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How to Record & Edit MIDI and Virtual Instruments

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Read Time: 11 min

Reaper is a powerful, flexible and customisable audio application. You can use Reaper for music creation and production, podcasts, voice-over, sound design, audiobooks, live performance, mixing for video, mastering, and much more.

In our free Reaper course, you’ll learn the basics of Reaper with Dave Bode, and in this lesson Dave will show you how to record and use a virtual instrument and how to edit in Reaper's MIDI editor. 

How to Record & Edit MIDI and Virtual Instruments

What is MIDI?

MIDI is an acronym that stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. According to the Wikipedia article, it is a ‘technical standard that describes a communication protocol, digital interface, and electrical connectors that connect a variety of electronic musical instruments, computers, and related audio devices for playing, editing, and recording music’.

That last part is how I'm going to use MIDI in this lesson.

Adding a Virtual Instrument - Does Reaper Have Virtual Instruments?

I'm going use a MIDI keyboard that is sitting on my desk to input some note information into Reaper, and that will trigger a virtual instrument to give me access to some additional sounds for my song.


To get started, I need to jump into the Preferences and enable my MIDI keyboard. So I'm going to hit Ctrl+P on the keyboard to open up Preferences.

On the left, under Audio, there’s MIDI Devices, and in the MIDI inputs section, I'm going to find my MIDI keyboard, a right-click on it, and choose Enable input, and that's it! Now my MIDI keyboard works in Reaper.

While I'm in Preferences, I'll show you something else on the left side underneath Plug ins and then VST.

add pathsadd pathsadd paths

This is where you can add some additional paths to point Reaper to any locations where you might have additional effects or virtual instruments installed. Click on Edit path list, and then you can choose Add path.

I've added two paths on my sDrive, one for 32-bit plugins and one for 64-bit plugins.


Once you’ve added the path where you’ve installed your effects and instruments, you can come click on Re-scan > Re-scan VST paths for new/modified plugins.

add instrumentadd instrumentadd instrument

Does Reaper Have Virtual Instruments?

Next, come over to the Track Control panel, right-click and choose Insert virtual instrument on new track.


Reaper will then open up the Effects browser with instruments selected on the left and now I have access to all of the virtual instruments on my system. If you're following along and you’re new to Reaper and recording, you probably don't have this many and you might be wondering, does Reaper have virtual instruments? - it does! You’ll definitely have: ReaSamplOmatic 5000, ReaSynDr, and ReaSynth. Those three are Reaper effects, and they're okay. ReaSamplOmatic is probably the most useful.

Instead of showing you how to use those, which I don't think are all that useful in the grand scheme of things, I'm going to show you how to use a simple and free virtual instrument, called MrTramp2.

This is a pretty old virtual instrument, and it only comes in 32-bit VST format, but that's fine, because you can get it for Mac and PC, it sounds really pretty good, and it's free.

mr tramp 2mr tramp 2mr tramp 2

I select that, and then click Add and then it’ll appear over on the left. The new track is set up and this is my instrument interface, shown above. It's very basic, there are five controls, and I'm not even going to mess with any of them.

My track already has record monitoring on, which is necessary if you want to hear the instrument, and if I play on my keyboard, I can hear an electric piano sound.

Recording the Virtual Instrument

recording instrumentrecording instrumentrecording instrument

To record this instrument, I need to bring the Edit cursor back to the beginning by pressing W on the keyboard, turn the metronome on with the icon highlighted in the screenshot above, and then I can press Ctrl+R to start recording, and play some simple chords.

I intentionally played a couple of what you might call ‘spicy’ chords to show you how to edit MIDI in just a minute.

recorded chordsrecorded chordsrecorded chords

You can see as I was recording, all of the notes that I was playing were populating in this MIDI item at the bottom.

Reaper MIDI Record Modes

record optionsrecord optionsrecord options

If you right-click on the Record button, you’ll see you have several options. It’s set to Record: input (audio or MIDI) but below there are some options specific to MIDI tracks.

The first one is Reaper's MIDI overdub. With MIDI overdub, you can add new notes on any channel within existing items, preserving what you already have. As you play new notes, they’re added to the existing notes.

With MIDI replace, from the time you start recording until you stop, existing MIDI notes will be removed, and any new material played on any channel will be recorded in their place.

With MIDI touch-replace, existing MIDI notes will be replaced by any new notes played over them on the same channel as the original material and other existing material will remain as it is. In other words, if I play new notes, those notes will get replaced and any of the notes that I don't play over the top of, won't be replaced.

MIDI latch-replace means existing MIDI material remains unchanged until you strike the first note. All of the old material will then be replaced with notes played on the same channel as the original material until recording has stopped. This is pretty much the same as MIDI replace, except it doesn't start recording whatever you're doing until you play the first note.

I usually leave all of my Reaper MIDI tracks set up as MIDI Overdub.

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    How to Edit Your Reaper MIDI Tracks

    open track in midi editoropen track in midi editoropen track in midi editor

    To get started I've disabled my track for recording and soloed it, and then I can double-click on the MIDI item to pen it up in the Reaper MIDI Editor like you see above.


    Reaper's MIDI Editor is really fantastic. You can do a lot of things, you can quantise, transpose, lock your notes to a specific scale, add notes to whatever you have recorded by just clicking and dragging, you can trim your notes, make them longer or shorter you can adjust the velocity by clicking and dragging near the top of your notes (above).

    velocity 2velocity 2velocity 2

    The other way that you can do that is to click and drag the velocity lane, which doesn't make as much annoying noise. If you push the value all the way up to the top, that is the loudest a MIDI note can be: 127. If you pull it all the way down, it's 1, which is the quietest. You can adjust how loud or soft your notes are like that. You can also delete notes.


    The colouring of the notes indicates their velocity.

    colouring 2colouring 2colouring 2

    You can see that the first chord is all the same velocity, which is why it's all the same colour.


    One of the things you're going to do quite frequently is use quantisation to clean up rhythms. Quantisation is a process where Reaper will move your MIDI notes to the closest grid line. Just like in the Arrange view, the MIDI editor has grid lines which you can set at the bottom.


    Currently, it's set to 16th notes, and you can set the type of 16th notes. Right now it's set to straight, but you can also do triplet, dotted, and swing with the drop-down box. Quantising moves my notes, which are already pretty close to being right on the beat, and get them even closer.


    Pressing Q on the keyboard will bring up the Quantise Events window. As this popped up, all of the notes shifted just a little bit and that's because this is set to quantise all notes. Right now, it's only set to position, but there are a few more options: position and note end, position and note length, note end only, and note length only. I'd like to point out that there are a lot more quantisation settings if you switch over from Use Grid to Manual. When it's set to Use Grid, it's a bit unclear what the difference is between position and note end, and position and note length. It looks like it's doing something, but it's not easy to tell.


    If you switch this over to Manual, position and note length makes a little more sense because there’s a drop-down for length, and you can set a specific note length for all of your notes. You can make them all whole notes or quarter notes, and you'll have more flexibility with the settings. I'm not going to go into all of these settings because I think for this particular example, it's good enough to switch over to Use Grid and set it to Position and Note Length.

    notes alignednotes alignednotes aligned

    All of the notes that I’ve played have been locked into the grid. Depending on how well you played your MIDI notes, this may or may not work perfectly.

    If there were, for example, a bunch of notes that were a little bit too early and you quantise everything, they'll be snapped too early, so sometimes what I’ll do is look at the thing that I’ve played and then do some really quick manual adjustments. Sometimes I’ll select all the notes and just shift some over so that they're closer to being in the neighbourhood of where they need to be and then quantise.

    chord adjustmentchord adjustmentchord adjustment

    One thing I want do is adjust the length of the first three chords because they're a little short. I could have played this with my sustained pedal, but I didn't because I wanted to show you how to clean these up a little bit. Sometimes editing with a sustained pedal can get a little bit tricky, so you can manually adjust the length of your notes by highlighting and dragging, or you can use Event Properties by hitting Ctrl and F2 or going to the View Menu and down to Event Properties.

    event propertiesevent propertiesevent properties

    You can do a bunch of stuff with the event properties, like setting all of your notes to the same length. What I would do here, is type in 0.3.75 which will set them all to three and three-quarter beats long, which is three beats and a dotted eighth note, and then click Apply and that's a really fast way to set a group of chords or notes to the same length,

    Delete, Repeat

    What about some of the ‘spicier’ chords?

    delete repeatdelete repeatdelete repeat

    I have some mistakes in part of my recording, but because this is a repeating pattern, I’ve just deleted those notes, taken the first section and then copied and pasted it.

    need chordsneed chordsneed chords

    I need some chords to go with this longer section here.

    draw in chordsdraw in chordsdraw in chords

    What I can do is draw the notes in manually and then grab them and adjust the velocity back down, or just copy one of the chords that I played earlier, paste it over, and move it to the right spot.

    paste chordspaste chordspaste chords

    I could even take a chord, hold Ctrl, click and drag, duplicate it and then just raise it up to the next chord.

    Make it Natural

    Maybe you feel like after you’ve done all of your edits to your notes and you've quantised everything, that it sounds a little bit robotic or unnatural. You might want to make it sound more human, and there’s a way to do that.


    If you press H on the keyboard, you can bring up the Humanise Notes window, and you can adjust the timing. I'm going to select All Notes and adjust the timing just a little tiny bit.


    The timing bias will shift – when it's set to 0, it's going to adjust positive or negative. You can see some of the notes are ahead of the beat, some of the notes are behind the beat.


    You can also humanise the velocity. Let's say I want to adjust the velocity of this chord above, which is currently all at the same velocity. I can pull the timing back to 0, and then just adjust the velocity, and down at the bottom it will adjust the velocity of the chord to make it sound a little bit more human.

    If that was too much, you could re-quantise everything and maybe just set the position, but instead of using a strength of 100%, maybe knock this back down to 50%

    Now you have an idea of how to do some basic MIDI edits, which is going to be really useful.

    About This Page

    This page was written by Marie Gardiner from the transcript of a course by David Bode. Dave is an expert on video and audio production. Marie is a writer, author, and photographer. The page was edited by Gonzalo Angulo. Gonzalo is an editor, writer and illustrator.

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