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Home | Technical | MIDI | Sequencer Tips

Sequencer Tips

(1) Quantising

Don't be tempted to over quantise. Reserve a full quantise for parts that need to be tight such as the bass and drums.
Use the swing/groove quantise or humanise function if your sequencer has one.

(2) Gate Effects

Dance music relies heavily on gating effects. You can achieve the same choppy effect on a sequencer by altering the MIDI volume messages.
Changing the volume of each track by a small amount on the beat adds life and groove to the sequence whilst larger changes recreate the classic chopped pad effect.
Changing the note durations on different blocks of a track will also create interesting gate effects.
If you are idle there are many pre-programmed gate patterns available commercially. (Newtronic, Twiddly Bits etc.)

(3) Controllers

Find out which MIDI controllers your synth supports and use them.
Clever use of controller information is often the difference between realistic flowing music and uninspiring 'toytown' midi.
Most synthesisers will support all the basic controllers such as pan, volume, velocity.
Other useful controllers are filter cutoff, reverb, chorus, resonance and portamento.
Record controller information to a separate track on the same channel as the instrument you wish to affect.
This can save a great deal of hassle if you wish to alter the data at a later stage and also allows you to create a library of controller clips.
You can then paste these into new songs.

(4) Filter Sweeps


Classic Acid filter sweeps can be created by using sounds where the filter-cutoff frequency is affected by another controller (aftertouch, modulation or velocity).
Programming variations in your sequencer can create almost any kind of sweep.
The easiest way is to record the modulation wheel or use a sequencer that allows you to graphically draw in controller information.

(5) Steal patterns

MIDI data is so easy to manipulate that you can view your entire collection of MIDI files as a library of data waiting to be remixed.
Once the tempo, patch and groove have all been altered you are left with something that, although mathematically related in some way to what you began with, is musically entirely original.
Even if you don't copy the actual note data you can lift the feel of the piece with most high-end sequencers and apply it to you're own pieces.
Some sequencers allow you to do this with audio samples as well. If you own sample CD try extracting the timing from some of the beats and use it to quantise your MIDI beats.

(6) Retrograde

If your sequencer has a reverse or retrograde function this can be used to reverse an entire section of midi data. If you are completely stuck for inspiration this can certainly produce some interesting results and is unlikely to sound like anything that you might consciously program.

(7) Create Basslines from Drum Patterns

This is a simple way to ensure that the two rhythmically most important sections of a track are extremely tight. Copy a fairly simple drum part to another track, apply a bass patch to it and then shift the pitches about until it starts to sound OK. You can also try this the other way around - copy a bass part to a drum track and then alter the drum voices to suit. Pitching them all to the kick drum usually works quite well.

(8) Thin Controller Data

Too much copying nd pasting can leave your track littered with unwanted controller data that will swamp the sequencer and sometimes slow the track down. Try thinning it out - if your sequencer has a function to do this then you are laughing, if not you may have to do it by hand. There are also standalone programs available that will filter a midi file using options that you specify. If your sequencer allows you to enter data with a grid snap facility make sure that this is not set to too high a resolution or you will find that when you are drawing controller sweeps etc. unnecessary data is being entered into the event list.

(9) Delay

You don't need an effects unit to create MIDI delays as these can be easily programmed using a sequencer. Just copy a part and slide the notes so that they sound a fraction of a beat later than the originals. Fading the velocity on the delayed section so that the delays get gradually softer can also be effective as can randomising the velocities. Try repeating the delay at slightly different offsets and adding pan and other controller messages to create complex evolving sounds.


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