Sunday, May 27, 2012

MIDI Dynamics: How to adjust the Velocity (for more realistic MIDI drums)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about how to adjust/edit the Velocity parameter on a MIDI track!
The first MIDI samplers used to have just one sample for every sound (e.g. the legendary Roland TR-808, a hardware drum sampler with just one snare sample, one kick sample...), but through the years we've seen the arrival of always more accurate samplers, so now we have available huge libraries of sounds, and the most recent drum sequencers (which today are almost completely VST based) have many samples for each drum piece, (talking about Virtual Drums, but the same is for any other virtual instrument), divided by how hard the "virtual hand" would hit them, in order to give a more realistic result. 

Velocity is the intensity, the strenght of the "virtual hand" that hit the drum piece, and today it's an editable parameter, created in order to give a better realism to the MIDI instruments. Some MIDI instruments according to the Velocity you choose will choose the right sample, while others (the ones with fewer samples, or with just one) will apply an Envelope Filter on the sample in order to make it sound quieter or louder; eventually many MIDI instruments will apply a combination of these two methods.

Today, most of the commercial DAWs features a Velocity Editor (for example, in the Cubase/Nuendo interface is located on the lower side of the Piano Roll editor window), so you can manually choose the intensity of each hit: just select the midi part you've created on the Piano Roll, and it will select automatically the Velocity on the lower window (on the side menu you can decide the parameter to edit: Velocity, or Volume, or any other); 
from here, using the Pencil Tool you can move up or down the bar, and the higher it will be set, the louder the Velocity will be.
If you keep the left button of the mouse pressed you can trim the Velocity of all the notes in the Piano Roll if you want (e.g. creating a "Fade In Effect"), or just choose some of them to adjust and leave the others untouched. Many MIDI instruments features also a "Humanize" control (e.g. you can find it on the Toontrack drum sequencers), which automatically randomizes for example the velocity of the drum hits in order to make them sound more natural.

- HOW TO SET A MINIMUM AND MAXIMUM VELOCITY FOR THE RANDOMIZER: If you have a randomic velocity on your drum sequencer (or any other VST instrument), but you wish to set a minimum and/or a maximum Velocity so that the hits won't be weaker and/or stronger than a certain threshold, select the MIDI track and go to the MIDI Modifiers section: from here on the Random menu, choose "Velocity" and you'll be able to set a Minimum and a Maximum (from -120 to +120), so that all the hits on that track will respect that threshold.

- HOW TO SET A FIXED VELOCITY: If you want a Fixed Velocity, instead, just select on the MIDI Modifiers section the amount you want on the Velocity section (from -126 to +126), now all the new notes you will write on the Piano Roll will have the selected Velocity, and to set it on the notes already written, just select them, Right Click->Functions->Fixed Velocity.

More info on how to randomize the Midi Velocity properly can be found HERE.

- Addictional Awesomeness: Some quick tip to make a sampled drum track more realistic, by adjusting the Velocity. First off visualize how to play the parts you are going to write: nobody wants to listen to drums played unnaturally, just because the guy who wrote the part is not a drummer and has no clue of how to play it :D 
Then when writing a drum roll, think of which hand does each single hit, and make the hits with the right hand slighly harder than the ones made with the left hand (assuming that the drummer is right-handed), plus make the drum roll start harder and then get progressively softer as it ends.
When making a press roll part, or a blast beat part, lower the velocity of the snare, and raise it just on the accents, plus raise it progressively when heading toward a Drum Roll, or to a Fill, and remember that a real drummer usually the faster he goes the lighter he hits, in order to control better the movement of the sticks, and to save his stamina ;)

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