Quantizing is a mainstay of modern music production. It can give your music a tighter, more cohesive sound, but it can also suck the life out your music if it's abused or just used incorrectly. In this tutorial, we're going to look at how to use quantization in a more musical way — let's claim back the groove!
Guilty as charged!
How many of you reading this play a MIDI part into your sequencer and immediately quantize it? Be honest now! I've been guilty of this too, mainly cause my keyboard skills aren't what they could be. This—in my opinion—is a really bad habit to get into and usually leads to pretty sterile sounding programming. In this tutorial we're going to look at some ways to take the rigid, machine like qualities out of quantization and get some of the groove back into our programming using Groove Templates and some subtler quantizing techniques. First let's go over some basics.
What is Quantizing?
Quantizing precisely aligns MIDI notes or waveform transients to a 'grid' based on subdivision values of a beat. To you and me that means it puts stuff in time! The grid is defined by the quantize value you set — for example 8th notes, 16th notes etc. It will totally depend on the musical content your recording. Below is an animation of some chords that are out of time being quantized to align with a 16th note grid. Pretty basic stuff!
But do we always think about why we are quantizing our audio and MIDI or is it just a reflex action. We live in a world where a lot of popular music is sterilized by the pursuit of perfection. It also hides a multitude of sins when it actually comes to talent. I'm not only talking about timing issues here folks, pitch quantization is probably the worst offender here.
Now I'm not saying this is the case for everyone, but as we do most of our recording in the digital domain nowadays the temptation is always there to just whack a part in and conform it to a grid without thinking twice, even with live instruments. I've seen a producer take a perfectly great live drum track and Beat Detective the hell out of it in Pro Tools just because... well, it was there!
Now certainly there are musical genres that use quantization as part of their sound—many Dance and Electronica genres are not 'live' by nature as they take their roots from hardware sequencer technology. In fact, one piece of hardware technology has almost defined the feel of urban music.
The MPC range from Akai gained popular appeal partly due to the fact it has some really unique quantize settings that really do have a sound of their own. Its tight punchy feel has made the MPC the first choice sequencer for hip-hip and R'n'B producers all over the world.
Choosing the Right Quantize Setting
Choosing your quantize setting will depend on the source material. Material containing only 16th notes will probably benefit from a 16th note setting (stating the obvious!). Logic comes with a basic set of straight and swing quantizes and some rather more obscure ones (9 tuplets anyone?). These will suit most jobs that need strict quantization.
The Quantize list is found in the Region Parameters in the Inspector, the toolbar of the Piano Roll window and can also be accessed by clicking and holding on a note using the Quantize Tool (8) in the Piano Roll. Useful if you only need to fix one note.
Seeing as quantizing is all about grid alignment, if you're not sure what setting is best you can change the grid subdivisions inside the Transport bar just below the Time Signature value by dragging it up and down until you find a good match.
But what if your musical content has a combination of straight and triplet values? There are three settings at the top marked 8/12, 16/12 and 16/24. The first is a combination of straight 8th note and 8th note triplets. The last is a mix of straight 16th notes and 16th note triplets.
The part below contains 8th notes, 8th note triplets and 16th notes. I've used 16/12 as my quantize based on the fact that 16 is the highest straight division and 12 is the highest triplet division (8th note triplets). The reason I did this is that otherwise Logic would perceive the triplets to be out of time 16th notes and snap them to the 16th note grid.
You also have to watch out for the fact that if your performance is too out of time Logic will snap your notes to what it thinks is the right or closest division. This is based on the rule that if the note is over half way between divisions it will snap to the closest one.
I'd always consider rerecording the part and getting a tighter performance—that way you probably won't even need to quantize it!
One other thing to note is that you can always go back to the original performance at any time by selecting the region and turning the quantize setting to Off(3840). The 3840 is the maximum amount of subdivisions or 'Ticks' in a bar. Logic retains all the original timing information of the region until you decide to make the quantization permanent.
You can do this by selecting the region and going to MIDI > Region Parameters > Apply Quantize Settings Destructively or pressing Ctrl+Q. This is permanent and you only get one chance to go back—which is straight after you do it!
Using Swing Quantize
Swing crops up in a wide spectrum of musical genres from jazz to house to rock and everywhere in between.
Swing is the process of pushing (to the right) the smallest subdivision of a beat towards its next equivalent triplet value. Now this is a bit of an odd thing to explain, but then swing is an odd concept to define. This is because swing is not an exact musical value. It's up to the musician to decide how far the note is pushed. This is why swing is never notated in written music, only referred to as 'swung'. Let me explain: the grey area in the diagram below is the distance between the 16th note divisions (the E and A) and the 'let' of the 16th note triplets ( trip-e-let ), its next equivalent triplet value.
And a grey area is exactly what this is! The swung notes can exist anywhere in this grey area until they hit the 'let' of the triplet, thus making them a triplet value! This is why Swing quantize settings always come in percentage values. How far are the notes pushed? I don't know, how much swing do you need!
Obviously it's a lot easier to 'hear' what swing does to a beat. You could say it makes things BOUNCE! Here are two loops. The first is straight 16ths.
Here's the same beat 'swung' using Logics Swing 16D setting.
Of course Logic will apply the same swing offset for all the A's and E's. To get a a feel that's a bit more like a human would play it, try adding different swing values to different notes so everything isn't so repetitive.
Here's the effect of swing on a typical 909 pattern. The first one is straight followed by 75 percent swing. It's quite interesting to think that just the added swing could separate one House genre from another even though both could use the same beat!
Using Logic's 'Extended Region Parameters' for Quantizing
If we're not making music that relies on strict quantization how can we strike a happy medium between correcting our mistakes while retaining some (if not all) of the feel or 'Groove' of a performance? Logic has a great set of features for this called 'Extended Region Parameters'.
The Extended Region Parameters box can be opened by control clicking on the Region Parameters section of the Inspector or going to View and ticking Extended Region Parameters.
Upon doing so you'll be presented with six new quantize parameters. These are designed to give you more precise control over how much and where your quantization will occur. Before you can use these settings you first have to choose a base quantize value from the quantize list. All the changes you make in the Extended Parameters will be based on this value. The new settings are:
- Q-Swing - Adds swing in percentage increments.
- Q-Strength - How much the base quantize value effects all notes. Lower values reflect the original timing or performance of the region. Similar to Cubase's 'Iterative' Quantize.
- Q-Range - This is a 'smart' quantize feature. You can set a range that determines what gets quantized. At negative values anything outside the 'range' value will be quantized to the base quantize value in relation to the Q-Strength amount. Very handy for just catching noticeable timing errors.
- Q-Flam - Any notes that reside on the same beat division are offset. Positive values shift the highest note in the stack to the right. Negative values shift the lowest in the stack to the right.
- Q-Velocity - If you're using a 'Groove Template' (see below), positive values push your note velocities towards the values defined in the template.
- Q-Length - Same as above but with note length.
Extended Region Parameters Example 1
In this first example I've played in a beat live using a Trigger Finger. Some of it isn't bad but there are some real clangers in there too. I kind of want to retain most of the feel but at the same time pull the bad bits in time.
Here's what it sounds like.
I've used the following settings to quantize the beat. Notice how I've used the Q-Range to take care of the really out of time beats while leaving most other beats untouched. The Q-Strength is at 70 percent leaving some of the original feel. There's also some flam for realism.
Here's an animation showing how the beats have been quantized.
Here's the new quantized beat. It's not perfect but that's kind of the point. It still has some life in it.
This kind of technique will work well on all kinds of performance-related MIDI. A piano take would be a good example. Say you got a good take with some great ideas in and you just wanted to tighten it up a bit. Q-Strength will really help you to retail the human element to your performance instead of it being rigidly in time.
Extended Region Parameters Example 2
Here's a cool thing you can do with the flam setting. Record in some chords using a Piano or Nylon Guitar sample. I've used a Harp. Here's what I did:
Setting the Q-Flam to a high setting like the one below will start to give you some nice almost 'strummed' arpeggios.
Here's the Harp with a Q-Flam setting of 95. Below you can see the effect on the MIDI.
For me, the Extended Region Parameters are a great way quantize in Logic. It's non-destructive and you can make changes live on the fly as Logic is playing. Always remember to use your ears and not your eyes to make judgements on timing. In fact I'd recommend closing the Piano Roll window so you don't get drawn in.
It should also be noted that these parameters affect the whole 'Region' and can't be accessed inside the Piano Roll window to effect individual notes.
The Birth of REX!
In 1994 Propellerheads released ReCycle. This software was revolutionary in that it allowed you to slice a beat and alter the tempo while retaining the original pitch. The REX file that contained the slice information was accompanied by a MIDI file that contained the timing information for playback in a sequencer. Not only could you play back your favorite sample and rearrange the slices but you could also build your own beats using totally different sounds with exactly the same feel as the original loop!
The timing information in these MIDI files was a gold mine for beat programmers everywhere. No longer constrained to a grid or painstakingly aligning MIDI notes to match a sample with manually sliced loops (that was boring!) drum programming had found a new lease on life.
Another product that makes this process really easy is iZotopes pHATmatik Pro. Check it out!
Logics EXS24 has the ability to import REX files and export their associated MIDI files to the arrange window. Mo Volans has written a brilliant article on how to do this which you can see here. Once you have the MIDI file in Logic you can now make a groove template from it.
There'll be many times when you like the sound of a loop but wished it had a different feel, one that suited your track better. Groove templates are the perfect solution to this problem!
Basically groove templates allow you to impose the timing or groove of one MIDI file onto another. But what is groove?
Most musicians don't play metronomically in time, and this is a good thing (well, most of the time!). Beats are pushed and pulled, choruses speed up, it all adds to the excitement of live music. In the hands of great musicians these collective timing anomalies could be described as 'groove'. That's a bit of a scientific and dry way of putting it but it's true.
Most people equate 'groove' with funk but it's in no way exclusive to the genre. Any band or musician that makes you nod your head or want to get up and 'shake your thang' has some groove going on! Anyone who has heard early ZZ Top will know these guys know a thing or two about sitting on a groove.
James Brown's music was all about groove. The band would find a riff—each player with his own part—and just go round and round, keeping the groove going. Strangely the band were sometimes so tightly in the groove they actually sounded like they'd sampled themselves! Maybe this is why his records were such a great source for sampling because that 'loop' ethos was already in the music?
When affordable samplers arrived in the mid 80s it allowed producers to capture these live grooves and loop them to create drum tracks or whole tunes. Now you could sequence a real performance capturing that human element or 'feel'. The trick was finding the tracks that contained solo drum breaks.
Two of the most influential and widely used sampled drum breaks in history are the Amen Break played by Gregory Coleman of The Winstons and Clyde Stubblefields break from James Browns 'The Funky Drummer'. Despite featuring on literally thousands of tracks neither musician ever received a penny.
So what makes these breaks so special and influential? Is it the sound of them or the feel and dynamics of them. I'd say it's a combination of all these elements but as we're talking about timing let's see what rhythmic characteristics these loops have.
The Funky Drummer - Clyde Stubblefield
The Funky Drummer was recorded in 1969 and has become one of the most sampled beats in history. It's almost hard to imagine hip-hop without this break. Check out this list of tracks that use the sample. And that's just for starters.
You can hear the loop here.
So what's going on inside this beat? Below are the timing elements of the first bar of the break compared with straight 16th notes. As you can see the first half almost seems to be slowing down, the second half has a tighter 16th note feel. Does it matter that these beats don't align to a grid? Hell no! That's what makes it work!
What you're seeing below is the groove template of the Funky Drummer break — the exact timing information of this classic break just waiting to be applied to your own beats.
On a side note I had the pleasure of playing guitar on Clyde's first solo album Revenge of the Funky Drummer and touring with him as well. As a young metal player this was my introduction ( more of a crash course!) into funk. The lessons I learned from Clyde about groove and feel changed the way I played. Play for the song. Get a part, sit on it, get into it and have a good time! He also had some great stories.
The Amen Break - Gregory Coleman
The Amen Break is taken from The Winstons 1969 b-side track 'Amen, Brother'. This break has not only been featured in countless hip-hop classics (NWA's Straight Outta Compton being one ) but pretty much became the sound of drum and bass. It's hard to imagine just how many tracks this break has featured on.
You can hear the loop here.
Again many of the hits are behind the beat. There's really no way or point to analyze why these timing fluctuations add groove to the beat. Yeah, theoretically it's all wrong, but who cares! It's the imperfections that make it human, and that's what we're after. Slowed down, this break has a great swing feel.
Nate Harrison made a great short film about this break and it's influence. See it here.
Stealing the Grooves
Both these templates were extracted using iZotopes pHATmatik Pro. If you have ReCycle, even better. I've gathered a list of apps and plugins that can extract templates at the end of the article.
Once the beat was sliced the MIDI file was exported to hard disk and dragged into Logic. I've included both these templates in the Play Pack folder plus six other famous (and not so famous) breaks. You can drag one in for the next step if you like.
So let's make a Groove template.
Note: Be aware that using the actual samples in the links above in your tracks and releasing them without clearance is a serious copyright infringement and totally illegal! So don't! Using the groove template isn't, so do!
Making Groove Templates from MIDI Files in Logic
Making a groove template from a MIDI file couldn't be easier in Logic. Simply select the MIDI region you want to capture in the Arrange window.
Go to Options > Groove Templates and select Make Groove Template.
That's it. You should now see your groove template in the Quantize list. Select the MIDI region you want to quantize and select the groove template as your quantize.
To remove the template from the quantize list repeat the process but choose 'Remove Groove Template from List' instead.
Here I've taken the 'Extended Region Parameters' example loop and rejigged it so it's a copy of Clyde's 'Funky Drummer' break. The sounds aren't perfect but quantized to the groove template I extracted from the sample the feel is identical. When I lined the two up there was no flamming at all.
The above technique will be the same in pretty much every audio app for applying templates. One exception is Propellerheads Reason software. Version 4 has seen a change in how MIDI clips are quantized. Instead of the above method which used to be available, groove quantize is now only available using the ReGroove module.
This is a whole other tutorial all by itself. ReGroove is termed as a "Groove Mixer". Instead of destructively editing the MIDI Clip the timing is modified by feeding it through the 'Groove Template' in the ReGroove module non-destructively. The feature list of parameters for each groove is very similar in concept to the 'Extended Sequence Parameters' in Logic that we discussed earlier. I find this feature in Reason a bit limiting as its 'Track Lane' and not 'Clip' specific, although it's a still a very powerful and fun feature.
Going back to Logic, there is one other option in the Groove Templates list called 'Import DNA Groove Templates'. DNA Groove Templates are a technology developed by Ernest Cholakis in 1992 that never really took off even though it was adopted by every major sequencer package at the time. The only company actively producing DNA libraries at this time is Numerical Sound owned by Cholakis. There are 8 libraries available, three of which boast DNA Grooves from some of the heaviest hitters in the groove world, Clyde Stubblefield, Bernard Purdie and Sly Dunbar.
Making Groove Templates from Audio Files in Logic
Now, I'm probably the worst drummer in history but like most musicians I can tap out a mean groove on a table. Let's look at a technique that allows the frustrated drummers in all of us to get some cool grooves going by taking advantage of the table tapping method! Now I'm doing this in Logic but the technique will work in a number of audio applications and plugins (See 'Beat Slicing Applications' below).
First off record yourself tapping out a rhythm on a hard surface. It can be any rhythm you like. In this case I've tapped in a 16th note groove with some swing. It may take a while to find your groove but keep going till you think you've got a couple of bars with a good feel. The most important thing is not getting too caught up in it being metronomic, just something that feels good to you.
I'd also recommend not doing it to a click as we're after a natural feel. Once you have something recorded in, roughly edit the bars you want to keep and throw the rest away. When cutting the audio remember to keep an extra beat at the end of the section you want. This way we can find an exact loop point.
Now we're going to trim the loop. You may want to make a safety copy of your audio file at this point as we're going to do some destructive editing. I copied mine by choosing the audio file in the Audio Bin and selecting 'Back Up File(s)' from the File menu. This is just in case the loop you use doesn't work out and you want to return to the original file.
Double click on the region you just cut to bring up the 'Sample Edit' window. Now go to Functions > Trim or Shift+T to trim the audio.
Now we can fine-tune our edit using the start and end point locators which are found at either end of the blue strip at the bottom in the Sample Edit window. Zoom right in to find the Start point. Try to get as close to the transient as possible. Logic will snap to the zero crossing of the waveform so don't worry if you're just clipping the transient.
Do the the same with the end point just before that extra beat at the end.
You should now have a perfect loop. Test it by clicking the loop button hitting 'Play' in the sample Edit window. The only thing to do now is normalize the audio, as this will help in the next stage. You can do this by pressing Shift+N. Here's my loop.
Now drag your loop to Bar 1. Alternatively you can select the Region and press Option+E to bring up the 'Event Float' window. Double click on the bar numbers and type in 1. Press Enter and the region will magically move to bar 1. The Event Float window is really handy for all sorts of things like this. It's basically the Event List in a floating window.
Now we're going to get the tempo of our loop. My loop is two bars long so I'm going to set the Locators at 2 bars starting at bar 1.
With the region selected press Command+T. This creates a global tempo based on the loop length using the function 'Adjust Tempo using Region Length and Locators' which can also be found in main file menu under Options > Tempo.
You'll be asked if you want to create a Global tempo from the dialogue box. Click 'Globally'. Your tempo should change to some weird number — in my case it's 88.7024 BPM. The locators should match up with your loop length. The reason we need to find a tempo is that we're going to need to reference a grid unit in the next steps. It will also be handy to see if our MIDI file is accurate.
So now for the fun part. Select the region and go to the Sample Edit window and choose 'Audio to MIDI Groove Template' from the Factory menu or press Shift+M.
'Audio to MIDI Groove Template' allows you to extract timing information from the transients in an audio file. There are quite a few options here and the manual does a pretty good job at explaining them so I won't just repeat them here. I'll show my settings and how I got my extraction to work though.
First up are a load of handy presets aimed at different types of audio information. I selected 'Drum Mid' which is aimed at mid-tempo drum files. These give you a pretty good starting point. After tweaking Granulation (which determines the length of the transients you'd like to capture), Attack Range (how fast the transients are) and Velocity Threshold (which sets the dynamic range of your search) I was confident I'd got all the hit points covered.
Here you can see how Logic finds the transients based on your settings. The hits that the Template will contain can be seen in the 'Results' row at the bottom. A good template should match the 'Audio' row at the top.
The 'Basis Quantize' dropdown allows you to set a grid based on one of Logic's quantize settings. If you fail to capture a transient Logic will insert one for you based on that grid. As I caught all mine I left it at Off(3840), had I not then '16C Swing' might have been a good grid for me here as the loop has some swing in it. This is why we went to the trouble of finding the tempo of our loop so we could match it to a grid just in case.
Now that we have our template we can either apply it to existing MIDI regions that are selected in the Arrange window by pressing 'TRY', or exporting it to the currently selected Track by pressing 'USE'. This is the one we want. Upon doing so a MIDI region will be generated for you on the selected track and the 'Groove Template' will be added to the Quantize list automatically.
Let's have a look inside. Zooming in on the first bar you can see all the timing and dynamics have been captured as MIDI information.
So let's use this groove template on some drums. I've played in a beat using Superior Drummer 2 and quantized it to straight 16ths. Here's what it sounds like.
Now I'll apply my groove template that I've renamed "Toby's Groove" (any changes to the region name will be reflected in the Quantize list). Let's see how it sounds.
Not bad. I think I prefer the first bar. I could copy and paste the original MIDI template and make another groove template out of the first bar if I wanted, but this is fine for now.
So now let's hear the groove in a musical situation. Here's an 8 bar funk thing using our table-tapping groove template. This is all MIDI, apart from the guitars.
Did I mention this technique is insanely useful for live drum replacement and sound reinforcement? Watch this space!
Template Velocity Trick
Earlier on in the Extended Region Parameters section I mentioned the Q-Velocity setting. One thing that Audio to MIDI Groove Template does that ReCycle and other beat slicing apps don't do is capture velocity information. This allows you impose the velocity characteristics of your audio file onto your MIDI part to create more natural sounding dynamics. This works really well with samples that contain lots of velocity layers.
Here I played in a 1 bar conga part using Battery 3 and copied and merged (=) it to make a two bar loop. The performance was awful timing wise so I quantized it to 16th notes and hit Control+Q to make it permanent so I never had to relive it again!
Then I applied the template we just made at a Q-Strength of 30 percent to put some feel back in to it. The velocities are as I played them. Here's the result.
Here's the template from our table tapping. As you can see it has a lot more dynamic variation in it.
By pushing the the Q-Velocity percentage up the regions velocities will start to take on the characteristics of the template. A value of 70 percent worked well for me.
Here's the result.
This is a very quick and easy way to vary the dynamics of a part to suit certain sections of a track without having to go in and manipulate all the individual notes by hand, which would be very tiresome.
Exporting and Saving Groove Templates
Once you have your groove template you'll probably want to access it in other projects at a later date. The best way to do this is to first 'Export' the region as a MIDI file to your hard drive. Select the Region and go to File > Export > Selection As MIDI File or press Option+Command+E.
Creating a folder called 'Grooves' to hold your archive of these files is a good idea. These MIDI files can then be dragged into any project from the Finder.
An even better idea is to save your groove templates to the Quantize List in your 'Default' template.
Now one thing about groove templates is that the MIDI file you extract them from has to remain in the project Arrange window if you want to keep it in the list. Deleting the source region and pressing Save will delete it from the list although any part you've quantized will retain the timing information.
The best way to keep grooves in the list of your default template is to first create a New Track and assign it to 'No Output'.
Drag any Exported MIDI files you want into the arrangement via the Finder.
Select all the Regions and choose 'Make Groove Template'. You should now see them in the Quantize list.
With the Regions selected go to Region > Folder > Pack Folder or press Command+F.
Once your folder is packed press the 'Hide' button which should turn green. Arm the 'Hide' button on the folder track.
You can go into the folder by double clicking it. Once inside you can duplicate the track by pressing Option+Command+S to accommodate more MIDI files at a later date, or you can drag them to the same track. It's up to you. It's important to have them set to No Output so they don't inadvertently trigger any other MIDI based tracks.
To come out of the folder just double click on some empty space.
Back in the Arrange window click the 'Hide' button again to actually hide the folder track. If tracks are hidden the button will turn orange.
That's it. All you have to do is save the project as a template by going to File > Save as Template. Whenever you create a 'New Project' it will appear in the folder called 'My Templates'.
You can keep adding MIDI files to your 'Default' template as you see fit.
Good Sources of Groove Templates
Of course you can extract a groove from any audio file using the above techniques. It's up to your taste as to what you deem worthy to be a great groove. There are masses of great breakbeats begging for some groove thievery. You don't just have to use drums for the bases of a template. A well played acoustic guitar track should contain enough good transient information to make a template.
There are also hundreds of pre-existing sample libraries just waiting to be turned into groove templates. Pretty much every library now comes in REX format making the process very easy. Not to mention virtual instruments like Toontracks EZdrummer (and its EZX expansion packs) and FXpansion - BFD that ship with hundreds of MIDI file performances.
Arguably the best virtual instrument when it comes to REX file and Groove Template management is Spectrasonics' Stylus RMX. This plugin just rocks when it comes to groove manipulation. With the addition of Time Designer in version 1.7 it's pretty much the go to plugin for any serious programmer. Not only does it ship with thousands of grooves but it can import REX files / libraries making it infinitely expandable. Just choose a groove you like (it doesn't even matter if you don't like the sound of it!) and drag the MIDI file into your arrangement and turn it into a Groove Template and apply it to your own beats.
Time Designer ships with some great new Groove Templates including a great set of MPC swing quantizes for all you hip-hop and R'n'B fans. If you don't have Stylus here's a great set of MPC Groove Templates from Logic Cafe. Try adding these to your 'Default' template.
Groove Quantizing Tips
If you choose a template and the result is a bit over the top, try using the Q-Strength to reign it in and get a subtler effect.
Watch your Sample Transients
Different sounds have different transient times. If your beat sounds like it is lagging, it could be you need to trim your samples to get a faster response time especially at higher tempos. The problems of this effect may become more prominent with templates that already sit behind the beat. Using this technique can really tighten up your beats.
Watch the Tempo Difference
Try to select a template from a similar tempo. A template with a lot of character at 100 BPM can sound a bit strange at 70 BPM due to the slower tempo really emphasizing the timing fluctuations because there's more space between notes. This is not a strict rule but it can happen. It's usually less of a problem going to higher tempos.
Use Destructive Quantize to Merge Grooves
Quantize your Region to a template. Press Control+Q to make the change permanent. Then add another template and adjust the strength using the Q-Strength parameter to merge the grooves. You might just come up with a whole new feel!
Try Different Sources for Templates
Templates can come from many different sources. Staccato orchestral pieces, motors, guitar riffs. Virtually anything with a rhythmic pulse can work. Experiment!
Avoid 'Humanize' Functions
One thing that I'd avoid when quantizing step sequenced or 'drawn' MIDI parts is the concept of using the computer to humanize a performance. This is an oxymoron if I ever heard one! Logic Pro has this feature inside the Transform window as a preset called 'Humanize' but I'd stay away from this if you can. All it does is randomize note position, velocity and length. The results are usually rubbish!
Groove Template Applications
Here is a list of applications and plugins that will allow you to slice and extract the timing information from audio files as a MIDI file.
- Logic Pro - Obviously!
- Cubase 5 - 'Groove Agent ONE' in Cubase 5 allows you to slice loops and extract the MIDI file to a track.
- Recycle 2.1 - The Godfather of groove extraction!
- Phatmatik Pro - Great beat slicing plugin with MIDI file export from iZotope.
- Kontakt 3 - Kontakt 3's Beat Mode lets you slice beats with MIDI file export.
- Beat Detective - Digidesign's powerhouse Pro Tools feature for all things groove related.
If you've got any more suggestions here then let me know!
I hope this has been fun and maybe made you think twice about locking everything to a grid. The effects of the quantizing used in these techniques can be subtle but make all the difference to the end result. If you're working mainly in electronic music some of this may not be for you. If you're going for a live feel then these techniques should come in pretty handy.
Don't forget to check out the play pack folder when you're done. Until next time, Happy Grooving!