Ending

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! Every variant of a DX synth will have access to the same classic factory patches, so don’t feel like you need to use the same software plugin that I did to play these patches. Because DX7 patches are digital, they need a little more effects to really come to life, so experiment with chorus, delay and reverb to get whichever synth or plugin to sound as good as possible. If you have any more recommendations for more DX7 songs that aren’t in the playlist, let me know in them comments!

Further Reading

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Comments on Exploring the Yamaha DX7, Part Two: Songs

17 thoughts on “Exploring the Yamaha DX7, Part Two: Songs”

  1. I spent over 15 years focused on programming piano nuanced voices that are good enough for the stage. My voices are full, bold, dense, springy, string to hammer attack like and very expressive to the point that it feels like I’m playing a sort of Roland SA technology piano. I practice rock, salsa and merengue every day on my custom sounds. I believe the DX7 is the greatest vintage synthesizer in history because it can “mimick” just about anything. When pinned against the monster analogs like the CS80, JP8, OBERHEIMS etc. many will put down the DX7 as being too limited when in fact if you factor in the near limitless programmability, available pool of voices, build quality, in tune aspect, reputation, size and weight I believe the DX7 runs circles around the rest COMBINED. None of those boards can emulate a Hammond B3, pipe organ, flute, Electric Piano, horns, pads, strings etc like the DX7 can

    1. Wow, I would love to hear some of those sounds, I thought the piano sounds were some of the weakest but obviously you’ve crack the code. Any pointers you could give would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Amazing article! Some of the best content on the DX7 that I’ve found anywhere. Would you be willing to do a “Deconstructing Eno’s ‘An Ending (Ascent)?” I’m completely fascinated by the sound and would just love to learn the mechanics behind it. I bought a DX7 for the sole purpose of trying to figure out how to program the sound, so far to no avail.
    At some point down the road, I’d also love to learn how to program “Where the Streets Have No Name.”
    Thank you so much for this content. Please keep up the amazing work!

  3. I would LOVE to get a copy of the Where the Streets Have No Name. Sounds killer! I’m working on a project and I’m not having much success trying to create the sound on my Yamaha MOXF8.

  4. Les Miserables! — the show was built on the Dx7 – so many unique sounds beyond E. Piano 1
    Sara – Jefferson Starship
    Walk of Life

  5. Hi!!!! the best article of this on Internet!!!! where can I find the Lead Synth of Aha’s Take on me that you created on the TAL U-NO-LX? can I get it from your pack of presets? thanks a lot!!!!!!

  6. Bonjour à vous. Félicitations pour le travail des sons de B. Eno. Comment se procurer “where the street…” et Ascent Eno SVP?
    Merci pour votre réponse

  7. Bonjour, travail magnifique sur les sons de B. Eno. Vraiment magnifique. Comment puis-je me procurer ou acheter ces différents patchs svp?

  8. Thanks very much. Is there somewhere to download your Where the Streets Have No Name patch for Arturia DX7 V? I would be eternally grateful.

  9. Fantastic walk-through that puts the DX7 into the right context.
    I don’t think there have been another Synth that got more "enhanced" by adding the studio grade effects at the time (which now can be done just as good in any DAW wirth the right plug-in)than the DX7.
    Maybe the difference in the dry/wet sound from the Fairlight compare, which often sat in the most expensive studios in the world with both access to great outboard effects/routings and the best professionals!

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