The Tenori-On's features can be broken down into two camps: sequencing and sounds. Out of the box, the Tenori-On includes 253 built-in sounds ranging from synthesizer blips to drum kits. Using an SD card and included Mac- and PC-compatible software, users can create three of their own sample-based instruments, which are saved onto the device. If you become tired of the Tenori-On's included sounds, you have the option of triggering sounds from external synthesizers and drum machines using the instrument's MIDI output connection.
The Tenori-On's most novel contribution to the world of electronic music composition is its various music sequencing modes. Each of the six different sequencing modes of the Tenori-On take advantage of playful, nontraditional techniques for composing music, including modes for bouncing, stuttering, drawing, and rotating notes around the grid. Sequences from various modes can be layered on top of one another to create complex and shifting compositions.
To create song structures, the Tenori-On allows sequences to be stored in "Blocks" that can be strung together and improvised upon. All sequences, Blocks, and songs can be saved to the device for later use.
Anyone can pick up the Tenori-On and quickly create a melodic sequence of notes without a hint of instruction, but mastering all of the instrument's capabilities takes some practice and a few reads through the product manual. The Tenori-On's curse may be that few users will see past their first novelty experience with the instrument to realize its more sophisticated potential. Like Jimi Hendrix with a guitar, it takes a little creative vision to push the limits of the Tenori-On and find your own unique style. If you're not willing to invest the time to learn how to exploit all of the Tenori-On's features, your compositions will likely all sound like one long Toshio Iwai song.
The Tenori-On runs off an included DC power supply, or six AA batteries. Yamaha doesn't offer an official battery-life figure, but we were able to achieve between 3 and 4 hours of intermittent use.