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Audio Production

Practical MIDI

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MIDI surrounds us all, or at least is very present anyways. At best we never really realize what MIDI is doing and we happily go about our audio lives ignorant to its existence. At worst it causes us more headaches, aggravation, and pain then it seems worth. Okay maybe that is a little over dramatic, but not all is lost my friends! MIDI has many practical uses that everyone should know about that can make mixing, composing, etc. easier and more musical.


Velocity

Flying Bullet

Probably the second most basic aspect of MIDI we deal with is a MIDI notes velocity. While it does not necessarily have to involve a tracks volume, in most cases velocity will change the amplitude of a note. However not all shifts in amplitude are equal!

If you simply wanted to turn down the amplitude of a few notes, it probably would be better to use simple automation on the track the audio from your synthesizer is coming in on. However, I would only recommend this approach for static sounding synths, electronic drum samples, etc. Why? Because when you play real instruments softer the tone changes!

How then do we make a synth act like a person playing a live instrument? We change the MIDI velocity instead of automating the track! For sample based instruments such as pianos, strings, natural drum sets, etc. it will be far better to do things this way; assuming there are enough samples for the synth to work with.

For cheaper sample libraries that only have one sample per note, this tactic will not work! In addition, a synth patch that has velocity mapping would better benefit from changing the MIDI velocity than track automation as well.

Lets listen to a few examples of each so you can really hear the difference...

Drum Samples

  • Track Automation
  • Velocity Scaling

Piano Samples

  • Track Automation
  • Velocity Scaling

Synth Patch

Listen for the attack of each note on this example. It should become less and less pronounced using the velocity scaling. However it should be just as punchy at lowers volumes using the automation.

  • Track Automation
  • Velocity Scaling

Fine Pitch

Tuning fork

Did you know that the MIDI specifications includes an option for fine pitch adjustment? Most don't but it can be very helpful for blending in synthesized instruments with real instruments! Why? Because it is rare that real life instruments play exactly in tune and those subtle adjustments are what gives a performance its human element.

How you go about adjusting fine pitch is really a DAW dependant situation. Some you double click a note, others might have it as a more global setting. If you find that you need to adjust an entire MIDI recording up a few cents then you will probably be better off adjusting the pitch of your synth if you have the option. If however you need to adjust just a few notes, then make those changes on the notes themselves.

Also keep a few other things in mind when you are blending real life instruments with synths. If you are using a piano synth such as Ivory as a main ingredient to your song, then tune your real instruments to that synth; same idea would go for string synths, organ synths, etc.

Why? Because you do not want have to retune the synth to a instrument that has not even been recorded yet! Save yourself some work!

Also remember this, if you are using a sample based synth there is probably already a natural tuning to the samples; especially with strings! So if you start doing crazy tunings to a few notes you may through the whole thing off. Subtle adjustments are the key!


Adding Parts

Missing Puzzle

Ever have a recorded song coming along great and you think of the perfect instrument to double a particular line! Only, you do not have the time or money to record that instrument or the know-how to write the part? Thankfully MIDI can once again be your friend!

The idea here is to take a previously recorded piece of audio and generate MIDI notes from it so that we can add additional parts, create sheet music, etc. There are of course a few ways to perform this trick and more than a few plugins that can do the job. No matter which way you do it the concept is the same, you will need to detect pitch, length, and amplitude, and from there create MIDI notes that go off to a synth of some form.

Since most DAWs nowadays have a graphical pitch correction plugin modeled after Melodyne, they usually have a MIDI export option as well. Simply run the audio through the pitch detection, export MIDI, and place the MIDI back in as its own track.

However if you need to replace full on chords, you probably will need a more high end pitch detection plugin such as Melodyne that supports polyphony. If however you are doing drum replacement or augmentation, then you really do not even need to the pitch detection as long as you have individual tracks. What you will need however is better velocity detection so your synth can properly blend the drum samples; Drumagog does all of that wrapped in one.


Conclusion

See MIDI is not all that bad? From more musical dynamic shifts to completely adding new parts, MIDI affords us all kinds of musical creativity. While nothing will ever beat using real instruments (unless you are making electronic music) MIDI allows us to be expressive in a place many believe we cannot be expressive.

Thanks for reading!

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