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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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