Assignment 4: MIDI Sequencing

What we’re trying to do

Make a very short composition using MIDI in Digital Performer. It should:

What to turn in


By the time you finish this assignment, you should have a basic grasp of the following techniques and commands.

Virtual Instruments

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.

  1. In Digital Performer, create a virtual instrument track (Project > Add Track > Instrument Track > Native Instruments: Absynth).
  2. Absynth now should appear as a MIDI device (i.e., in the Output column popup menu for MIDI tracks).
  3. Create a new MIDI track, and choose Absynth-1 (meaning channel 1) as the output device.
  4. Record-enable this MIDI track in order to play Absynth from the PC88. Then you can record MIDI notes into the track.
  5. 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.

Real-time Recording

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.

  1. Find the metronome icon in the Control Panel.

  2. Double-click the metronome icon to see the metronome configuration window.
  3. For Type of Click, choose Audio. The metronome sound is played by the computer and will enter the Mackie mixer on one of the MOTU channels.
  4. 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 italics.
  5. Press the Done button.
  6. Click the metronome button in the Control Panel so that it turns blue.
  7. To adjust the tempo of the metronome, click on the metronome mark in the Control Panel, and type a new BPM number.

Here’s how to record a track.
  1. 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.
  2. It’s good not to play in the first measure, so as to leave room for pickup notes and for synthesizer setup messages.
  3. Set the meter (if other than the default 4/4) by using the Project & Modify Conductor Track & Change Meter command.
  4. 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.

  5. 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.

Drum Editor

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.

Track Overview

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:

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 command).

Tempo changes

To create a tempo change, use the Project > Modify Conductor Track > Change Tempo command.

NOTE: 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.

Continuous Data

Continuous data 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 continuous data. If your continuous data doesn’t seem to play back correctly, your sequence may not have the right setting for event chasing. “Event 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 Chasing, press the Set All button, and then the OK button.

©2009-2015, John Gibson, Alicyn Warren