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Logic Pro X: Articulations & Keyswitches

Apple Logic Pro Tips & Techniques By Paul White
Published March 2019

Articulations are accessible in the Track Inspector.Articulations are accessible in the Track Inspector.

Get the most out of your virtual instruments with Logic's articulation options.

Anyone exploring Logic's Studio Strings and Studio Brass instruments will no doubt have checked out the Articulations box in the plug-in window and discovered the extended options to control how these instruments will respond to MIDI data. For example, if you pick Cellos, you'll find sustain, pizzicato, various trills, tremolo, crescendo options, and so on. Other than possibly the default sustain or maybe pizzicato, it is unlikely that you'll want to use any one of these across a whole passage of music, so Logic includes the means to switch between articulations during performance using MIDI notes that are outside the range of the instruments being played — C0 upwards in semitone steps. This isn't a new approach to articulation switching by any means, but it is a very practical and effective one. However, you can't just load up a string section and then hit those control notes to change articulation, as nothing will happen... yet.

To make use of articulations you need to open up the Track Inspector in the Main window and look for a field labelled Articulation Set, right at the bottom. You then have to select the instrument you want to control, and then, from its sub-menu, the instrument or ensemble type to match the way your instrument is set (I'm sure Logic could be made to pick the correct articulation set when you load the instrument if the designers put their minds to it). For this example, let's select Studio Strings then, from the sub-menu, Studio Cellos. Once the instrument is selected, the other controls you need to get the job done become visible. At least some of the articulations will still operate, after a fashion, if you pick the wrong sub‑instrument or even if you select Studio Brass instead of Studio Strings, but you won't have proper control without having the correct set of articulations for the instrument you want to use.

Smart Switching

Next, click on the Smart Controls knob near the top left of the Main window and you'll see a control panel open up in the bottom half of the Main screen. You'll now have some basic controls for the selected instrument covering envelope, volume, filter and other parameters. If you click on the EQ tab, a Channel EQ will be loaded on the channel for you, but the tab we're really interested in is the one that says Keyswitches — and remember that this will only be visible if you've selected the appropriate Instrument under Articulation Set in the Inspector's Track panel. Click on Keyswitches and you'll see one octave of a keyboard starting at C0, with the articulations they activate written on the keys. If there are more than 12 articulations, you can click the small keyboard icon to the right of the one highlighted in blue to see what's assigned in the next octave up. Click on any of the keys set to control articulations and you'll hear the effect on the sound of the instrument as you play. Finally, click the MIDI Remote button in the Smart Controls panel, which will then light up orange, and then you can just use the same keys on your MIDI keyboard to gain real-time articulation control.

You can choose articulations using keyswitches...You can choose articulations using keyswitches...

But what if, like me, you only have a three-octave or smaller keyboard in your studio? Or you want to change the articulations after you've recorded something? Well, you could just paste in the relevant articulation control notes in the Event List or Piano Roll editor, but there's an easier way. You'll need to go through that step of setting up the appropriate Instrument and sub-instrument in the Track Inspector before anything works, but once you've done that, when you open the Piano Roll editor you should now see an Articulation box between the Scale Quantize menu and Velocity fader.

...or in the Piano Roll editor....or in the Piano Roll editor.Now, when you click on any note in the Piano Roll editor to hear it play, its articulation type can be selected from a drop-down menu in the articulation list to the left. Alternatively, you can right-click on a note to access the articulations within the pop-up local menu. There's also an option to assign different colours to notes according to their articulation, instead of using velocity, region or MIDI channel colours.

Clearly, making use of a range of articulations can make a massive difference to the perceived realism of a MIDI performance, but you may still need to make a few tweaks. On a practical level, you may well find that you need to adjust the volumes of individual notes after switching articulations in order to maintain a realistically consistent playback volume. If you copy any notes by Alt‑dragging, their articulations will be copied too, but it is useful to remember that articulations apply for the whole duration of a note — you can't switch articulations in the middle. You can, however, apply different articulations to two different notes that are playing at the same time.

Custom Articulations

When using third-party instruments like Kontakt, which has its own keyswitches, you can set them up so that they appear in the Track Inspector, just like Logic's own instruments.When using third-party instruments like Kontakt, which has its own keyswitches, you can set them up so that they appear in the Track Inspector, just like Logic's own instruments.If you have any third-party instruments (like Kontakt) that also use keyswitching to select different articulations, you can easily create your own custom sets that will work in the same way as the Studio Brass and Studio Strings articulations.

From the Track Inspector, go to the Articulation menu and select New. A box will appear with three tabs at the top labelled Switches, Articulations and Output. In the Articulations column you can enter suitable articulation names, in order of lowest trigger key to highest, using the Name column. If you make use of the Score editor, you can also choose from standard symbols in the Symbol menu. Then go to the Output tab and select Note On for each row of the Type column, then select the corresponding MIDI notes needed to trigger your articulations from a drop‑down menu in the Selector column. Finally, do a Save As... in the Articulation Set menu and give your set a name.

As an example, I created a set for the Bansurai wind instrument running in Kontakt. That was definitely worth doing, as I now find it much easier to create a realistic-sounding performance.

Need more help with Logic Pro X? Click to check out the SOS Tutorial video course on LPX.

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