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What is multi-tracking? How do I make a start?
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Question What is multi-tracking? How do I make a start? - 21-05-2008, 09:18 PM

This is an article aimed at anyone who'd like to have a go at multi-tracking with an external sequencer, and looking for a place to start.

Please note: as this is quite a lengthy post, you may prefer to download a pdf of the following which can then be printed, should you wish. This can be found here (821kb): www.box.net/shared/static/9n1ifq99np.pdf




Do I actually need Cubase, or any other external sequencer?

For many of you, the answer to the above question will be a resounding 'No'.

Why? Well Yamaha have given us some fabulous styles and voices to play with and for many people there is more than enough variety of styles on their keyboard to achieve great-sounding music. However, there is a downside to this. Many of the styles used will, over time, become a little too familar, and 'samey'. I'm sure I wouldn't be the first person to think, 'God, I've heard that intro/outro so many times before'. Which is excatly why, in my opinion, that so many people look to custom styles, to get their music sounding as though it hasn't come straight out of the box. Some of the players here have got that aspect off to a fine art. Many others will also address the 'problem' by playing something extra over the intro / outro, which is also to be admired.

Before I go any further, in order not to be misunderstood, I personally do not have a problem with anyone using the in-built techonology of their keyboard to produce music. We've all heard some fabulous music produced entirely on the k/b without any external editing.

In response to the question, i.e. What is Cubase, what does it do?, I've put together the following which is not a Cubase, (or any other external sequencer) tutorial. It is merely some everyday working examples of how, should you wish to explore multi-tracking further, editing your midi file on a PC can enhance your workflow and be used in a creative way.

Rather than repeatedly say the phrase 'Cubase, or any other external sequencer such as Cakewalk, Sonar, Powertracks Pro, or whatever, I'll just refer to our generic sequencer as Cubase.

The following examples will be achievable on most, if not all, external PC/Mac/Atari-based sequencers.

What is Cubase?
Ok, I've used this analogy before - but think of it this way, if you wanted to make a few short notes on your pc, you'd probably use Notepad. If you wanted to write a letter you'd probably use Word, as this is more capable than Notepad. Same with the internal/external sequencer scenario. Cubase is just a regular PC program, and you don't need to be technically-proficient to use it. As far as learning the program, I think the best way is to familiarise yourself with the basic 'workspace', and then learn things on a 'need-to-know' basis. As with any professional software program, some things are very easy to do, others you need to dig a little deeper to find the solution. However, as an extension to your existing k/b sequencer, it is indispensible.

Which sequencer will best meet my needs - should I get Cubase, or another sequencer?

Getting started with a sequencer is not always easy. Here's what I would recommend. Don't get bogged down with reading too much about sequencers, and their features. Most of the software vendors supply a trial version and I recommend this as the way forward. They all work in a similar, but not the same way. Use the cheapest version you can, and then 'grow' into a more expensive option as and when/if required. For instance, many of the newer, more expensive versions aim their features at audio/visual users and also VST's (virtual synths) which are subjects best left alone at this early stage. Ok, so if possible, try out some of the trial versions on offer. You will notice the program interfaces are again similar, but not the same. Try creating a mini-project, for instance: delete all occurances of a hi-hat on the drum track or find a chord on say the piano track and add a note to it, using the mouse.

When you've found a program you think will suit you, stick with it, but don't delete the other trial versions, as sometimes you will hit a little problem that you can't solve in your program of choice, but may be dead easy on one of the other programs.

Ok, I've downloaded and installed my trial version of 'Cubase'. What now?

Just like Word for Windows will open any .doc file, Cubase will open any .mid file. However, we want Cubase to open one of our own midis, and play it back through our keyboard, so we hear the sounds as we did on the k/b. We need our PC to 'see' the keyboard. This is done with a very small piece of software known as a 'driver'.You should have a CD that shipped with your keyboard that has a copy of the driver. However, it's best to always use the most recent version, so for T2 users you can download this from here:

Tyros2: Downloads - Yamaha Musical Instrument Portal

If you're not sure how to locate the correct driver for your k/b then just drop a line here in the 'Sequencing' forum where help is always on hand.

Once installed, the driver will show up in the task-bar, bottom right of your window (PC). Mousing-over the icon mine shows as DigitalWorkstation1 & 2.

Once the driver is installed you then need to make sure you have the k/b and PC connected correctly by cable.

Firstly, if you don't already use one, you will need a USB cable from the k/b to any available slot on your PC.

Note: if you use headphones, as I do, then you plug these into your keyboard, not the PC.

The last thing you will need to do is create a midi-setup file. Don't worry, this is not too technical. If I managed it, you certainly will! In order for the k/b to communicate correctly with Cubase, certain midi settings need to be made, all easily do-able on your k/b. On the T2 you can see midi setup files by clicking on: Function > Midi. You will see a bunch of files here, and the midi setup file you create will be added to this list. It's no point me setting out the instructions on how to do this, as I'm only familiar with the T2. The people who have the solution for your k/b I'm sure you will find by dropping a note in the Music Sequencing forum.

That's pretty much all the heavy, technical stuff out of the way, (which is nice!).

1. Install Driver, if not already done
2. USB cable from k/b to PC
3. Create midi-setup file (I think you can amend an existing one and then rename it).

Note:
one more point about the midi setup file.You only need to select this when using Cubase. If you're just doing Quick Records one day, just make sure the 'All Parts' (default) file is selected. If you ever hear some strange sounds/effects from your keyboard, when you're not using Cubase, just click on the 'All Midi Off' file in the same place as your setup file is stored.

As you can see from the above, there is a bit of effort on your part however, I can assure you that once you have everything working and set up correctly, you will not look back.

There are a couple of people here who know this stuff inside out and, fortunately for us, they are only too happy to assist in getting you up and running.

I'm a rocket scientist and have completed the above steps in 2 minutes flat. What now?

Well, for the rest of us the set up and connection of the instrument to the PC is often the fiddliest bit, but once you've overcome this irritating hurdle, it's pretty much plain sailing from now on.

Your keyboard's sequencer (and again I'm referring to the T2 but I'm sure it must be similar on other boards) is laid out in a vertical fashion, i.e. Track 1, 2, 3 and so on up to 8. We then 'turn the page' and see tracks 9 to 16.

It's done the same way in Cubase, however the tracks are laid out in a linear horizontal fashion, which is very easy to follow and understand. Track 1 will be at the top, with tr. 16 at the bottom.

Here is a screenshot of the main Cubase interface:



You'll notice the 16 tracks laid out horizontally. The 'Track Mix' coloured white, at the bottom shows certain 'events'. In this case you'll notice some 'activity' near the end of the song. This is a tempo change.


Now, as I mentioned earlier, I'm not going to give you a tutorial on how to set up and use Cubase.

There is tons of info out there that will do a much better job than I ever could.

What I can tell you however, is that editing in Cubase is very straightforward. There are 3 editing windows.

One of them, the ‘List’ editor, is far too technical for the likes of me, but may well suit many of you as it shows all the sysex info, bank parameters etc.

The other 2 are the 'Key' editor, whose display mimics a Piano Roll (see screenshot below), and the 'Score' editor which displays its content in traditional music notation.

1. Key editor.

Here is a screenshot to show you what this looks like, and believe me, this is a powerful editor.



You'll notice the keyboard down the left side and the 'notes' that correspond to the keys.
I've highlighted a couple of notes.
Also notice the vertical ‘velocity’ bars at the bottom. You can control the volume on single, or multiple notes from here.


A couple of examples of what you can achieve in the ‘Key’ editor:

a) When you right-click anywhere in the window it brings up a small menu (full of icons). If you select the 'Pencil' icon for instance, this will allow you to lengthen/shorten any note you wish. Perfect for an ending for instance, where you want all parts finishing exactly at the right time.

b) Sometimes, you'll want one note extending into the next bar. Dead easy, just 'drag' the length into the next bar. Done!

c) You've played a lovely sax solo, but hit a C#, instead of C in bar 58. No problem, select the 'Arrow' (default) icon and 'drag' the note down a semitone opposite the C key graphic on the left.

d) You're going for a loud-to-quiet ending but notice that the piano, or any other instrument is still playing too loud near the end. No problem, all the velocities (volume) of the notes are shown at the bottom of the editor. Just select the 'Crosshair' tool, and 'draw' a line, in a diagonal fashion (high to low) across the velocities, which will achieve the desired result.

There is also a midi-mixer in Cubase that will allow you to 'record' your volume settings, 'on-the-fly'. Whilst the song is playing back, you can adjust one or more volume levels very easily.You can also adjust the pan settings 'on-the-fly'. So, if you want that nice Harp glissando going from the right speaker, to the left, just use the pan pot on playback! You'll need to put the mixer in 'write' mode first though.

2. Score editor.

Here is a screenshot to show you what this looks like.



If you can read music then this editor you will love! Ok, it's not going to display music as you would expect from commercial sheet music, (which is often dramatically simplified), however, it will show you every note you've played, which is exactly what we want. You can set the score to display just the Treble clef, Bass clef or both depending on the instrument you are viewing. Even drums can be edited here. The time sig., + key is easily set in here.

A couple of examples of what you can achieve in the Score editor:

a) Fixing a bum note in chords, (try doing that on your k/b without replaying the whole phrase), is a doddle.

b) Removing some notes in a passage. It's easy to get excited and play too many notes, so having the ability to tone down your playing, without having to play and record a passage again, is a godsend.

c) Adding notes. Just position the left locator bar where you want to 'add' a note and this is easily done. Locator bars are just visual aids, like guides in word processor/graphics applications. For instance, you could set the left locator at bar 10 and the right locator at bar 18 and set this to loop. Or, you could 'split' one part, or as many as you like at the locator positions and copy them to another location. All sorts of possibilities.

I hardly ever use the 'Quantise' feature, but when I do it's a very handy feature. Quantise is useful for tightening-up loose playing, and is particularly useful for percussion parts. I think I'm correct in saying that if you want to apply quantise on your keyboard sequencer, then it applies it to the whole track, which is not ideal. In Cubase you will be able to quantise at single note level, which is great!

Note: the entry-level of Cubase I use (Cubasis VST) has a strange habit of automatically quantising a whole track, when this track has been loaded into one of the editors and adjustments made. To get around this, just press 'U' for Un-Quantise, before leaving the editor, (or after in track view), and this will leave all notes untouched by the quantise algorithm.

I'm still not convinced, got any more examples?

You're hard to please!

I've only just scratched the surface of the possibilities available to you when using an external sequencer. I've also added an example below of an everyday situation where a sequencer can 'save the day'. As some of you may have already seen this example, I've left it until last, (Example 5), so you don't have to trawl through it again.

Before we look at a couple of examples I just need to explain something about sequencer file formats. Now, the sequencer you end up with may work slightly different but thought I'd mention this.

In Cubase VST to open your midi file, you select 'import'. To save a midi file you select export (and also save as Midi type 0 - just put a tick in the box if you have one). When you do a normal 'save as', this saves the file in the program's 'native' format - in my case this is .All - e.g. MyNewSong.all Use this format to load and save your file until you are ready to generate the midi, for going back into your keyboard - which you will do by 'exporting'.

Why? Using the native format will save many of the program settings with the file, whereas if you imported a midi version every time you wanted to work on your song, then there's a little fiddling about setting things up again. So it's just a time-saver doing it this way. For instance, you can tell the program, and save this setting, to always open up the Score editor when double-clicking a track in the main workspace. (The default setting is the Key editor). This information will be saved with the .all version of your file, but not the midi.You probably get the drift.

Ok, a couple of examples now follow. Don't forget, to edit your midi you will need to get it from your keyboard to the PC - and then back again. So, I normally either make a mental note of what needs fixing, or just jot a list down. Then, every now and again, take the midi into the PC, make all your fixes, and then back to the k/b. However, this last part is not strictly necessary, as you can record directly from your keyboard into the sequencer. Just select the track you want to overdub, or replace, select the correct voice on your k/b, on the Tyros it would be selected in R1, and then use the recording tools in Cubase to begin. If you screw up, just hit 'Undo' and start over.



Example 1

Problem: I've got a slow piano intro. I've added a string bass to play the first note of each bar. It doesn't sound quite right yet, and I may have the bass start a little later on. However, I don't want to delete the bass notes yet.

Solution: In Cubase, just 'mute' the notes in the intro, and they are still there should you decide to change your mind later on.



Example 2

Problem:
I've used a jazz guitar to add chords in the background. However, it just doesn't sound right, and I want to 'thicken-up' the sound, without turning up the volume too much.

Solution:
OK, one way you could achieve this is by making a copy of the track. Let's say the original guitar is on track 15. Select the track and copy it to track 16. This won't sound too good as yet, because all we've done is 'doubled-up' the guitar. What we could do is firstly, get the volume exactly the same on both parts (tracks). Pan track 15 to the left, and pan track 16 to the right. OK, that's sounding better. Now, select one of the tracks and add a little 'delay' to it. This means the playing on the delayed track will be fractionally 'later' than the other guitar track. You will need to experiment to get the right delay, to match the style of guitar playing, but this is a quick and easy way of 'thickening up' a sound. Try this effect also with a tinkly piano playing single notes, (you can add some reverb back in the k/b later), and you may be pleasantly surprised at the effect. This is just a single example of how you can use a sequencer for 'creative' effects. There are many others.



Example 3

Problem:
I have a few instruments all hitting a chord at the same time. A couple of them are slightly mistimed, so the chord sounds messy.

Solution: In Cubase, the Key editor will give you a visual clue if something is mistimed. Just select the note(s) hit Q (for Quantise) and that will 'move' the note to the correct position.



Example 4
Problem:
I want my music to slow right down for the ending and have fine control over when the very last chord plays.

Solution:
In Cubase, there is a feature called 'Mastertrack'. It's very easy to set up the tempo changes in here, and yes, you can control that last chord exactly as desired.



Example 5 (You may have seen this on another thread, in which case just skip)

Problem: I'm just working on a new tune. It's a slow one that starts quiet, builds in the middle, then goes quieter for the ending. I want it to sound melancholy & 'filmy'.Where it builds in the middle I want the drums, just a single snare shot, to be prominent, (I've got a nice lively reverb on it). The drums are played from an exisiting on-board style, with all other parts removed. However, when I get the snare sounding just right the bass drum then becomes far too loud, and doesn't fit in with the effect I'm trying to create. Also, I've noticed the drum style also contains a tambourine hit in sync with the snare (which I like and want to keep) but it also contains a floor tom, which is just not in keeping with the piece, which has to go.

So, I want the snare loud and the bass drum quieter. I want to get rid of the floor tom but keep the tambourine.

I am sure there is a way to achieve the above in the k/b sequencer but the easiest way, for me I must add, is to bring the midi into Cubase, or any other sequencer and do the following:

Solution: The track (10) that has the snare and bass drum. It's simply a case of copying the track, and pasting to another (I used track 16 for the copy).

I open track 10 into one of the editors. I locate the bass drum, and select every instance of it. (This is dead easy, honest!).

I then open track 16, and find every instance of the snare drum, and delete it.

So now, we have the snare only on track 10, and the bass drum only on track 16.

If there's a cymbal playing on track 10, which means it will also be on the copy you made, just delete it out of either track, otherwise you'll have it playing 'double'.

Why have we split track 10 into 2 tracks? Well now, when we save and bring the midi back into our k/b, we can control the volume of the snare and bass drum.

The floor tom and tambourine are on track 9, so it's simply a case of opening this track in the editor and deleting all instances of the floor tom.



It doesn't matter one iota if you don't read music. You can achieve the same results in either editor, and they are also quite easy to use.

After reading the above you may decide that you can't be bothered to try out PC-based multitracking, but if you're looking to go 'beyond the box', for instance - maybe you just like writing your own stuff and prefer to play your own backing tracks, then multi-tracking is the way forward.

Is multi-tracking cheating though?

Well, I think you'd need to ask yourself the following questions if you are concerned about this:

Is using a midi created by someone else, (a style) cheating?

Is using the transpose button, instead of actually playing the key change cheating?

Is adding auto harmonies to your vocal cheating?

Is a big name vocalist, who spends all afternoon in the studio trying to fix notes that were earlier sung 'flat' cheating?

Is the same vocalist who appears on TV that evening miming to their latest big seller cheating?

Apart from the last one, in my view all perfectly legitimate ways of making music, and I don't have a problem with any of them, apart from the miming one obviously!

Spend a day in a busy recording studio and when you've seen how much 'cheating' goes on in making music, (all perfectly legitimate in my view), you may end up with a slightly altered view on the matter.

Rant over - back on topic!

Also worth remembering - you don't need to start from scratch when multi-tracking. To begin with, try loading one of your own midis, that doesn't have too many tracks recorded, into Cubase and keep the parts that might be too tricky to replace, and just add some extra parts of your own, just as you would on the k/b. Try playing a short solo passage, and then have a go at editing what you've just played. Basically, just experiment away!

You'll soon get the hang of it and you will be soon itching to try some tempo, or key changes.

Couple of points to remember:

Help is just a mouse click away - so don't struggle on your own.

No question is too daft. God knows, I've asked enough of them!

If this post has been in the slightest bit helpful, I'd appreciate a little feedback, so I know my effort is not in vain.

Lastly, if you've got this far and have a question about the above, but don't want to post in public, then drop me a PM and I'll do my best to help. No technical questions though!

Regards,

Paul

Further reading: How to sequence a popular tune


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Re: What is multi-tracking? How do I make a start?
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Default Re: What is multi-tracking? How do I make a start? - 03-06-2008, 07:57 PM

Paul,

Great article! Well thoughtout and simple down to earth instructions. Thanks so much for sharing.

Vinnie
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Default Re: What is multi-tracking? How do I make a start? - 03-06-2008, 08:26 PM

Hi Paul

Exellent read this .. i didn't take it all in in one go so i will book mark it for a later date !

cheers

andy
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Default Re: What is multi-tracking? How do I make a start? - 04-06-2008, 08:35 PM

Good article Paul, I've been using Cubase VST for several years and it's ancestor before that.

Everything you wrote is accurate as for as my experience. I use a different approach as my keyboard doesn't have built in sequencing, or styles. I build a song from scratch one track at a time.

When I get time I'll write an article on my method and include some tips on using the list editor, which is also a powerful tool.


Joe Whitehead ------- TexasTrax
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Thumbs up Re: What is multi-tracking? How do I make a start? - 04-06-2008, 10:21 PM

Hi Vinnie & Andy,

Thanks for taking a read, and glad it was useful.

Joe,

Any article you can come up with will be really useful.

Firstly, the members will certainly benefit from this type of article as there are quite a few here who've expressed an interest in the past, in learning more about the approach to multi-tracking.

Secondly, it's a great way of promoting the site, and getting more traffic.

If you look at the 'who's online' box, either in your homepage, or the main forums list, you'll notice we had 78 visitors early this morning.

After Gordon had written his Tyros to mp3 tutorial, I set up a page for it, and submitted it to some social bookmarking sites. Within a few minutes, I was sat here with over 70 guests, who were all reading Gordon's article.

So, all possible new members.

I did the same with my own 2 articles, a couple of nights earlier, and had the same sort of results.

So, if any members submit useful articles, I will be promoting the hell out of them, so make sure it's gone through the spell-checker, as there will be a whole load of people reading them.

If I rename the title of the article, it's for the purposes outlined above.

Thirdly, it would be nice to see the discussion forums with some activity, so any articles / tutorials etc. will be good food for discussion.

Cheers all.

Paul


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Default Re: What is multi-tracking? How do I make a start? - 05-06-2008, 07:19 PM

Hi Paul.

If nobody else has this already in hand, I will write a " Multi-tracking for dummies" type thing ,for the T1 onboard sequencer,which is what I use for all My songs.

Cheers for now
Gordon
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Lone Arranger Re: What is multi-tracking? How do I make a start? - 05-06-2008, 07:45 PM

Brilliant!

Thanks Gordon!

Paul


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Default Re: What is multi-tracking? How do I make a start? - 07-06-2008, 10:09 PM

Hi Paul

This was a great article and I found it very interesting. I have a "pirate" copy of a sequence program and never really got to grips with it. However, after reading your article, I will get down to it now.
Thank you very much.

Kind regards
Andy
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Default Re: What is multi-tracking? How do I make a start? - 07-06-2008, 10:12 PM

Hi Gordon
That would be very good indeed, and I am one "Dummy" who would benefit from a master such as yourself. Looking forward to your tutorial.

Kind regards
Andy
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Blank canvas multi-tracking
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Default Blank canvas multi-tracking - 07-11-2008, 08:13 PM

Ok Paul this I feel is one for you
I don't read music so which is the best way for me to multi-track a song starting with a clean sheet. What track should I record first? even if it's replaced later. Once I have the tracks down I can edit them in Cubase so I don't care if I make mistakes. I can also step record parts. I'm thinking Tyros here not Motif so do I use onboard style or form my own drum track?
Cheers
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