Assignment 4: MIDI Sequencing
What we’re trying to do
Make a very short composition using MIDI in Digital Performer. It should:
- last about one minute,
- use at least 4 MIDI tracks, playing sounds in Absynth (and/or other
- include volume and panning automation,
- include some pitch bend and control change messages.
What to turn in
- One Digital Performer project folder, with the assignment number and
your login as part of the folder name. Please make a zip file out of this
folder before submitting in Canvas. (In the Finder, select the folder,
right-click, and choose Compress from the menu.)
- Follow the assignment submission
instructions to submit your assignment using Canvas.
By the time you finish this assignment, you should have a basic grasp of the
following techniques and commands.
- Real-time recording
- Editing notes in the MIDI graphic editing view
- Moving and copying blocks of material in the Track Overview
- Region commands, such as Transpose, Quantize, Humanize, Change Velocity,
and Change Duration
- Creating tempo changes
- Inserting and editing continuous data
Virtual instruments are synthesizers or samplers that run as software inside
the computer, instead of in a keyboard or rackmount form. A host sequencer,
such as Digital Performer, sends MIDI messages to the virtual synthesizer,
and receives audio from it.
Here’s how to set up Absynth, one of the virtual synthesizers
we use, to work with Digital Performer. The other virtual devices, such as
Kontakt, FM8, and Massive, work the same way.
- In Digital Performer, create a virtual instrument track
(Project > Add Track > Instrument Track >
Native Instruments: Absynth).
- Absynth now should appear as a MIDI device (i.e., in
the Output column popup menu for MIDI tracks).
- Create a new MIDI track, and choose Absynth-1 (meaning
channel 1) as the output device.
- Record-enable this MIDI track in order to play Absynth from the PC88.
Then you can record MIDI notes into the track.
- When Absynth plays, the audio comes out of the virtual instrument
track. You can add effects to this track, just as you normally
would for an audio track.
There is a shortcut for this procedure: choose the Project > Add Track
> Instruments with Options menu command. Where the popup menu reads
“Unassigned,” click and choose the virtual instrument you want
from the submenu. This creates the Instrument track and the MIDI track that
drives it, and configures them appropriately, all in one step.
A MIDI sequencer will record what you play quite accurately, within the limits
of its timing resolution. (For DP, by default, this is 480 parts per quarter
note.) But if you don’t arrange for the pulses projected by your music to
align with the graphical display of musical time in the editing views, then you
may find it hard to locate places in the music, and certain techniques, such as
rhythmic quantization, will not work.
For this reason, it’s best to record while listening to a metronome click
(or to a drum pattern that you program in advance).
Here’s how to set up the metronome in DP.
Here’s how to record a track.
- Find the metronome icon in the Control Panel.
- Double-click the metronome icon to see the metronome configuration
- For Type of Click, choose Audio. The metronome sound is
played by the computer and will enter the Mackie mixer on one of the
- If the metronome doesn’t work, check the Audio Click device
in the configuration window, as well as the Accented and
Normal sound choices. None of these menu items should appear in
- Press the Done button.
- Click the metronome button in the Control Panel so that it turns blue.
- To adjust the tempo of the metronome, click on the metronome mark
in the Control Panel, and type a new BPM number.
- Click the record-enable button for the track you want to record.
It turns red.
Until you do this, you won’t be able to hear anything when you play
notes on the keyboard.
- It’s good not to play in the first measure, so as to leave
room for pickup notes and for synthesizer setup messages.
- Set the meter (if other than the default 4/4) by using the
Project & Modify Conductor Track & Change Meter command.
- Press the Record button
in the Control Panel to record.
You should hear the metronome as well as any other tracks you’ve
already recorded. If you’ve already recorded a time-keeping track
(like drums), you may want to silence the metronome by clicking its icon
in the Control Panel.
- If you don’t like what you recorded, either undo your recording
(Edit > Undo) or choose New Take from the
TAKE column menu in the Tracks view. Takes are numbered, and
you can switch between them at any time to decide which take you like.
You might also try using the Drum Editor to enter parts for instruments, such
as drum kits, that map different sounds across the keyboard. See the
instructions on this page
for help getting
started with the Drum Editor.
Read this page
to learn how to manipulate
notes diplayed in the Track Overview.
Cutting and Pasting
Cutting and pasting is often best accomplished in the MIDI graphic editing
view. Advice about these techniques
is available here
Region menu commands
Commands in the Region menu require that you first select some MIDI data
or (depending on the command) a time range.
Some region commands you should investigate:
- Transpose — transpose or harmonize notes chromatically,
diatonically, or by constraining them to the nearest member of a scale.
- Quantize — snap the beginnings of notes to an evenly
spaced rhythmic grid.
- Humanize — randomly vary the start times, velocities,
durations, and pitches of notes.
- Change Velocity — useful for creating crescendos and
diminuendos, among other things. (Use the Smooth mode of
Change Velocity for this purpose.)
Be sure you understand the difference between changing volume using
the Mixing Board and doing it via note velocities. The former can change
volume during a note, but the latter can simulate other changes,
such as brightness, that frequently occur along with varying dynamics on
- Change Duration — set or scale note durations.
- Invert Pitch — invert pitches around an axis of symmetry.
- Reverse Time and Retrograde — different ways of
playing notes backwards.
Note that some region commands have real-time equivalents available in the
Mixing Board as insert effects. You configure these just as you would for
real-time audio effects. The advantage of the real-time MIDI effects over
those available in the Region menu is that it’s easier to adjust them
while playing the sequence, and you can play notes through them from the
keyboard to try them out. The disadvantage is that they apply to the entire
duration of the track (though you can apply a real-time effect to a time
region using the Region > Capture Realtime MIDI Effects
To create a tempo change, use the Project > Modify Conductor
Track > Change Tempo
To hear changes in tempo, you must set the Tempo Control (in
the popup menu to the right of the metronome mark in the Control Panel)
to Conductor Track.
is DP’s way of referring to data that changes
smoothly over time. This includes MIDI controller change messages — like
volume, pan, and modulation — as well as pitch bend and aftertouch. (It
also contains the MIDI switch
controller messages, such as the damper
pedal, even though those are not continuous.) Below are some ways to insert
- You can insert volume and pan changes using Mixing Board automation.
When you record automation for a track, DP inserts the appropriate MIDI
messages into the track. Recording and playing automation works exactly
like audio automation.
There’s just one problem. DP expects you to provide initial
values for these controllers, at the beginning of any tracks that
have changing automation. If you don’t do this, the volume and pan
at the start of playback will be set to default values.
Though it may seem cumbersome, the best way to handle this problem is to
insert an initial controller value — or adjust the start time of
the first automation event — using the MIDI graphic editor, so that
there is at least one controller message prior to the first note.
If you want to hear volume and pan automation, remember to play-enable
automation for the track.
- Record continuous data into a track that already has notes.
You can record pitch bend, modulation wheel (and any other controller
sliders) this way. To keep from erasing the existing notes when
recording, be sure to press the Overdub button first.
- Use the Region > Create Continuous Data command.
- Draw continuous data in the MIDI or Sequence views. To do this, first
choose the pencil tool from the Tool palette, which you can show
with the Studio > Tools command.
For the MIDI view, select the type of continuous data you want to draw
from the pencil menu at the bottom of the view.
Click and drag in the area beneath the piano roll to draw continuous data.
If your continuous data doesn’t seem to play back correctly, your
sequence may not have the right setting for event chasing
chasing” is the term used for what the sequencer does when beginning
playback in the middle of a sequence: it looks (chases) backward to find the
most recent values for each controller used, sends those out, and only then
begins playing. To set event chasing, choose Setup > Set Event
, press the Set All button, and then the OK button.