PC Audio and MIDI Tips Connect your Synthesizer to your PC If you are using your PC to make music and you have an external MIDI synthesizer, then connect for synthesizer to your PC. In the old day your would have done this by means of a breakout box.  This plugs into the joystick port in your sound card. Many modern keyboards and sound modules, however, have a USB port which makes connection to a PC even easier. Easy on that quantize function One complaint directed against computer generated music is that it sounds too, well .......... computer generated - it’s all too correct. One way to stop that is to not use that quantize function so much - or at least do a partial quantize. Oh yeah, I know it corrects all those nasty timing errors that humans can’t help putting in. However, if you leave some timing variations in then it will sound more natural rather than generated by a machine - unless of course you are into writing techno music, which requires strict timing. If you step enter your music, there is software that let’s you randomize various parameters (including velocity and timing information). This will give your music that human touch. With it’s advanced language structure, Cakewalk Sonar can handle this nicely. Add dynamics in your music When doing the melody line, try to play it rather than step edit it, Sometimes you grab a MIDI file that already contains a melody line and it sounds too rigid. You can make a big difference to the file if you insert well positioned pitch bends and pitch modulation. Doing this you can make the melody line of a cover (or any original for that matter) sound much more natural and the piece will flow better. Of course you do need an external MIDI controller that can transmit pitch bend wheel and modulation wheel information. It’s hard and time consuming to enter this data by step editing it. Done properly can yield great results. Break some rules Don’t be afraid to break a few musical rules in your efforts to be creative. I know this can take a while to get the hang of but don’t be too stuck to traditional way of writing music. Hey, if something sounds right, even though it may make a hardened music teacher cringe - go with it. Less is More! Don’t go overboard with effects or make them too loud. The same goes for background sounds in a piece - let your ears be the judge. If you think something overpowers your piece, then chances are your audience will think so too! You’ll get the idea. Play the tune instead of step editing it. Try to use real time editing (played on the synth) instead of step editing (entered one note at a time using the mouse) if you can. Only use step editing for those real fiddly bits or those parts impossible for you to play manually. Strum those guitars If you are doing a sequence that contains guitar chords, they can sound more realistic if the notes of a given chord are slightly offset in time from each other. This is because on a real guitar the notes are never played at exacly the same time. I know this can be time consuming - but the results are worth it. If you have Cakewalk pro audio you can use the CAL language to do this automaticly for you. Also if your MIDI device supports it, add a bit of release time on the guitars. (controller 72). Synthesizer tips If you are shopping around for a synth - make sure it transmits and receives velocity information and channel aftertouch. Key Aftertouch would be handy as well. It should also have full size keys - weighted is also a bonus. Remember a built in sequencer adds $$ to the cost of a synth. Unless you do live gigs on the road - you don’t really need a built in sequencer. You can use your PC as a sequencer (with carefully chosen software of course). So why sent extra $$ on a feature on the synth that you probably won’t use. Go for XG If you want to be seriously creative, get yourself a soundcard (or sound module for that matter) that can reproduce XG MIDI files. These cards/modules can provide or more realistic sound. XG devices contain a lot more sounds than General MIDI, has control over attack and release, etc. You can control a lot more parameters, like harmonic filters, brightness, etc. If you want to download a software version of an XG sound card then you can do so from here. Please email me for username and password. Use your stereo system Now that you’ve got yourself a wavetable sound card to write music - do yourself a favor and plug your sound card output into the AUX port of your stereo system. You usually get better sound from this than any speakers you would have got with your PC. If you can afford it get (or build) yourself a stereo multi channel mixer and an external stereo effects unit. A sound card with built in stereo effects (reverb, delay, chorus, etc) is a real bonus. Use your headphones A lot of MIDI files have a lot of acoustic detail that would be missed if you are using the crappy speakers supplied with most PCs. Therefore plug a good pair of headphones into the speaker socket of your soundcard. Even if you are using your stereo, have a listen to a few MIDIs through headphones to pick up all the detail that well programmed MIDIs have to offer. Use your PC as a tape deck. If your PC is next to your stereo system then you might want to use your PC as a tape deck. To do this you remove the end of the cable that’s plugged onto to the “Tape In ” socket on your tape deck and plug it into the “Line In” socket on your sound card (you may need an adapter cable though). What you can end up with is a 24 bit studio quality digital recorder and the ability to modify the song using software like Goldwave. Before using your machine in this manner I suggest the following: A nice fast machine - at least a P4 3.0GHZ Lot's of free hard drive space - at least 1 Terabyte Lot's of ram - at least 8 gig. (ram is pretty cheap now) Decent sample editing software A CD/DVD/Bluray burner if you want to make your own CDs/DVDs. Hunting for quality MIDI files. Large MIDI files. Most of the time a large file indicates a good tune - but beware, a large file size could also mean lots of aftertouch or volume information but little else. Look for differing velocity levels Another sign of a quality MIDI file is to look at the velocity levels for a given track. If the velocity levels are all the same then the track has been entered manually (or step edited) but if they vary then the piece most likely has been played on a synth - making for a much more natural and interesting piece. Unfortunately you have to download the files first and load it into a sequencer that let’s you edit velocities to check this. Use Internet search engines If you are looking for a particular title then most archives on the ’net have handy search engines. If not you can try Music Robot and search for the exact title or artist. For looking for lyrics you can try Lyrics Robot. If you require midis that are good enough for stage performances then you should consider purchasing them from a professional MIDI site. Edit MIDI files yourself If you find a MIDI file that doesn’t quite sound right, here are a few things you can do to improve it. (with a sequencer package of course).  On the melody part you may like to add a slight vibrato (frequency wobble) at the end of long notes. When doing this it’s easier to record it using the modulation wheel on your synth rather than inserting it manually in your sequencing package. That way you can hear the recorded changes as they are being made. The more skilled among you you can inprove the melody track by inserting pitch bends at the right place. Usually when one note changes to another. This makes the melody flow better. This usually has to be step edited to be done properly. Also this doesn’t need to be done on all files - let your ears be the judge. Sometimes XG information can be added. Go here to learn more about XG You can make a big difference by adding effects like chorus , reverb and delay - but don’t go overboard. Look for XG files If you have an XG sound card, try to look for files specifically written for XG - they can sound excellent when expertly done. XG is a new MIDI standard created by Yamaha. It’s an extension of General MIDI and caters for more patches, more expressive control over the harmonic content, envelope info, etc contained in the sounds. All MIDI files from this site are programmed to XG MIDI Standards XG MIDI effects XG Reset F0 43 10 4C 00 00 7F 00 F7 Volume Controller 7 adjusts the master volume of the track. Controller 11 adjusts the expression level. Think of this as a secondary volume control. Pan Controller 10 adjusts where in the stereo field the sound will occur. Values are from 1 to 127 where 0 is extreme left, 64 is centre and 127 is extreme right. Pedals Controller 64 keeps the notes sounding after your key has been released. New notes are also sustained. Controller 66 causes any notes that are pressed to sustain after the key has been released. This differs from sustain in that any new notes pressed while this controller is pressed do not get sustained. Controller 67 softens or dampens the sound using filters. Envelope Controller 73 Adjusts the Attack time. Controller 72 Adjusts the release time. The time it takes for the note to fade to nothing after releasing the key. NRPN 228 Adjusts the delay time. Pitch modulation (Vibrato) Controller 1 adjusts the depth of the modulation (after XG reset). NRPN 137 Controls the Vibrato Speed. NRPN 138 Controls the Vibrato delay. Volume modulation (Tremolo) The easiest way to achieve volume modulation is couple channel aftertouch with sysex. The Sysex string in hexidecimal to turn this on is as follows: F0 43 10 4C 08 CC 52 YY F7 Where CC is the Channel from 00 to 0F and YY is the depth of the effect from 00 to 7F. After you have sent this then you can add channel aftertouch events to add tremolo. Filter Modulation Again, couple channel aftertouch with sysex. The Sysex string in hexidecimal to turn this on is as follows: F0 43 10 4C 08 CC 51 YY F7 Where CC is the Channel from 00 to 0F and YY is the depth of the effect from 00 to 7F. After you have sent this then you can add channel aftertouch events to add filter modulation. Portamento Controller 5 adjusts the time it takes for the note to slide from one note to the other. Controller 65 turns the effect on and off. A value from 0 to 63 turns the effect off and a value from 64 to 127 turns the effect on. Controller 84 controls the starting note of the portmento slide. A value of 48 is middle c on the keyboard. Resonance Controller 71 Adjusts the harmonic content of the voice. A value of 64 produces no adjustment. Controller 74 Adjusts the filter cut off frequency. A value of 64 produces no adjustment. Effects Controller 91 adjusts the rerverb level. Controller 93 adjusts the chorus level. Controller 94 adjusts the variation level. This effect can be one of many effects that are available with XG. By default the effect is a multi tap delay but this can be changed with sysex To turn on the variation effect for all tracks you need to send the following sysex string: F0 43 10 4C 02 01 5A 01 F7 Channel Aftertouch Vibrato To turn on Channel Key aftertouch to produce pitch modulation: F0 43 10 4C 08 CC 50 YY F7 Where CC is the Channel from 00 to 0F and YY is the depth of the effect from 00 to 7F. Key Aftertouch Vibrato To turn on Key aftertouch to produce pitch modulation: F0 43 10 4C 08 CC 56 YY F7 Where CC is the Channel from 00 to 0F and YY is the depth of the effect from 00 to 7F. Channel Aftertouch Tremolo To turn on Channel Aftertouch to produce amplitude modulation: F0 43 10 4C 08 CC 52 YY F7 Where CC is the Channel from 00 to 0F and YY is the depth of the effect from 00 to 7F. Key Aftertouch Tremolo To turn on Key Aftertouch to produce amplitude modulation: F0 43 10 4C 08 CC 58 YY F7 Where CC is the Channel from 00 to 0F and YY is the depth of the effect from 00 to 7F. Channel Aftertouch filter modulation To turn on Channel Aftertouch to produce filter modulation: F0 43 10 4C 08 CC 51 YY F7 Where CC is the Channel from 00 to 0F and YY is the depth of the effect from 00 to 7F. Key Aftertouch filter modulation To turn on Key Aftertouch to produce filter modulation: F0 43 10 4C 08 CC 57 YY F7 Where CC is the Channel from 00 to 0F and YY is the depth of the effect from 00 to 7F. Channel Aftertouch Pitch bend To turn on Channel Aftertouch to produce a 2 semitone upward pitch bend. F0 43 10 4C 08 CC 4D YY F7 Where CC is the Channel vfrom 00 to 0F and YY is the depth of the effect between 28 and 58.  YY is the number of semitones to shift (which means 40 produces no shift) Key Aftertouch Pitch bend To turn on Key Aftertouch to produce a 2 semitone upward pitch bend. F0 43 10 4C 08 CC 53 YY F7 Where CC is the Channel from 00 to 0F and YY is the depth of the effect between 28 and 58.  YY is the number of semitones shift (which means 40 produces no shift) Polyphony Controller 126 with a value of 0 to 16 makes that channel monophonic Controller 127 with a value of 0 makes the channel polyphonic