20 MIDI Tips To Improve Your Tracks Now

MIDI limiting. No hardware needed—add a constant value to MIDI velocities to create limiting (Fig. 1). After limiting, if needed subtract a constant to set the ceiling.

Fig. 1: The 1st measure is the original part, the 2nd  after limiting by adding a constant, the 3rd with a ceiling set to 95% of maximum velocity.

Fig. 1: The 1st measure is the original part, the 2nd  after limiting by adding a constant, the 3rd with a ceiling set to 95% of maximum velocity.

Sometimes DAWs beat MIDI. The MIDI resolution for some Vis may be low enough to create level control “stair-stepping” (a lack of smoothness). A DAW’s level automation won’t do that.

Bass likes space. Real bass players lift their fingers off strings to fret the next note, so don’t butt note-offs up against note-ons—leave some space, so the part breathes more.

MIDI FX for songwriting. Don’t get hung up editing when creating—insert a quantization MIDI effect (Fig. 2) for temporary quantization. Deal with the details later.

Fig. 2: Quantization MIDI FX set to 82% strength.

Fig. 2: Quantization MIDI FX set to 82% strength.

USB beats DIN. Connect a MIDI device to your computer via USB for faster operation than with an interface’s 5-pin DIN connector. But with Windows, beware the MIDI port limit (info:  HYPERLINK “http://tinyurl.com/p5f3qym”http://tinyurl.com/p5f3qym).

Better humanization. Humans don’t really randomize (unless they’re drunk). Quantization strength “splits the difference” between metronomic precision and a part with more feel but shaky timing. Try 80-85% strength.

“Strum” your MIDI notes. If you don’t have something like A|A|S Strum, give chords a guitar vibe by moving the lower notes a little ahead of the beat, and the higher notes a little later.

Try layer cake. Copy a part, transpose it up or down an octave, then layer it with the original notes to thicken a sound.

The MIDI songstarter. It’s easier to change transposition and tempo changes with MIDI than with audio—great for finding the right vocal range and a comfortable tempo.

Go to the library. Make a library of MIDI controller patterns—e.g., rhythmically chopped controller data, filter sweeps, fadeouts, fade-ins, etc.—then drag in as needed.  Because they’re MIDI data, they’ll stretch to match tempo.

Transport your MIDI keyboard. Mapping DAW transport controls to MIDI keys is very convenient when doing overdubs. You don’t really use the top four notes of your 88-note keyboard, right?

The jack of all trades. There’s a footpedal jack on the back of your synthesizer—use it for more expressiveness.

Free the wheel. Vibrato? Bor-ing. Wiggle the pitch wheel with your fingers to create vibrato, which frees the mod wheel to control parameters like sub-octave, tone, morphing between waveforms, etc.

Let it slide. Slide note start times a little ahead or behind the beat to change the “feel” (e.g., sliding a snare slightly later gives a bigger sound; sliding a hi-hat forward drives a song more).

Paint your MIDI. With Cakewalk SONAR, use the MIDI Pattern tool (Fig. 3) to copy and paste entire sections easily.

Fig. 3: The MIDI Pattern tool has “painted” the 1st two measures into six more measures.

Fig. 3: The MIDI Pattern tool has “painted” the 1st two measures into six more measures.

The audio/MIDI bridge. Melodyne can convert audio parts to MIDI pretty reliably. If you can hum a few bars, you really can fake it.

The percussionator. Not an action hero who plays timpani, but an arpeggiator set to trigger a soundset of percussion instruments mapped across the keys.

Jumble-aya. Edit the MIDI file that triggers REX file audio slices to create variations on loops and patterns.

Not all software is the same. Look for “special sauce” features in programs like MIDI plug-ins, de-glitch options, special tools, fit data to time, and other useful processes.

Try this—try thistry this. MIDI echo fell out of favor because synths didn’t have enough voices, but now they do: Create interesting polyrhythmic echoes that would be hard to do with audio.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Craig Anderton is the Executive Vice President, Evangelist at Gibson. Prior to joining Gibson, Anderton was Editor in Chief of Harmony Central. In a long and distinguished career as musician, author, musicologist and innovator, Anderton has played Carnegie Hall, published over two dozen books, and written thousands of articles.

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