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Quantizing MIDI tracks

From: Pro Tools 9 Essential Training

Video: Quantizing MIDI tracks

Quantizing is the process of aligning MIDI notes to a rhythmic grid to get them more in time, or to change the rhythmic feel of a performance. Some notes may be moved forward in time, while others might be moved back, and some notes will be more dramatically affected than others. A quantized grid determines the beat boundaries to which notes are aligned, and we can use a grid with note values from whole notes up to 64th notes, with any tuplet divisions in between. In this session we've got a drumbeat and a bass, and they're both soloed, and those are the two tracks that I'm going to be working with here.

Quantizing MIDI tracks

Quantizing is the process of aligning MIDI notes to a rhythmic grid to get them more in time, or to change the rhythmic feel of a performance. Some notes may be moved forward in time, while others might be moved back, and some notes will be more dramatically affected than others. A quantized grid determines the beat boundaries to which notes are aligned, and we can use a grid with note values from whole notes up to 64th notes, with any tuplet divisions in between. In this session we've got a drumbeat and a bass, and they're both soloed, and those are the two tracks that I'm going to be working with here.

Let's listen to what we have so far. (Drums playing.) The drumbeat was programmed in using the pencil tool to drop these notes in; meanwhile the bass track was actually played on a MIDI keyboard. So the drum track is very much already aligned to the grid, while the bass track is not. Now it's simple enough to quantize a MIDI performance so that each of the notes lines up perfectly with the beat, like this drum track. But we don't really want to do that most times because this will sound mechanical.

Let me zoom in really quick, and you can see that this beat is completely on the grid. Now, I want to actually add some human elements to this, even including some inconsistencies and imperfections. We can see here on the bass track that these notes do not align with the grid perfectly. The second note here is pretty early in comparison to where the kick drum is, so here is the kick drum, and this is the bass note. But before we start quantizing anything, we need to figure out and describe the rhythmic feel that we want to create.

Often feels are expressed as being ahead of the beat for a pushed, or excited, or driving song, or behind the beat for a laid-back or relaxed or even kind of a dragging feel. It also could be right on the beat for a steady song that's really in the pocket. In this particular case, I want the bass to drive the song a little bit, but I don't want it to be too far ahead of the drums. So let's look at the quantize parameters that we can alter. Let's go to Event > Event Operations > Quantize.

First we need to choose what to Quantize. To create a particular rhythmic feel, you should start by choosing to quantize the attack. That's the starting point of the note, or the Note On. Also, you should preserve the note duration. Quantizing the attacks, or the Note On information means that the start point of each note will be moved so that it aligns with the closest rhythmic grid value. Naturally, quantizing release times will move the endpoint, that is the Note Off.

And let's take a look at that for this particular note. I am going to select this note and hit Apply, and it'll quantize the Note On and the Note Off and watch how it changes this note length. It cuts it down so that it starts exactly on the grid and ends exactly on the grid. Usually you don't want this type of quantization, where you quantize both the Note On and the Note Off, because quantizing the note duration can suck the life out of a performance.

Most often you want to just check Note On and Preserve note duration. So let's undo the Note Off, and I'm going to choose Undo on this and get our normal note back. Now we have the original note duration, and it hasn't been quantized yet. So if I hit Apply, it moves the entire note duration and aligns it with the grid. When quantizing, the next thing we need to do is choose the Quantize Grid value. In most cases, you want to choose the smallest subdivision of the beat that you want to quantize to.

In this particular case, you can see that the grid is set at 16th notes, and that's the smallest subdivision off this beat, and we'll keep it as 16th notes. One way to create a triplet sounding effect is to use the Tuplets. And I am going to skip over, because I don't really use this that much, often I'll use Swing to create a triplet effect, and I'll get to swing in just a minute, But first, let's talk about the Offset grid. This parameter enables you to move the overall MIDI performance data ahead or behind the beat by fractions of the beat, or by ticks.

For example, if I want this bass track to be pushing or driving, I can set this to be a negative value, and that will move all the notes up by a certain number of ticks. In this particular case, I've got this one note selected. And if I go in here and hit -20 and hit Enter, you'll see that move ahead in time. This moved just slightly ahead 20 ticks. I'm going to undo that. If we want to create a more laid back feel, we can put it on the back side of the beat, and let's say 30 here, hit Enter, and the note moves back in time.

Again, I'll undo that. Now let's move down to Swing. The Swing parameter actually alters the quantize grid to help you create a triplet-like swing or shuffle feel. The higher the percentage you choose, the more swing is added, and using negative swing percentages can remove swing from a MIDI performance. Often it's useful to apply different swing percentages to different tracks within a session to give the impression that the different tracks were played by different players. Let's apply some of this. First let me show you what 100% swing on this bass now will do.

It actually moves this particular note back in time to add a little bit of swing. I'm going to undo that, and let's apply swing to this entire drum track. So let's solo it, and first I am going to press Play before applying any swing. (Drums playing.) That's what it sounds like before we add swing. Now let's Apply swing. Now, you saw these notes move.

Let's hear how that affects the sound. (Drums playing.) That's much too much swing in my opinion, so let's back this down. We'll go to 36%. That sounds good. Apply. (Audio playing.) That's got a nice feel to it. Let's go back down to the Bass track and talk about some of these other options.

The Include within, Exclude within, and Strength parameters are often collectively called the sensitivity in other sequencers, and they determine which notes are to be quantized. In most performances, the notes between the down beats give the performance its style, and sometimes even its rhythmic feel. You can use these parameters here to quantize the notes closest to the grid and leave the notes in between alone. For example, to quantize the notes that are 10% away from the grid or more, we can choose 20% as the Include within value.

So let's move this down here to 20%. So notes within 10% of the grid will move to the grid with this setting. So if we choose this note and we apply it, it's not actually go to move, because it's not within 10% on either side of this grid line. If we bump this up to say 40% and apply, now it'll actually move this note to the grid.

Let's undo that. Instead, if we choose Exclude within, this works in the opposite way. When Exclude within is selected, attacks and releases are not quantized if located within the specified percentage of the quantize grid. So if we choose 18% here, that means that notes that are within 9% of the quantize grid are not touched. So if we apply this, the note will actually move, because it's outside of that 9%.

I am going to undo that. And if we bump this up to 41% and we hit Apply, then it does not move, because it's within 20% on either side of the grid. Both the Include within and Exclude within parameters are useful, depending on what performance you are quantizing, and often you won't use them together. You'll just use one or the other. Let's talk about Strength now. Like a magnet, the Strength parameter determines how close MIDI notes are pulled to the quantization grid.

100% strength means that every note will be pulled all the way to the closest grid value, while a 50% strength value only draws the notes halfway towards the grid from their current position. Let me show you an example. I am going to zoom in even closer on this note, and we'll watch how the Strength determines how close this gets to the grid. If I hit Apply, the note moves completely right to the start of the grid. I am going to undo that. And if we choose 50% here, you'll see the note just move halfway to the grid.

Personally, I think the Strength parameter can be used on almost every part that was recorded live, and that needs to be quantized, but you don't need to use 100%. Using a smaller percentage will keep more of a human feel. Also, you don't need to use the Strength parameter if you've created a part with the pencil tool or with step input, because those performances are already 100% on the grid. Now let's talk about the Randomize function. It's funny that Randomize is a quantization parameter, because it essentially mucks up the works that all the previous quantization parameters performed on the MIDI performance.

A value of 0% means that there is no randomization. A value of 100% means that some notes can be moved up to 50% away from the quantization grid on either side. Usually, this will sound terrible, because the rhythms will be way off. Although musicians don't often play randomly, small randomized percentage values are useful for adding a human element to an otherwise mechanical-sounding track. If I use it at all, I might add 5% or up to a maximum of 10%. Use this parameter with care.

And as an example, I am going to apply 100% randomization to this note, and you'll see that it actually moves pretty far away from the grid. I find the quantizing a MIDI part require some experimentation. Because each recorded MIDI performance is different, you'll usually have to play with the parameters when the quantize, and each MIDI performance may require different application of quantization. So, for example--I'm going to zoom out for a second-- if you start with the track that's right on the grid, like this drum track here where I entered the notes with the pencil tool, I would add a touch a swing and a little bit of randomization, so that this would sound more human.

So I'd go in here and apply Swing, and maybe up to about 9% or 10% of Randomization. In contrast, if I was working on this bass track, I would probably go in and use the Include within or the Exclude within, I would adjust the Strength, and potentially add some Swing and maybe even some Randomization, if I wanted to, onto this bass track. It might take a little more work to get this tidied up, but you definitely want to keep it sounding human.

So as you can see here, quantizing in Pro Tools is very powerful, and you're just going to have to get in there and try out these parameters. Ultimately, quantization in Pro Tools offers many powerful ways to improve the quality of your MIDI performances.

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This video is part of

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Pro Tools 9 Essential Training

106 video lessons · 11574 viewers

David Franz

Expand all | Collapse all
  1. 13m 13s
    1. Welcome
      1m 16s
    2. Exploring the different versions of Pro Tools
      2m 30s
    3. Optimizing your computer before installing Pro Tools
      4m 6s
    4. Troubleshooting
      2m 18s
    5. Using the exercise files
      3m 3s
  2. 31m 3s
    1. Installing and authorizing Pro Tools
      1m 50s
    2. Connecting your Pro Tools system
      4m 1s
    3. Powering up and powering down
    4. Choosing the Playback Engine and Hardware settings
      4m 13s
    5. Optimizing Pro Tools performance
      5m 52s
    6. Utilizing Automatic Delay Compensation (ADC)
      1m 38s
    7. Setting essential preferences
      2m 35s
    8. Creating a Pro Tools session
      3m 43s
    9. Identifying elements in a session folder
      2m 33s
    10. Creating new tracks
      3m 40s
  3. 42m 9s
    1. Exploring the Edit window
      6m 52s
    2. Exploring the Mix window
      3m 11s
    3. Exploring the Transport and Big Counter windows
      2m 57s
    4. Using the Color palette and window arrangements
      2m 36s
    5. Investigating the menus
      3m 13s
    6. Understanding samples and ticks
      3m 34s
    7. Viewing and manipulating tracks
      4m 31s
    8. Selecting inputs, outputs, and buses
      3m 58s
    9. Selecting an I/O Settings file
      4m 12s
    10. Understanding signal paths and gain stages
      3m 46s
    11. Utilizing keyboard shortcuts and keyboard focus
      3m 19s
  4. 19m 31s
    1. Using DigiBase and the Workspace browser
      4m 22s
    2. Importing audio
      3m 1s
    3. Importing MIDI
      2m 46s
    4. Importing session data
      3m 44s
    5. Importing tracks from a CD
      2m 44s
    6. Importing video
      2m 54s
  5. 1h 0m
    1. Recording audio
      6m 14s
    2. Playing back audio
      10m 0s
    3. Creating a click track
      5m 25s
    4. Overdubbing and using the record modes
      8m 29s
    5. Recording with playlists and Loop Record
      4m 3s
    6. Punch recording and using the monitoring modes
      4m 17s
    7. Dealing with latency and ADC
      4m 58s
    8. Creating a group
      4m 52s
    9. Adding effects while recording
      5m 17s
    10. Creating a headphone (cue) mix
      4m 29s
    11. Assigning disk allocation
      2m 17s
  6. 1h 19m
    1. Understanding nondestructive editing and region types
      3m 3s
    2. Using the Selector and Grabber tools
      3m 29s
    3. Using the Trimmer and Scrubber tools
      8m 16s
    4. Using the Zoomer tool and Zoom presets
      5m 41s
    5. Using the Pencil tool
      2m 46s
    6. Using the Smart tool
      1m 28s
    7. Understanding the Edit modes
      5m 9s
    8. Arranging regions
      5m 33s
    9. Undoing an edit
      2m 8s
    10. Utilizing fades and crossfades
      7m 22s
    11. Building a comp track using playlists
      4m 50s
    12. Locking and muting regions
      2m 52s
    13. Special Edit window buttons
      6m 47s
    14. Creating an audio loop
      4m 13s
    15. Editing a voiceover
      8m 37s
    16. Using Elastic Time and Elastic Pitch
      7m 38s
  7. 19m 27s
    1. Working with region groups
      6m 39s
    2. Using time, tempo, meter, key, and chord
      5m 37s
    3. Creating memory locations
      7m 11s
  8. 30m 47s
    1. Setting up MIDI on a Mac
      4m 7s
    2. Setting up MIDI on a PC
      2m 13s
    3. Setting up MIDI in Pro Tools
      2m 37s
    4. Recording MIDI data
      3m 7s
    5. Recording multiple MIDI tracks with one virtual instrument
      2m 17s
    6. Recording options for MIDI
      5m 44s
    7. Using step input
      4m 14s
    8. Making a drum loop with MIDI Merge
      3m 36s
    9. Composing with virtual instruments
      2m 52s
  9. 54m 25s
    1. Using the edit tools for editing MIDI data
      9m 47s
    2. Editing MIDI data in the MIDI Editor
      8m 17s
    3. Working with the MIDI event list
      2m 13s
    4. Editing MIDI data with event operations
      8m 35s
    5. Quantizing MIDI tracks
      12m 16s
    6. Creating and using groove templates
      5m 35s
    7. Utilizing real-time properties
      3m 49s
    8. Using MIDI Learn
      3m 53s
  10. 17m 44s
    1. Exploring the Score Editor
      5m 56s
    2. Using the Score Editor
      5m 11s
    3. Setting up a score
      4m 48s
    4. Printing and exporting a score
      1m 49s
  11. 25m 45s
    1. Writing and editing automation
      7m 21s
    2. Drawing automation with the Pencil tool
      3m 58s
    3. Editing automation with the Trimmer and Grabber tools
      2m 26s
    4. Cutting, copying, pasting, and clearing automation
      4m 2s
    5. Turning automation on and off
      4m 0s
    6. Automating plug-ins and virtual instruments
      3m 58s
  12. 1h 33m
    1. Setting up a session for mixing
      7m 53s
    2. Setting up an effects loop
      9m 30s
    3. Working with plug-ins
      4m 33s
    4. Utilizing ADC while mixing
      9m 11s
    5. Applying EQ
      9m 25s
    6. Adding compression and limiting
      13m 27s
    7. Adding depth effects: Delay and reverb
      12m 45s
    8. Applying AudioSuite plug-ins
      4m 14s
    9. Bouncing down a mix and making an MP3
      5m 44s
    10. Setting up a session for mastering
      4m 36s
    11. Mastering a session
      7m 35s
    12. Bouncing down master recordings with Dither and Noise Shaping
      4m 52s
  13. 10m 6s
    1. Importing and displaying video files
      2m 42s
    2. Adding music, foley, ADR, and FX
      4m 32s
    3. Bouncing down video and audio together
      2m 52s
  14. 4m 22s
    1. Archiving an entire session
      4m 22s
  15. 52s
    1. Further Recommendations

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