Correcting the Timing on Your MIDI Tracks Using Cubase 6's Quantize Features

Basic MIDI Editing: An Overview of Quantizing MIDI

This tutorial continues where I left off in the "Recording & Editing MIDI in Cubase 6" series. I had to change the title because the name was too long. Sorry if there's any confusion.

If you haven't been following along with my previous Cubase tutorials and you're new to using Cubase, I highly recommend that you take the time to start from the beginning and work your way back to this tutorial on quantizing MIDI so that you aren't completely lost.

Quantizing MIDI is the process of removing the human timing (rhythmic) errors that occur during the MIDI recording process. No human is perfect, but Cubase can make you sound like your rhythm is perfect with a little quantization. This makes it easy to program drum beats or any MIDI part where the timing needs to be locked "on beat" like a clock.

If you listen to dance music, everything is quantized. In fact, in most pop music today, quantizing is used and abused to make every musician (including vocalists) sound as if they have perfect timing. The quantizing features in Cubase are very advanced. In fact, if you want your part to be quantized "just a little" instead of to the point where the beat sounds perfectly robotic, than you can do this in Cubase 6. By quantizing "just a little" you can sort of create a humanized/robotic hybrid performance. This is great because humans tend to groove a little better than robots. ( :

As mentioned in the title, quantizing MIDI is about the most basic MIDI edit you can achieve. In fact, you can actually quantize your parts as you play and record them. This, of course, takes any sort of human touch out of your performance, but in some cases, this is a great time-saving feature. This feature is known as auto quantize. I don't use this feature very often because I'm not terrible with my timing and I like to hang on to my "human groove" a lot of the time.

Before I get too far ahead and into quantizing, it's important that you have at least a basic understanding of Rhythmic Theory. Rhythmic theory has to do with the timing value of notes. For instance, a note that lasts for 4 beats (in a standard 4/4 time signature) is a whole note. If what I just wrote left you scratching your head, then you might want to study these music basics from here. If you know what a 16th note and an 8th note are, then you can probably skip ahead and you'll be fine.



Picking Up Where We Left Off...

If you've been following along, then you should know how to record MIDI in Cubase 6 as you learned in my previous tutorial. I didn't instruct on how to record via a MIDI keyboard, but if you've installed your MIDI keyboard correctly, you can use the same method as I described to record any MIDI track.

What I didn't teach you was how to completely create a new MIDI track from scratch. Reload "Song1" so that it's back to it's original state (cancel out of the "missing Keystation" and close the Key Editor so that you are viewing the Project Window). Select the "Kick & Snare" MIDI track. Next, from the Project Menu (located at the top of the window in the Menu Bar), select "Add Track". Then from the drop down menu, select "MIDI". A small "Add MIDI Track" window will appear. Make sure the count shows as "1" (use the arrows to the right to adjust the count if necessary), then select the "Add Track" button. A single blank MIDI track (labeled MIDI 14) should appear just below the "Kick & Snare" track.

Next locate and open the VST Instrument panel from the Devices menu on the menu bar. Select where it says "no instrument" in slot 14 of the VST Instrument panel. Select "Groove Agent ONE" from the list of available VST instruments. If a message appears asking you if you'd like to create a MIDI track, select Cancel. Next, on your newly created MIDI track, select the output of the MIDI track and then select "Groove Agent ONE-MIDI IN" from its available options. From Groove Agent ONE's Preset selector, load the preset called "Hippo Kit". To simplify the recording process, select the SOLO buttons on both the Kick & Snare track and your newly created "MIDI 14" track. Your setup should look like the photo below. If you're having trouble refer to the previous tutorial as it contains more details to help you get setup.

Get Ready to Record

You're going to add a "Rim Clock" part to this pre-existing MIDI track. That pattern I would like you to play is a simple 1/4 note 2 measure pattern (as shown below). This pattern is very similar to the pattern of the click, except that beats 3 & 4 of the second measure have been dropped. You can use the virtual keyboard to add this part. Select the virutal keyboard on the transport, and then press the "2" key on your computers keyboard to trigger the "Rim Clock" sound from the Hippo Kit in Groove Agent ONE. Turn on the click by selecting the "Click" button on the transport.Also, position the cursor at the start of the track by selecting the "L" from the transport. When you're ready to record, press record and tap in the pattern below so that it repeats throughout the track (every 2 bars).When you finish recording press the spacebar to stop the recording process.

Record this simple pattern

Preparing to Quantize

Now that you've finished recording, double click on your new MIDI track. By double clicking, you should be opening the Key Editor for your new track. In the bottom right hand corner of the Key Editor window, you'll finde the Zoom tools (horizontal and vertical). Use these tools to get a close-up view of the MIDI part you just created. I have zoomed-in on measure 7 & 8 (shown below). This is a great example of a recording with a "human" feel. The pattern resembles the notation above, but if you look closely, you'll see that the notes (which are represented by the red "boxes") are not perfectly alligned to Cubase's grid. Beat 1 is a little late. Beat 2 is slighly early. Beat 3 is even earlier. Beats 4,5, and 6 all fall ahead ahead of the grid. Hey! Nobody's perfect. There's little chance that your part will look identical to mine, but there's a good chance that your beats will also not be alligned perfectly to the grid. Next, we're going to correct the MIDI notes so that they allign perfectly to the grid.


A "human" performance

Applying Quantize to MIDI parts

Since you have a close-up view of your MIDI part, let's quantize just 2 bars of the pattern that you recorded. To do so, left click with your mouse just above and to the left of the first note in the measure. Continue to hold the mouse button and drag the mouse to the right just below the last MIDI note in the second measure. A selection box should be drawn around the group of notes. When you release the mouse, the 6 1/4 notes should change from red to black to indicate that they are selected. Next, from the Menu bar in the Key Editor, located the "Q" field. From the drop down menu in the "Q" field select 1/4 (for a 1/4 note quantized feel). Next, using your keyboard, type Shift+ Q. You're humanized part has now been quantized so that all drum hits in your selected area fall on 1/4 note positions within the quantize grid. In other words, all of your drum hits fall "on beat" (see photo at the top of this page).

In Conclusion...

What I just showed was the easy way to quantize a few notes. If you want to use the Auto Quantize feature that I mentioned earlier, you can do so by selecting Auto Q on the transport before recording. Keep in mind that your Quantize setting (1/4 as in the previous walkthrough) needs to be set correctly before you begin recording.

Even though we've corrected the timing of this MIDI part, it's still far from perfect. Notice how the length of each MIDI note varies in size. This is something that's not noticable on most drum parts. However, for a sustained instrument (such as bass guitar, piano, violin, etc) you would defintely notice a difference in the groove/sound if the note lengths differ. Also, if you happened to record your track with a MIDI controller as opposed to the virtual keyboard, then you might also notice that some notes are louder or softer than others. This is because velocity sensitive MIDI controllers detemine how hard you press the key for each and every note and that information is also recorded in Cubase as velocity. In a lot of cases, you want a wide range of MIDI velocity recorded because it adds dynamics to a performance, but in other cases- you want your velocity to be constant (such as a kick drum in a pop recording). All of these issues can be corrected using Cubase 6 and I will discuss how to achieve perfect results in later tutorials.

Also, as I mentioned before, quantizing can become quite complex when using a device called the Quantize Panel in Cubase 6. With the Quantize Panel, you can "loosen" your grip on the quantizing so that the performance retains more of it's original human feel and you can even go so far as to change a "straight" feel into a jazzy swing feel.

Also, I'd like to mention that since I wrote MIDI Editing in Cubase, Cubase has somewhat changed where it's quantize feature are located due to the fact that they've reworked the process of quantizing audio (the method used to fix live drum parts, vocals, guitar, etc). Now instead of finding the MIDI quantize features under the MIDI menu, they are now located in the Edit menu. But most of what I discuss in MIDI Editing in Cubase remains current with Cubase 6.

Now that you know how to Record and Edit using MIDI in Cubase, the next MIDI tutorials are going to focus strictly on editing MIDI (a very deep subject). However, before I move on with the MIDI, I'd like to take a break next week to start teaching how to edit an audio track using Cubase. Thanks for reading!

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