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April 30, 2012
We’re back once again with some more Ableton Live informational tidbits. This week we’re going to cover two features that are very important when dealing with MIDI tracks; velocity and groove.
Without the proper treatment it is very easy to make your MIDI clips sound dry and robotic. If the only thing that has been programmed in the MIDI clip is a perfectly quantized note on/off sequence it is not hard for the listener to tell that it is not being played by a human. Anything played by a real person will have variations in timing, attack, loudness, timbre, etc. and you want to try to capture some of this natural variation in your MIDI clips.
One of the easiest things you can do to introduce some variation in your MIDI clips is to adjust the velocity of each individual note. The amount of variation will ultimately depend on what instrument you are using and the nature of the musical content itself. For example, the velocity settings used to humanize a string section would be very different than the settings for a percussion line.
The step sequencer runs repetitive drum loops, so it was important to add a bit of variation to the velocity of each step. Since I primarily use the step sequencer for electronic productions and DJing it was not necessary to try to completely emulate a human performance, but having a bit of variation definitely adds a bit of character.
In a previous column I showed how each step has it’s own corresponding MIDI clip and MIDI note within that clip. To add some variation to the steps I adjusted the velocity of each of these notes within each clip based on it’s place in the timeline. Following the one-ee-&-a-two-ee-& … method of counting I assigned velocity values to each step.
The downbeats of any phrase will always have the most emphasis, so the highest velocities are on the first, fifth, ninth and 13th steps (one, two, three, four). The off-beat counts (third, seventh, eleventh and 15th) have a slightly lower velocity than the downbeats (the “&’s”). The remaining in-between beats (second, fourth, sixth, eighth, tenth, 12th, 14th and 16th) have an even lower velocity setting than the rest of the steps (the “ee’s” and “a’s”).
If one sound is played across all 16 steps, the resulting effect is a kind of loudness wave that ebbs and flows as each sound is triggered. When different sounds are triggered in an interesting way the result is a drum beat that comes to life.
The next important element of giving some character to the step sequencer is the use of grooves. Grooves are basically data files that can be applied to any MIDI clip or quantized audio clip to give them a certain timing and ‘feel’. They can be found in the Live Library as .agr files and are added to your audio or MIDI clip through it’s clip view display.
There are six parameters on each groove that can be adjusted to suit your needs; Base, Quantize, Timing, Random, Velocity and overall Amount. Each individual groove has a slightly different character and you can use these parameters to dial in exactly how much of that character is going to blend in with your audio or MIDI clip.
Base: Determines the timing resolution against which the notes in the groove will be measured.
Quantize: Adjusts the amount of quantization applied to the clip before the groove is applied.
Timing: Adjusts how much the groove pattern will affect any clip using it.
Random: Adjusts how much random timing fluctuation will be applied to clips.
Velocity: Adjusts how much the velocity of the notes in clips will be affected by the velocity information stored in the groove file.
Amount: A global parameter that adjusts the overall level of timing, random and velocity that is applied to the clip.
For the step sequencer I have applied a groove to every single MIDI clip that feeds data to the drum rack. The style of groove that I have used is an MPC swing that is set to a 1/16th quantization. After a bit of tweaking I was able to dial in some settings that worked to keep everything moving and straight enough for dance music, but give it a bit of ‘feel’ at the same time. I wanted the feel of the groove to be fairly present in the step sequencer, so I have added a good amount of the groove’s ‘timing’ to all of the clips. Since all of the individual steps are completely quantized I have introduced a small amount of ‘random’ to give a bit of timing variation. The velocity settings for the individual notes in each clip are processed through the groove and are blended with the ‘velocity’ information contained within that groove (which I have kept at a medium percentage).
There are hundreds of grooves for you to choose from and can very easily be applied to individual clips or large groups of clips. I highly recommend playing around with your velocity settings and applying a variety of grooves to your clips to give your productions and live sets a new feel. The effects are often subtle, but can be very powerful.
Here is a video going over velocity and groove in the step sequencer …
Audio clips from then video…
Come back next week for more Ableton Live exploration!
- Brayton Key