Editing MIDI

   By Lisa F   Categories: Audio SoftwareGeneral

Basic Tools and Manual Editing

Gone are the days of looking at numbers or long lists of MIDI data when editing, and now we use easy-to-understand visual interfaces. It is simple to adjust the start and end of notes with a simple click and drag. It is just as easy to transpose notes. There are tools that help in these procedures and some common practices that will help you make changes that are both accurate and musical.

Survey of Typical Tools

MIDI is represented in three ways: rectangles on a grid, notation in a score, and as numbers in a list. In this section we are looking at MIDI as rectangles and in regions as used in piano rolls and MIDI sequencers. The use of “boxes” to visualize MIDI data is simple to understand with the start and end points the left and right edges of the box. The vertical placement of the note determines the pitch. Velocity is also typically shown and edited as a part of the note with color or other visual indicator. All other MIDI data are controlled and edited separately.

The basic tools include a pencil tool to “draw” notes, a mover tool to adjust the placement of the notes, a trim tool to adjust the length of the notes, and a velocity tool to adjust the velocity level of the notes. All of the other controller data is edited and manipulated with a variety of tools that we’ll cover later in this section. Basic editing is typically intuitive but getting the results you want can be more difficult.

The first rule of editing MIDI is to use a tempo-based project. Everything relies on utilizing the session grid appropriately. Vertical lines represent musical bars and beats and these provide both a visual and “physical” reference for your editing needs. Learn how to set the snap-to-grid function in your DAW so that you can edit with the grid guiding your moves.

Figure 5.2: MIDI Session Grid in Pro Tools

Typical Editing Workflow

After your MIDI part is recorded then the editing can begin. If the recording has room for improvement that you feel can be obtained through additional recording attempts, then it is recommended that you rerecord because it is much easier to obtain a natural performance through a solid performance. Editing can provide excellent results but requires additional time and effort.

Listen through what you have and make notes about the sections that need editing. You can either dig in and fi x each part as you come across them or you can use your DAW’s marker feature to makes notes for later. When you are in a creative zone, you may want to put off detailed editing until later, and in those cases you will want to have as much information saved as possible about what needs to be fixed later.

There are two types of editing that you’ll be engaged in. The first is to fix mistakes that are limiting your performance, and the second is to take a solid performance and switch things up as a creative tool. Once you have cleaned up the data then you can begin to use the editing process as a creative process.

Start by adjusting the start times of notes that don’t start at the right time. How do you know what the right time is? This depends on a lot of factors that include style of music, feel of the music, and the instrument in question. Sometimes you’ll want to have the notes start right on the beat and be exactly in time, and other times you want the notes to start a little early or a little late. Most of the time the editing process is aligning notes that were missed during recording and just need to be moved to match the other notes. If you know a song that has the feel you are looking for, then import it into your project and line up the notes with the audio peaks.

After adjusting the start time you will often then need to change the note length to compensate for the change in placement. When recording using a keyboard that has a sustain pedal, the length of the notes are often recorded as shorter notes but held due to the sustain control data. In this situation, changing the note length will not change how long the note actually holds. If you need to change the length you will need to change the note and the sustain control data. Be aware of you sustain data when shortening and lengthening notes to avoid crossing over a break point because it could drastically affect the note length.

Figure 5.3: Adjusting MIDI Note Length in Pro Tools

Figure 5.4: Sustain Pedal Adjustment View in Logic

Additional editing might include adjusting velocity to set the level of each note. You can also engage in splitting notes, which is a technique used to take a long note and turn it into shorter notes to form a pattern. You can transpose notes up and down to change chords and melodies. Copying and pasting MIDI is another basic editing technique that is used to repeat phrases of melodies, bass lines, and general rhythm section parts. This is different than looping because it is edited as individual notes and looping typically happens at the region/clip level.

Figure 5.5: Individual Note Velocity in Logic

As the notes begin to fall into place, then it’s time to start considering the additional control data and performance capabilities that you have access to. Whether it is pitch bend, sustain, or other modulation data, all sequencers provide the ability to record and edit these data. There are three ways to add these data.

The first method is to record control data simultaneously with the notes using pedals, mod wheels, or another interface. If you are using both hands on the keyboard, it makes it more difficult and using both feet is often a skill that needs practice. When performing leads and solos with one hand it is much easier to add pitch bend and modulation using the free hand.
The second method is to record the data in a second pass. Each sequencer handles this differently, but you will typically have two options for what happens to the new data. It can be stored in a new MIDI region or merged in the existing region. Both options control the sound source, but merging allows for easier editing later on because the data live in the same region.
The third option is to manually draw in the data after the recording is made. Perhaps the best option is to record as much as you can live, followed by an editing pass to clean up and enhance the performance. Manual editing can be tedious, but it gives you the chance to get it exactly how you want it. By the time you get good at manual editing you will appreciate capturing the performance in real time because of the time and energy it saves.

Figure 5.6: Drawing in Pitch Bend Information into Pro Tools

Editing can (and often does) continue until the very end of production. While it can be a vicious cycle of constant fiddling until “perfection” is obtained, editing is an important part of the process of working with MIDI. To better understand the fundamentals of MIDI editing, let’s look at a number of examples.

Excerpt from Modern MIDI by Sam McGuire © 2013 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.



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