The way most keyboard players add vibrato is to turn up the mod wheel, and inject some LFO to change the oscillator pitch periodically. That's fine, but consider guitar players—they add vibrato by moving their fingers on strings, which gives a more human quality than using an LFO. So, try your hand (get it?) at doing vibrato with your fingers inste...
There's more to life than audio echo—like MIDI echo. Although the concept of MIDI echo has been around for years, early virtual instruments often didn't have enough voices to play back new echoes without stealing voices from previous echoes. With today's powerful computers and instruments, this is less of a problem so let's re-visit MIDI echo. It's...
ReWire is a software protocol that allows two (or sometimes more) software applications to work together as one integrated program. For example, suppose you wish your DAW of choice had Propellerhead Reason's roster of way cool virtual instruments, but you don't want to learn a different DAW. No problem: use ReWire with your DAW, and get Reason into...
Sometimes you hit notes you don't want to hit, particularly if you're playing MIDI guitar or some other alternate controller (although this tip is most relevant to MIDI guitar, even with keyboards you may end up brushing against some keys accidentally and creating notes you don't want). Here are some ways to clean up your data stream. Delete pressu...
In the days before click tracks, tempos varied because musicians are humans, not crystal-controlled clocks. However, these changes were far from random. While researching an article for Sweetwater's inSync web publication, I analyzed the tempo changes for several hits from the past that didn't use a click track and noticed a common element of most ...
Sometimes you don't need an external, dedicated MIDI controller—the one on your favorite synth may be all you need, and the synth even has built-in sounds. The keyboard usually feeds data to the synth's MIDI out, but also to its internal sounds (called "local control.") But if your sequencer echoes its interface's MIDI in to the interface's MIDI ou...
Some virtual instrument and effects parameters just cry out for footpedal control—too bad you don't have a pedal that outputs MIDI data…or do you? If you have a keyboard synthesizer or controller, it will probably have an expression pedal jack. The standard MIDI controller for expression is controller #11, and unless your keyboard or controller is ...
You can "humanize" sequences that have been quantized too rigidly by tweaking the start times for individual notes or phrases. Ignore any menu item called "humanization," because this usually just adds randomness—that's not what makes timing human (unless the human in question had too much to drink). Instead, alter note timings manually or use a "s...
When we saw this YouTube video of  Daði Freyr using the Genki wave MIDI controller,  we knew we had to post it right away.  The Wave MIDI controller from Genki has been .... well making waves.   " Wave adds a new dimension to musical creativity... It's a cool tool for all creatives and I can definitely recommend adding...
REX files chop digital audio into "slices," each of which is associated with a MIDI note. Playing a MIDI note triggers its associated slice, which is why REX files can follow tempo variations—slices can trigger at a faster or slower rate as you speed up or slow down a MIDI sequence. However, what really makes this fun is that you can also re-arrang...
Part of making MIDI guitar feel "right" when triggering synths has nothing to do with the guitar and its tracking, but with editing the synth presets so that they're guitar-friendly instead of being optimized with keyboards in mind. Separate channels. The guitar will most likely send data from each string over a different channel. So, use synths in...
Some MIDI instruments, particularly those from Arturia, include an external input for processing audio signals through the synthesizer's filter, VCA, and effects modules. That's cool enough, but of course, what's even cooler is that is that you can then use MIDI to trigger filter and VCA envelopes, turn filter resonance up high and use a keyboard t...
One of the complaints about "MIDI music" is that quantizing everything to the beat sucks the life out of a song by eliminating the kind of timing variations humans make. But that's not the fault of MIDI— the problem is the person doing the quantization. So, here are three ways to make quantization more human-sounding. Quantization strength. Instead...
When you're songwriting, you want nothing to get in the way of your creativity, and you want as fast a workflow as humanly possible—so for those reasons, you're better off starting the songwriting process with MIDI rather than recording audio (if not you're not a keyboard player, even a simple MIDI guitar controller like the Jamstik+ or You Rock gu...
Most people of think of arpeggiation solely in melodic terms, but arpeggiation has additional uses. General MIDI instruments include drum kits where the top notes are percussion sounds, and many virtual instruments include percussion presets. Setting up an arpeggiator in a random mode to trigger various percussive sounds can create a really cool ef...
When audio plug-ins entered the mainstream, MIDI plug-ins took somewhat of a backseat because they weren't the "shiny new toy" in town. However with MIDI's resurgence, companies are paying more attention to MIDI plug-ins. For example Cubase has always had a great roster of MIDI effects, Ableton Live almost gives parity with MIDI and audio plug-ins,...
If you think of a keyboard as playing only notes, four or five octaves may be sufficient. However, many virtual instruments (e.g., FXpansion Geist, Native Instruments Kontakt, EastWest's Play engine, etc.) use MIDI keys not only to play specific notes but also to trigger articulations or variations on a basic sound. If your main USB MIDI controller...
Quantizing MIDI notes to precise rhythmic values on a grid can sound "mechanical." This isn't necessarily a bad thing, particularly with techno, electro, etc. But for musical genres that aren't quite as rigid in terms of tempo, overly tight quantization can sound stiff. Enter groove quantization: instead of quantizing to a grid, you can call up a p...
When it comes to mixing, a lot of engineers will tell you there's nothing quite like a good piece of hardware with real faders. Some synthesizers nclude faders for real-time control over the sound you're playing, however you may be able to program these to control the faders in a recording program's mixer. Several keyboards, such as Nektar's Panora...
One of the main differences between music recorded in the past and today's recordings is the use of click tracks to maintain a constant tempo. We can debate whether this is a good idea or not, but here's an easy-to-do tempo track tweak that can add a lot of impact to a song. Short, subliminal pauses can create a fleeting sensation of tension and an...
If you're a keyboard player using chords to define a chord progression, it's easy enough to have chords hit on, for example, the beginning of a measure. But "strumming" the chord can add interest and a more guitar-like quality (note that the intention here isn't to replicate a program that emulates strummed rhythm guitar parts, but to add interest ...
A macro lets you string together multiple keyboard shortcuts into a single keyboard shortcut. For example, suppose you often quantize to 1/16th notes, with 50% strength, and like to add a swing factor of 52%. You can set up a macro so that after selecting your data, you do a single keyboard command and voilà—all three editing operations occur. Keyb...
Despite rumors to the contrary, Congress did not pass a law saying that mod wheels could be used only to add vibrato. Granted, the periodic vibrato a mod wheel adds is something only a synth can do, but try adding vibrato with the pitch wheel instead—it will sound more human, and more like the vibrato guitarists use. Now that you've freed up your m...
A company asked me to do a video for a reverb plug-in they were introducing, and I wanted to demo it with a variety of instruments. Drums? It's easy to find good acoustic drum loops. Guitar? I play guitar. Vocals? The company provided me with a vocal I could use. But I really wanted an acoustic piano piece, like something from Debussy, to demo the ...