after a number of very long nights wrestling with Cubase 8 as a rank beginner, finally I have had some success recording MIDI and managing ‘natural’ tempo.
One of my current musical aims is to make extensive recordings of my father* (and myself) playing piano naturally (using my Roland RD-800) and create reasonable scores for posterity and in my case, be able to layer other MIDI information in a linear environment and return the new works to the original natural tempo, among other possibilities that open up.
For my part, playing to a metronome can be very stifling but I can imagine that linearity in a DAW environment will allow for so much more flexibility. To be able to bounce between natural and linear then, for me has been a dream which until now has seemed a bit too hard to achieve at an acceptable standard.
So following are the details and related samples of these efforts that represent countless hours of frustration, searching, reading and finally jubilation at achieving a better result than expected.
I’m putting this up for a couple of reasons: to attempt to add some value for other newbies and to seek some guidance on better ways to achieve these results, as no doubt there will be. Please forgive me if some of my terminology proves that I’m far from an ‘industry specialist’ but I am hopeful that these instructions will save some folk many hours. In all my searching I wasn’t able to find a comprehensive guide on this that I could fully grasp.
Setup: Set the project up with both a Bars & Beats and a Timecode ruler - you will learn more this way. It’s important to work in Linear mode (make sure the little clock appears on your track and not the note) and with Tempo set to Track (on the Transport bar). This project is based on the first 20 bars of a very simple 4/4 piece (Have you met Miss Jones?) but played with a heavy rubato.
1. Record Naturally: Lay down a MIDI track of your natural playing (done here with an intentionally over-enthusiastic rubato to make the point). Trim and move the take so the first note is right up to the start of the track and time 00:00:00:00. This will save you a headache later.
2. Create Audio Version: Record an audio version of your MIDI track by sending the recorded MIDI to an instrument and recording to an audio track. Here I’ve used one of my internal RD-800 piano sounds. Played together these 2 tracks should align perfectly.
Obviously this could be done with any instrument but for me the piano makes sense as it gives a good attack for finding hitpoints in the next step. My raw take is here with no post editing whatsoever (note HUGE variations in tempo):
3. Edit Hitpoints (the most critical step): Double-click on the new audio track to open the Sample Editor. Click on “Hitpoints” and choose the “Edit Hitpoints” button and work through your song making sure hitpoints are accurately positioned at each and every beat. This is critical. You can work in coarser (down to every 2 bars) or finer (up to 8 beats/bar) resolutions as required.
Note: circled in the image below are some places where hitpoints had to be manually added where notes carried over the beats (minims in this case) and so were not automatically detected. You would also need to remove excess hitpoints (on quavers etc.).
First time around, this took me about 5 mins for 20 bars but with experience it will only take seconds - for me a very efficient way to get the result (didn’t have much luck with the Time Warp tool).
Note: it takes some effort to get ralls and accels etc. on long notes sounding natural and I have a long way to go as you will hear in the next clip…
4. Create MIDI Click Track: Now click on the “Create MIDI Notes” button in the Sample Editor to create a new MIDI track with notes for clickpoints. For this I chose 1/16 and A4 to correspond with a hi-hat on a HALIon drum kit. This now becomes the new click track from which the tempo changes will be derived in step 5. You can hear this new click track overlayed with the original recording, still in ‘natural tempo’ here:
5. Create Tempo Map: After listening to and readjusting as necessary in step 4, we’re now ready to create a tempo track based on the new MIDI click track. Still in Linear Mode and with Tempo set to Track in the transport, select the MIDI click track and choose: MIDI > Functions > Merge Tempo from Tapping.
Add a Tempo track and you should see the fruits of your labour! Ramping the tempo points is easily achieved here for smoother playback. At this point my screen looked like the following (note Linear mode and Tempo Track):
6. Linear Playback at Last!: to enable linear playback, switch both the original MIDI track and the MIDI click tracks to Musical Mode and the Tempo to Fixed on the Transport. Voila - now you have a dry linear version of your originally emotive and sexy natural recording to work on. To return to natural (sexy) mode, leave your tracks in Musical Mode and switch Tempo back to Track.
Here’s how my original MIDI track sounds in linear (yucko but it’s a useful yucko!):
https://soundcloud.com/deldridg/03-straight-time (Played through a HALIon piano patch).
From here you should also have a lot less trouble scoring your work. Mine went from a dog’s breakfast to a near perfect score after these steps.
A quick check would be to create a score of your MIDI click track. Mine creates semi-quavers on every beat perfectly for the full 20 bars. Very pleasing indeed!!
So I hope the above is of use to someone. There are many who have given their hearts and souls to supporting new people like me and without them I would never have gotten off the ground with this stuff. So thank you fellow forum members - I have thoroughly enjoyed my early learning curves thanks to your tireless efforts!
Many regards from Sydney, Australia - David
- Dad is a highly sought-after church musician who has given over 65 years of tireless musical service - from tiny congregations in remote Australia to endless performances for aged folk all over the country to performing on pipe organs across the country, including both the Adelaide and Sydney Town Halls. His ability to make the most dreadful instruments breathe beautiful music (including one piano with half the strings missing and which began to roll off the stage in a little country hall as he played!), his ability to harmonise any tune in endless ways with any emotive drive in any key in real time and his incredible humility are really driving me to record and hopefully transcribe his music while he can still play, whether it be old hymns or theatre organ style ‘hits’ of the past. I can’t wait to get started!