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  • Writer's pictureTina Van

How To Program MIDI

MIDI is a great way to expand your creativity when making music. The options are limitless when programming MIDI inside of your DAW software because it can be manipulated in so many ways and can evolve to sound like anything you want it to. This post is all about exploring MIDI and how it can be programmed within your DAW.


THE BEST TOOL FOR PROGRAMMING/PLAYING MIDI

The single best tool when programming MIDI is a MIDI controller which is relatively cheap to purchase. However, if you do not own a MIDI controller, you can still use your computer keyboard and mouse to program MIDI in a DAW, it will just be a little bit more time consuming and not as easy to play out.



Below is a link to my FREE Home Studio Gear Guide if you want information on some budget controllers you can purchase along with other great studio gear on a budget!



A MIDI controller is built like a piano keyboard but does not contain any sounds built in. It is simply a controller that allows you to send MIDI data to your DAW by playing on piano style keys. A simple USB MIDI controller will work wonders by increasing productivity, creativity, and workflow.


When playing MIDI through a controller or with your computer keyboard, the DAW will recognize different information such as the note or notes you are playing when you strike the keys, how hard or soft you play called “velocity”, how long you play a note(s) called “sustain”, and when you stop playing a note called “on or off,” for example.


RECORDING MIDI


A lot of MIDI controllers on the market are plug and play and are connected via USB, meaning that once you plug them in and open your DAW, it will start recognizing the device. So the first thing to do to start recording MIDI is to plug in your MIDI controller to your computer’s USB port.


Next, you will need to create a software instrument track within your DAW. In Logic Pro X you can go to Track > New Software Instrument Track on the top left menu to create a new one.

Screen Capture from Logic Pro X

Once you have that instrument track created, you can select any virtual instrument of your choosing from the stock library or if you purchased virtual instrument plugins you can open them up on this instrument track as well. Don’t worry about choosing the perfect software instrument or sound at first because this can always be changed even after recording.

Time to hit record! Once you choose the virtual instrument of your liking you can hit the record button and start recording.

Screenshot from Logic Pro X

Once you start recording you should see some MIDI “data” coming through and populating your main DAW workspace.


EDITING MIDI


Now that the MIDI is recorded it can be manipulated within the MIDI editor. If you’re using Logic Pro X or Garageband, you can double click on the recorded region or click on the “Scissors” icon on the top left to open the MIDI editor.


MIDI Editor Window (Piano Roll) in Logic Pro X

From the MIDI Editor window is where we can begin to manipulate the MIDI notes. We can change the pitch, the velocity (which is essentially how soft or loud the note(s) will be), the timing, and all sorts of other information about it.


There are different tools that will help you do that. Within Logic Pro/Garageband you have a range of tools that will change the MIDI information either individually or as a whole region.


There are a number of things you can change but for now I will go over three main ones: pitch, velocity, and quantizing.


PITCH


Pitch can be changed using the Pointer tool which should already be selected by default.

The pitch can then be adjusted by moving a single note up or down on the MIDI editor (piano roll) or you can also grab multiple notes by highlighting the ones you want to change and then moving them up or down. The pitch on some instruments, like the drums in this example, determines which part of the instrument the note will play (kick, snare, hi-hat, etc).

MIDI Editor/Piano Roll in Logic Pro X

VELOCITY


Velocity determines how loud or soft a note or group of notes are by a range of colors. In Logic/Garageband, the colors range from purple (being the softest) to red (being the loudest). The range for velocity is from 1-120.

The velocity tool can be used for simple changes in velocity in this case or by using the slider on the bottom left of the MIDI Editor and selecting the notes you want to change.


QUANTIZATION


Another helpful way MIDI can be manipulated is through something called quantization. Let’s say you have a 120bpm as the tempo of your session and you recorded some MIDI using a click track but maybe got off tempo somewhere along the way. Quantizing lets you move those notes to match the tempo of the song so that everything is in time.

MIDI Editor/Piano Roll in Logic Pro X

As you can see in the example above, the MIDI notes are not perfectly on the grid. Quantizing will help line up those notes so they fit better with the tempo of the session.


To quantize, you simply select the region or notes that are off tempo and select one of the options in the drop down menu. You’ll notice that the options listed are by note lengths (1/4, 1/2, 1/8, etc.) These are good starting points and will depend on the information that was played out. For example, if you played singular whole notes then you can use the 1/1 or 1/2 options but if you played out multiple notes at a time like a four on the floor drum beat then going higher up on the scale will probably work best. Try out different options to see what fits your song. Even if the wrong option is selected, it can always be undone or adjusted by switching to a different option. A tip here if you absolutely don’t like or know much music theory, is to start with the 1/16 note option and work your way down if you need to. This option will usually handle most cases.

This is what the MIDI data looks like after quantization was applied. Notice how the notes are perfectly on the grid now. This is what quantizing will do. Sometimes after quantizing, some notes might not be where you want them to be, you can always move those notes individually if need be.


RECAP

  1. A MIDI controller is the best tool for programming MIDI and playing virtual instruments.

  2. After recording the MIDI, it can be manipulated within the MIDI editor of your DAW software.

  3. Three useful options you can change after recording are the pitch, velocity, and timing (using quantization) of MIDI notes.

These are the basics of programming MIDI. All in all, using a MIDI controller and programming MIDI is just like learning an instrument, it takes some time to learn how to do it BUT the good thing is that once you learn the basics, you can program an unlimited amount of virtual instruments and sounds in no time at all! I’d say that is a pretty sweet trade off.


I hope that this information is useful to you and only inspires you to create even more knowing that MIDI is another great tool for making music and expanding your creativity.


Feel free to leave a comment and let me know which MIDI controller you already use for your productions or are maybe thinking of purchasing, I’d love to know! Also, if there are any specific topics or questions you have and want to know more about, let me know as well and I will make sure to make content geared towards those specifics topics.


Thank you for visiting the VivaBeat blog – cheers!


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