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Quantizing MIDI tracks


Pro Tools 10 Essential Training

with David Franz

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 quantize 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. They're both soloed, and those are the two tracks that I'm going to be working with here.
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  1. 13m 44s
    1. Welcome
      1m 20s
    2. Exploring the different versions of Pro Tools
      3m 22s
    3. Optimizing your computer before installing Pro Tools
      4m 18s
    4. Troubleshooting
      2m 19s
    5. Using the exercise files
      2m 25s
  2. 36m 56s
    1. Installing and authorizing Pro Tools
      1m 49s
    2. Connecting your Pro Tools system
      4m 31s
    3. Powering up and powering down
    4. Choosing the Playback Engine and Hardware settings
      5m 55s
    5. Optimizing Pro Tools' performance
      6m 26s
    6. Utilizing Automatic Delay Compensation (ADC)
      3m 36s
    7. Setting essential preferences
      2m 35s
    8. Creating a Pro Tools session
      4m 31s
    9. Identifying elements in a session folder
      2m 37s
    10. Creating new tracks
      3m 58s
  3. 42m 6s
    1. Exploring the Edit window
      6m 44s
    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 35s
    5. Investigating the menus
      3m 22s
    6. Understanding samples and ticks
      3m 34s
    7. Viewing and manipulating tracks
      4m 31s
    8. Selecting inputs, outputs, and busses
      3m 58s
    9. Selecting an I/O settings file
      4m 13s
    10. Understanding signal paths and gain stages
      3m 46s
    11. Utilizing keyboard shortcuts and Keyboard Focus
      3m 15s
  4. 21m 11s
    1. Using DigiBase and the Workspace browser
      4m 14s
    2. Importing audio
      3m 0s
    3. Importing MIDI
      2m 48s
    4. Importing session data
      5m 34s
    5. Importing tracks from a CD
      2m 51s
    6. Importing video
      2m 44s
  5. 56m 46s
    1. Recording audio
      6m 13s
    2. Playing back audio and Edit window scrolling
      4m 52s
    3. Creating a click track
      5m 24s
    4. Overdubbing and using the record modes
      8m 52s
    5. Recording with playlists and Loop Record
      4m 6s
    6. Punch recording and using the monitoring modes
      4m 14s
    7. Dealing with latency and ADC
      4m 58s
    8. Creating a group
      6m 5s
    9. Adding effects while recording
      5m 16s
    10. Creating a headphone (cue) mix
      4m 29s
    11. Assigning disk allocation
      2m 17s
  6. 1h 28m
    1. Understanding nondestructive editing and region types
      3m 19s
    2. Using the Selector and Grabber tools
      3m 37s
    3. Using the Trim and Scrubber tools
      7m 5s
    4. Using the Zoomer tool and zoom presets
      5m 51s
    5. Using the Pencil tool
      3m 10s
    6. Using the Smart tool
      1m 27s
    7. Understanding the Edit modes
      5m 51s
    8. Arranging clips
      6m 40s
    9. Undoing an edit
      2m 44s
    10. Utilizing fades and crossfades
      9m 41s
    11. Building a comp track using playlists
      5m 17s
    12. Locking and muting clips
      2m 48s
    13. Special Edit window buttons
      7m 15s
    14. Creating an audio loop
      5m 19s
    15. Editing a voiceover
      9m 41s
    16. Using Elastic Time and Elastic Pitch
      9m 12s
  7. 17m 21s
    1. Working with clip groups
      4m 33s
    2. Using time, tempo, meter, key, and chord
      5m 37s
    3. Creating memory locations
      7m 11s
  8. 33m 11s
    1. Setting up MIDI on a Mac
      4m 17s
    2. Setting up MIDI on a PC
      2m 14s
    3. Setting up MIDI in Pro Tools
      2m 44s
    4. Recording MIDI data
      3m 14s
    5. Recording multiple MIDI tracks with one virtual instrument
      2m 17s
    6. Recording options for MIDI
      6m 21s
    7. Using Step Input
      4m 36s
    8. Making a drum loop with MIDI Merge
      3m 36s
    9. Composing with virtual instruments
      3m 52s
  9. 57m 1s
    1. Using the edit tools for editing MIDI data
      10m 0s
    2. Editing MIDI data in the MIDI Editor
      7m 31s
    3. Working with the MIDI Event List
      2m 12s
    4. Editing MIDI data with Event Operations
      8m 33s
    5. Quantizing MIDI tracks
      12m 16s
    6. Creating and using Groove Templates
      5m 35s
    7. Utilizing real-time properties
      5m 50s
    8. Using MIDI Learn
      5m 4s
  10. 17m 31s
    1. Exploring the Score Editor
      5m 49s
    2. Using the Score Editor
      5m 5s
    3. Setting up a score
      4m 48s
    4. Printing and exporting a score
      1m 49s
  11. 25m 40s
    1. Writing and editing automation
      6m 40s
    2. Drawing automation with the Pencil tool
      4m 3s
    3. Editing automation with the Trim and Grabber tools
      2m 58s
    4. Cutting, copying, pasting, and clearing automation
      4m 12s
    5. Turning automation on and off
      3m 52s
    6. Automating plug-ins and virtual instruments
      3m 55s
  12. 1h 49m
    1. Setting up a session for mixing
      8m 50s
    2. Setting up an effects loop
      9m 30s
    3. Working with plug-ins
      4m 33s
    4. Utilizing ADC while mixing
      9m 8s
    5. Applying EQ
      12m 44s
    6. Adding compression and limiting
      14m 25s
    7. Using delay effects
      6m 52s
    8. Applying AudioSuite plug-ins
      6m 24s
    9. Adding reverb to your mix
      6m 50s
    10. Bouncing down a mix
      4m 15s
    11. Making an MP3 for iTunes and SoundCloud
      2m 53s
    12. Setting up a session for mastering
      4m 58s
    13. Mastering a session
      10m 37s
    14. Bouncing down master recordings with Dither and Noise Shaping
      7m 24s
  13. 9m 59s
    1. Importing and displaying video files
      2m 38s
    2. Adding music, foley, ADR, and FX
      4m 29s
    3. Bouncing down video and audio together
      2m 52s
  14. 4m 0s
    1. Archiving an entire session
      4m 0s
  15. 58s
    1. Further recommendations

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Watch the Online Video Course Pro Tools 10 Essential Training
8h 54m Beginner Jan 20, 2012

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Pro Tools 10 Essential Training with musician and producer David Franz illuminates the process of recording, editing, mixing, and mastering in Avid Pro Tools, the industry-standard software for music and postproduction. The course covers recording live audio and adding effects on the fly, creating music with virtual instruments and plug-ins, editing for time and pitch manipulation, creating a musical score, and mixing and mastering a track.

Topics include:
  • Exploring the Pro Tools interface
  • Selecting inputs, outputs, and busses
  • Understanding signal paths and gain stages
  • Setting up Pro Tools hardware and software properly
  • Importing audio from multiple sources
  • Recording and editing audio and MIDI
  • Adjusting time, tempo, meter, key, and chord in arrangements
  • Mixing and mastering a session
  • Setting up an effects loop
  • Importing and displaying video
  • Adding music, Foley, ADR, and FX
  • Archiving a session
Audio + Music
Pro Tools
David Franz

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 quantize 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. 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. (Music 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 nodes 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's 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 end point, that is, the Note Off, and let's take a look at that for this particular note. I'm going to select this note and hit Apply and it will 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 of 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'm going to skip over this, because I don't really use this that much. Often I'll use Swing to create a triplet affect 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 the note 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 note 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'm going to press play before applying any swing. (Music Playing) That's what it sounds like before we add Swing. Now let's Apply Swing. And you saw these notes move. Let's hear how that affects the sound.

(Music 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. (Music 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 going to move, because it's not within 10% on either side of this gridline. 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'm 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 can example. I'm 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'm 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 work 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'm going to apply 100% randomization to this note, and you'll see that it actually moves pretty far away from the grid.

I find that quantizing a MIDI part requires some experimentation. Because each recorded MIDI performance is different, you'll usually have to play with the parameters when you 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 a 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 of 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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