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A detailed text description of what MIDI is all about.
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A detailed text description of what MIDI is all about.
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Sequencing Cover Music

A Tutorial

Written by Don Clore

Edited by Dave Hocker

Copyright (c) 1988 by Don Clore and Music Quest, Inc.

All rights to this Tutorial are reserved. This Tutorial is provided for the
exclusive use of owners of Music Quest products. No part of the Tutorial may
be reproduced, or distributed in any form, or distributed by any means, or
stored in a database or retrieval system without the prior written permission
of Music Quest, Inc.


FOREWARD BY THE EDITOR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

EQUIPMENT REQUIREMENTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

SET UP . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

SEQUENCING BASICS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
HOW TO LISTEN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
GETTING STARTED . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
LET YOUR SEQUENCER DO THE MEMORIZATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
TAPE DECK FEATURES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
DRUM PARTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
QUANTIZING AND "HUMAN FEEL" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
BASS PART . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
GUITAR PARTS PLAYED ON A KEYBOARD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
PIANO PARTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
STRING PARTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
BRASS PARTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
WOODWINDS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
ORGANS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13

SUMMARY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14


Don Clore has been an accomplished MIDI musician for many years. Recently, Don
has done quite a bit of work for Golden MIDI, recording first-class, commercial
sequences. I had the opporunity to listen to his work at the January '88 NAMM
show, and I must say it was outstanding!

In this Tutorial, Don shares his practical knowledge about using MIDI for
effective recording. He covers the equipment you need, how to set it up, and
how to record a sequence. You don't have to be a professional musician to
benefit from Don's insight. His down-to-earth approach brings MIDI to
everyone's level. I was particularly impressed with Don's tips on how to
record the various different kinds of instrument parts (drums, bass, strings,

If you've been looking for some help on how to put your MIDI system to work
(for fun and/or profit), I think you will find this Tutorial extremely


This tutorial assumes you have:

1. A personal computer with MIDI interface.

2. A MIDI sequencing program with multi-track recording facilities and basic
editing features such as cut-and-paste and quantizing.

3. At least one MIDI equipped tone generator (synthesizer or drum machine).

4. A MIDI master controller. (If you have a MIDI-equipped keyboard
synthesizer, you satisfy requirements 3 and 4.)

5. Audio playback equipment for your tone generator(s). This can be anything
from a home hi-fi to a full blown professional sound system.

6. Audio and MIDI cables.


Setting up your equipment is a matter of:

1. Connecting the MIDI OUT port of your MIDI input device (Keyboard, guitar
controller, wind controller, etc.) to the MIDI IN on your computer's MIDI

2. Connecting the MIDI OUT port of your computer's MIDI interface to the
MIDI IN ports of all your MIDI equipped tone generators. (We will
discuss various ways of doing this momentarily.)

3. Connecting the audio output of your tone generators to your audio playback

So, in more detail:


Your MIDI controller can be either a MIDI equipped synthesizer, a MIDI
mother keyboard (a keyboard that makes no sounds but generates MIDI
signals to drive other MIDI equipment), a MIDI guitar controller, a MIDI
wind controller, or any MIDI equipped device that can be used to generate
MIDI note commands. Whatever it is, it has a jack on it marked "MIDI
OUT". Plug a MIDI cable into it and plug the other end into the jack
marked "MIDI IN" on the MIDI interface to your computer.


a. If you have only one tone generator, simply plug a MIDI cable into
the MIDI OUT port on the interface and plug the other end into the
MIDI IN port of the tone generator. If you only have one keyboard
that serves as both MIDI controller and tone generator, then you
will have a "closed MIDI loop" set up, like this:

IN Computer MIDI keyboard

Figure 1

b. If you have more than one tone generator, then you have a few
options to exercise (read: DECISIONS TO MAKE) in setting up your MIDI

OPTION 1: Using the THRU ports on your equipment is the simplest way
to get all this stuff up and running. In other words, plug a MIDI
cable into the MIDI OUT port on the interface and plug the other end
into the MIDI IN of any one of your tone generators (we'll call it
tone generator A). Now, plug a MIDI cable into the MIDI THRU port on
tone generator A and plug the other end into the MIDI IN port on the
next tone generator (tone generator B) and so on like the following

computer Tone Tone
OUT IN gen. A THRUIN gen. B Etc.

Figure 2

OPTION 2: Use a MIDI thru box (also called MIDI 'splitter' box) to
split the output of the MIDI interface into multiple MIDI outs. Then
connect each of the MIDI INs of all your tone generators to any of
the MIDI OUTS on the thru box. Examine the following:



thru box

synth A synth B synth C synth D synth E

Figure 3

The Music Quest MIDI Switch Controller (MSC-4) is a 4 X 4 patch bay
that includes both "thru" capability and switching. The switching
function allows you to select one of the synths as your current
master controller, while the "thru" capability allows you to drive 4
MIDI devices. All of the functions of the MSC-4 are computer
controlled, greatly simplifying operation.

If your MIDI controller also houses one of your tone generators
(i.e., you are using a synth with a keyboard to record with, rather
than a soundless MIDI controller) then your setup will look like



thru box

synth A synth B synth D synth E

synth C

Figure 4


Easy-8 has a MIDI THRU function. A few early MIDI sequencers didn't. Most now
do. Having MIDI THRU means that any notes played into the MIDI interface will
be echoed to the MIDI out. This is so that you can hear the notes triggered on
the keyboardless tone generators as you play on the Master controller. REPEAT:
The notes are recorded into the sequencer, echoed at the MIDI out and therefore
sent to the tone generators and sounded, all at the same time. So what's the
problem? Simple. Let's re-examine our setup (Figure 4).

Notice that your Master controller (contoller synth C) is connected in a
complete loop to the computer. The controller's MIDI OUT connects directly to
the computer's input, and the output of the computer connects to the
controller's MIDI IN via the THRU box. This can be a problem if your
controller is sending out MIDI info on the same channel as it is receiving it.
Think about it:

1. You play a note on the controller. Two things happen:

a. A note is sounded because the keyboard is normally routed to the
internal tone generators of the controller.

b. A MIDI Note On command is sent out the contoller's MIDI OUT.

2. The Note On command sent from the controller goes thru the computer (it is
recorded by the sequencer) and is echoed at the computer's MIDI OUT. It
gets sent back to the controller via the THRU box.

3. Now, the tone generator in your controller is getting two commands to play
the same note, almost simultaneously (one from its own keyboard and one
from its MIDI IN port where its own MIDI OUT signal has been routed back
to it). This seriously confuses a lot of MIDI keyboards. It can cause the
controller keyboard to lock up, send out garbage, or do other undesirable

Don't let this happen.


Some MIDI keyboards (hopefully the one you are using as a Master Controller)
have a mode called "LOCAL OFF". Local Off "disconnects" the keyboard from the
internal tone generator. If you have LOCAL OFF implemented on your controller
(consult your owner's manual) AND if your controller can send and receive on
different MIDI channels simultaneously (ditto), then you're all set. Here's
what to do:

1. Set your controller to LOCAL OFF.

2. Make sure that MIDI THRU is enabled on your sequencer.

3. Make sure that you are transmitting and receiving on the same MIDI

Now when you play a note, your internal tone generator will NOT be triggered
directly by the keyboard. The controller will generate a MIDI Note On command
from its MIDI OUT Port, it will go THRU the sequencer, and the controller will
receive it at its MIDI IN, sounding the note. The internal tone generator of
the controller will have only received one Note On command for the note you

4. To sound one of your keyboardless tone generating modules, set your
controller to transmit on the same channel as the tone generator you want
to hear.

5. Assuming that your controller is still set up to RECEIVE on its original
channel, when you play a note on the controller you will hear the
appropriate tone generator sound.


You have several choices in this case:

1. Leave the sequencer's THRU off. You will not be able to hear the parts
as you record them for the various tone generators (not a very
satisfactory option).

2. Buy a MIDI processing box that will rechannelize the output of your
controller. These are available but relatively expensive (still not very

3. Use your sequencer's Channel Remap feature. Easy-8 can remap MIDI
channels for you. This allows you to record a track with your
controller's MIDI channel, and then remap it to your tone generator's MIDI


In the following material I am going to assume that you are attempting to
sequence a cover of a recorded piece of music. If you are instead composing
original music, the following will still apply with few exceptions. Also,
remember that you may not make any commercial use of any covers of copyrighted
music you produce. Commercial use of a sequence of copyrighted music (i.e.,
selling your sequences) involves a complicated procedure of licensing the tune
and paying royalties that is beyond the scope of this tutorial.


Listening to a recorded piece of music with an eye to duplicating (for non-
commercial use, of course) it is a much different process than listening for
your own enjoyment. When I prepare to sequence a cover tune I may listen to it
as many as 50 plus times before playing a single note. I've found that some
interesting things happen as you listen repeatedly to a piece. The piece
CHANGES as you listen to it. I believe that what happens is that as your mind
finally absorbs and memorizes one "layer" of information, newer material comes
to light that you never heard before. Anyway, I try to keep listening until I
stop noticing new things in the tune AFTER REPEATED LISTENINGS. Notice the
phrase "after repeated listenings". I will reach several "plateaus" in
listening to a piece; points at which I no longer hear anything new. These
plateaus will only last for a couple of listenings, however, and soon a new
level of material will come to light. Eventually after suffering through 2 or
3 or more plateaus like this (depending on the degree of complexity and
subtlety of the arrangement) things will resolve and I'll stop hearing new
stuff. Then it's time to get started.

This is not to say that you need to go to this degree of trouble to sequence
something for your own enjoyment. If you choose to analyze a piece to this
point, it's up to you. If the number of synthesizers you have to play the
sequence back on is limited, you need to do a reduction of the piece anyway.
This means getting the more salient, recognizeable parts of the piece sequenced
so that the music still has the same emotional effect as the original without
being a complete note-for-note copy of the original. I have sequenced
effective backup sequences for my club act ( a one-man-band ) using as few as 3
MIDI channels of information: 1 channel for drums, 1 for bass, and another for
some kind of accompaniment part. This was all supplemented by me playing live
over the top of it, of course. But you CAN sequence effective music with just
a couple of tone generators and a drum machine, or 1 multi-timbral tone
generator and a drum machine.


Okay, so you've listened to the tune and are ready to start sequencing it. The
first thing to do is record the drum part or the drum and bass part together.
This creates a framework to hang the rest of the sequence on.


While it certainly is impressive to memorize an entire track at a time and
record it in one pass, it's not necessary and causes you to spend more time
memorizing and less time actually getting the part recorded. Listen to a
phrase at a time, to as little as 1 bar of music at a time and play it in.
Listen to as much as you can remember perfectly WITH NO EFFORT and record it.
Then go on to the next few notes. If you have trouble playing the passage,
slow the tempo on your sequencer down. Let your sequencer do the work for you.
If you want to practice hard and acquire the technique to play dazzling
passages at full tempo, go ahead and do it. The sequencer gives your the
freedom to take either route.


Any decent tape deck will do for listening. However there are a couple of
features that really make the process a lot easier. Cue-and-review and memory
rewind are features that allow you to painlessly relisten to a section of a
tape repeatedly. Of these, memory rewind is my favorite. It is simply a
feature of the tape deck that, when enables, causes the deck to stop rewinding
whenever the tape counter hits zero. This allows you to "mark" the precise
beginning of a passage that you want to repeatedly listen to by hitting the
counter reset button as your hear the passage begin. When the passage is
through, hit rewind. The deck will rewind and stop at tape counter zero (the
marked point). Hit play to hear the passage again. You can develop a rhythm
after awhile of listening to 1 or 2 bars 10 or 20 times in a row to really get
it straightened out in your head without being distracted by the mechanical
details of running the tape deck.


You can do your drum parts on your drum machine and "sync" the drum machine up
to your sequencer. This means that your drum machine and sequencer will each
be playing their own parts in parallel and the drum machine will perfectly
follow your sequencer. This works, but is not recommended for the following

1. Everytime you want to play back a song, you have to call it up on the
sequencer AND the drum machine.

2. Starting the piece is a two step process of starting the drum machine
(it'll sit there and wait for MIDI clock code from your sequencer) and
then starting the sequencer.

3. The drum machine's internal memory is usually quite limited, capable of
holding drum parts for 5 or 6 songs. Your sequencer, on the other hand
has disk storage, and so can store as many songs as you like.

So, plan to store your drum part as one of the tracks in your sequence. There
are two ways to do this:

1. Record the drum part on the drum machine, and then play it into the

2. Record the drum part directly on the sequencer.


To record a drum part from a drum machine into your sequencer, you will need

1. Slave the drum machine to MIDI (consult your owner's manual).

2. Set up a closed MIDI loop between the sequencer and drum machine (Connect
the MIDI OUT of the drum machine to the MIDI IN of the sequencer and vice

3. Set the drum machine to output MIDI notes as it plays. (Some drum
machines do this by default; check your owner's manual.)

4. Start your drum machine. (It will not start as it is waiting for a MIDI
start command and MIDI clocks).

5. Set your sequencer to record on 1 track.

6. Make sure your sequencer's THRU is turned OFF. (No MIDI loops, remember?)

7. Start recording with your sequencer. The whole drum part will play into
your sequencer and be recorded.

Now your drum part is stored as a track of your sequence. Make sure that the
track is set to output to the same MIDI channel as your drum machine is set on,
and in the future you can just play back your sequence from your sequencer.
The sequencer will "play" your drum machine as well as all your other MIDI tone


This is the method I prefer. Set your controller to output to the same channel
as your drum machine is set on. Make sure your drum machine's MIDI IN is
connected to the output of your sequencer (preferably via a MIDI THRU box).
Play all the notes on your controller. You will find that certain notes on
your controller will, when played, fire certain drum sounds on the drum
machine. In this way, you can use your controller to record the drum part.
The big advantage of this is twofold:

1. It allows you to record drum parts on the controller that you presumably
have the greatest degree of technique with.

2. The sequencer will record how hard you strike notes on the controller
(assuming your controller is velocity sensitive) and it will sound the
drum sounds at different volume levels accordingly. This is much a much
more realistic effect than playing all the drums at one or two different
preset volumes as would be the case with recording the part internally
with many drum machines (most inexpensive drum machines don't have
velocity sensitive pads on them).


This is a problematic issue. Your sequencer has quantizing facilities for
rhythmically cleaning up your drum parts. However, quantization is sometimes a
bit too perfect. Sometimes the result is inhumanly precise. This may or may
not be something you can live with. People argue this issue pro and con, but
be aware that some music actually benefits from a metronomically rigid drum
part. Many pop tunes are actually made this way. On the other hand, if you
can get satisfactory results without using quantizing, the drum part will have
more "warmth" and spontaneity. Music nearly always contains some compromises.
You will have to set your own priorities and decide for yourself the types of
compromises that are acceptable to you.


I like to record the bass right along with the drums. I'll record fragments of
drum parts until I get about 8 bars or so of drums done. Then I add the bass
line to that part in either 1 or 2 passes, depending on the complexity of the
part. Remember, don't try to kill yourself memorizing a long section. Just
play in as much as you can remember at whatever tempo makes it easiest. On
tunes where a live bass player was playing, I don't use quantizing, although it
certainly isn`t always necessary to avoid it. Modern techno-pop tunes often
have quantized bass as a matter of course. (I have read that one of the most
used session players in LA for synthesizer bass parts almost always uses
quantizing.) Listen to the results of quantizing and let your ears be your
guide. Be sure to copy the bass track to another track, mute the original and
try out quantizing on the copy. That way if you don't like the results you've
still got the original.

Just about any synthesizer is capable of doing some good bass sounds. I think
it is nice to have velocity sensitivity in the synth that plays back the bass
parts so that they sound more dynamic, but many people still prefer the old
'70s Minimoog bass sound over anything else, which was not velocity sensitive.
(Don't rush out and buy a Minimoog unless you're willing to shell out for some
expensive external hardware that will convert MIDI to CONTROL VOLTAGES, the
dialect Minimoogs speak.) There is no hard and fast rule about this. Use your


These are real tough. If you happen to have some guitar technique and are
lucky enough to have a MIDI Guitar rig, by all means use it. The MIDI guitar
rigs are still for the most part far from perfect, but if you are a guitar
player it will probably be easier to play a guitar part in that way than to
enter it by keyboard. If you play keyboards like me, then be prepared to spend
some time getting this right. Lead guitar parts are not too bad. It takes some
practice with the pitch bender to simulate lead guitar phrasing (and it is
beyond the scope of this tutorial to really get into the techniques involved)
but it can be mastered with a little effort. Rhythm guitar parts are another
matter. Think about it. A strummed guitar is unable to sound any two of its
notes perfectly simultaneously like you can on a keyboard. Rather, a DOWN strum
(strumming the strings from the top of the guitar which is, paradoxically the
lowest string) sounds as a very tightly arpeggiated group of notes.
Arpeggiation is musicspeak for saying that the notes are sounded sequentially.
In the case of a guitar strum the notes are sounded sequentially so closely
together that it almost sounds like one event, but not quite. There is a big
audible difference between notes struck simultaneously on a keyboard and notes
arpeggiated like a guitar strum. The appropriate technique is to "ROLL" the
chord on the keyboard, meaning to swivel your wrist so that each finger strikes
its respective note at a uniqe point in time. You need to roll the chords up
when the guitar is arpeggiating upwards (a DOWN strum) and roll the chords down
when the guitar is arpeggiating downwards (an UP strum).

This is not easy. There's only one way to do it.

1. Slow the tempo way down.

2. Do only a little at a time and rest your wrists.

However, with practice you will find that you can get some surprisingly good
results. I find that FM synthesizers (the Yamaha family of synths) seem to be
better for rhythm guitar sounds than analog or wavetable synths ("linear
arithmetic", "Cross-wave", or whatever new buzzwords they're spouting this
week. Synths are either analog (subtractive), additive, FM, wavetable,
samplers, or some combination thereof. Wavetable includes the Ensoniq ESQ1 and
SQ80, Korg DW8000, Sequential Prophet VS, Roland D50 and MT-32, and others.
The Oberheim Xpander and Matrix 12, 6, and 1000 as well as some Roland synths
are analog. Kawai has an additive synth (additive synthesis is pretty unusual)
and practically every manufacturer makes some kind of sampler (because sampling
is the flavor of choice these days). You can get good results with almost any
of these types of synthesizers if you fiddle with them enough. Still, to my
ears the FM ones are best for guitars (although a high priced sampler might do
better). For distorted guitars, use a clean guitar or Clavinet sound and use a
distortion pedal like the guitar players use.


If you are using a keyboard controller, then these shouldn't be too hard if
you're sequencing pop music. Usually the piano parts are not too tough, unless
the piano is a feature instrument in the tune. Just about any synth can do an
acceptable piano, although the analog synths are probably less acceptable than
FM, wavetable, or sampling synthesizers.


String sections in pop tunes are either synthesized (in which case the string
part may consist of as little as a one note line) or real. If they are real,
try to hear how many parts there are. In a full string orchestra, there can be
as many as 2 violin parts (1st violin section and 2nd violin section), with the
first chair players playing a slightly more detailed part, 1 viola part, 1
cello part and 1 doublebass part. Needless to say, you're probably not going
to want to sequence all of that. Most pop recording session that use real
strings (an increasing rarity) use a subset of these strings. Most likely
there is a violin section and a cello section with perhaps a doublebass. In
sequencing terms, if you use more than 4 note chords, you're probably doing too
much. Less is more with string lines. Remember that each note you play
represents a group of string players all playing the same note. Very often,
only 1 note is all that is needed. Try to hear how the strings are actually
arranged. Typically, when multiple string lines are used, the notes are widely
spaced apart in pitch. It would be extremely unusual to have a string part
played with many notes close together as would be typical for a piano part.


Brass patches on your synthesizer often have, of necessity, a little delay in
the voice. This is to simulate the effect of a brass instrument's less than
instant attack (it takes a moment for the instrument to get vibrating when it
is blown). You may need to play a little ahead of where you want the notes to
sound in order for the parts to come out in time (real brass players compensate
for this as a matter of course). If you quantize your brass parts, they may
end up sounding behind everything because they "speak" late. Trumpet sections
often play two or three note chords. In some tunes, particularly 60's soul and
R & B, there will be a baritone sax playing a single low line all by himself.


Woodwind instruments would not normally play chords. These sections usually are
orchestrated in unison lines in most traditional music. This is not a hard and
fast rule. The composer and/or orchestrator have freedom to do whatever they
like, so let your ears be the final judge.


Like piano, if you are using a keyboard controller, this should be fairly
straightforward. Most synthesizers can do a fairly good job of simulating the
popular Hammond B3 sound, and adding an external chorus unit to the synth will
help simulate the "rotating speaker" effect if the Leslie speakers that are
always used with these organs. For pipe organ, reverb helps a lot.


In this tutorial we covered:

- equipment requirements
- how to set up the equipment
- how to analyze a song for MIDI recording
- how to record various instrument parts

For recording, the main thing is to break the sequence into manageable chunks
and work on it. Work on only one track at a time and do just a phrase at a
time. With pratice, you can produce results that are as professional-sounding
as you have the patience to spend time perfecting them. With the advent of
MIDI sequencers, anyone with an ear and patience can have fun with music!

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