Tighten up your timing without sounding robotic, using Logic’s quantisation features.
In this month's Logic technique workshop we look at how to use quantisation to tighten up your recordings. To begin, we’ll look at how to non-destructively quantise MIDI events after recording. We’ll then look at the application of permanent quantisation to tighten up specific note ranges. To finish up, I will show you how to create your own groove templates from a drum sample and apply them to either audio or MIDI.
Let’s begin by looking at quantising MIDI non-destructively. Record a two bar drum beat that’s based around a 16th note rhythmic feel. If your keyboard playing is anything like mine then your notes will be only roughly in the right places and the feel may be a little looser than you desire. To fix this, double click on the Region you just recorded to ensure that it is selected and the Piano Roll editor is open, then go to the Region section of the Inspector (See Screen 1). The Region parameter area lets you make non-destructive adjustments to a region, which is useful because it means we can return our original at any point. Click on the Quantize parameter and choose 1/16 Note — as we performed our drum beat based on 16th note divisions its sensible to use a similar setting for quantisation.
To give your groove more of a swung feel go to the Q-Swing parameter and increase it from 50 to 60 percent. Do this by clicking the blank space the right of word ‘Q-Swing’, then dragging up to see the parameter value. Notice that as you raise the parameter value Logic takes the second and fourth 16th note of every four and starts to delay them to create the swung feel. You can quickly access a quantise preset with an amount of swing already added by choosing one of the swing presets, for example 1/16 Swing C. A Q-Swing setting of less than 50 percent does the reverse and moves the second and fourth 16th notes earlier in time.
If you found the previous quantisation settings too mechanical you can retain an amount of the original feel and groove in your playing by going to the Regions parameter area and clicking the disclosure arrow next to More; this will display all the extra Region parameters. Next, go to the Q-Strength parameter and click and drag downwards, in this case to 90 percent. As you do this, Logic will move the notes 90 percent of the way toward the quantisation setting, leaving 10 percent of the original deviation in place. Decreasing the parameter further will make the quantisation less and less rigid and allow more of the original feel to remain.
In Logic you can also set the non-destructive quantisation to be automatically applied to any recorded events. However, the workflow for this is not exactly obvious. Start by clicking in a blank area of the arrange page so that no Regions are selected, and from the Inspector choose the quantisation settings you would like to add to your new recording. I find that a quantisation setting of a 16th note and a Strength of 80 percent help to alleviate any timing issues without sounding too mechanical. Now record a new drum beat and this time notice that when you hit stop on the transport your quantisation settings are automatically applied.
When trying to improve the timing of a MIDI performance, you may wish to permanently quantise a range of notes from within a region. For example, you may wish to quantise a single triplet fill that occurs in the middle of an eighth-note drum beat. To apply quantisation to a range of notes, go to the Piano Roll and find the inspector on the left hand side. Next, select a range of notes with the Pointer tool and from the Time Quantize pop-up choose an appropriate quantise setting (see Screen 2). Alternatively, if your Time Quantize menu is already set to the desired value, clicking on the Q next to it allows you to quickly apply that setting. The Piano Roll also has a dedicated quantisation tool which can be useful if you have lots of small sections within a larger performance that you want to quantise separately. With the quantise tool set as the left click tool, draw around a range of notes to select them and then click on one of the selected notes to quantise them to the current Time Quantize setting. To change the quantisation setting at the mouse pointer position simply click and hold, then choose the desired setting from the pop-up menu that appears.
Another place you can apply permanent quantisation is from the Event List editor. To do this click the List Editors button or go to View / Show List Editors. Now select a range of notes in the Event List Editor; you can now use the Quantize pop-up menu above the list, and the Q button, in the same way as in the Piano Roll editor.
Next let’s look at how to extract a groove template from your favourite drum sample and apply it to either MIDI or audio regions. First of all find a recording of a drum beat by a drummer whose feel you really admire. Next, take an extract of their playing and edit it to a bar in length. Ensure the bar of the drumbeat is in time with the sequence tempo. This can easily be accomplished by time stretching/compressing the region to a bar in length: to do this, hold down Option and click and drag the bottom right-hand corner of the region until it’s exactly in time. We now need to extract the position of the drum events from the drum beat to give us a quantisation template, this is accomplished by detecting the transients. Double-click on the audio file to bring up the Sample editor. Make sure you are on the File tab, then click the Transient Editing Mode button to turn it on, and adjust the sensitivity of the transient detection using the plus and minus buttons next to it until you can see markers for the majority of the transients (see Screen 3). If Logic has missed any of the drum hits, for example a quiet hi-hat, then simply use the pencil tool to add a marker. Now, return back to the track that your drum beat is on and go to Edit / Show Flex Pitch/Time to turn Flex Time on. From the Track Header, drop down the Flex Mode menu and select ‘Slicing’. Notice how the region’s parameters area updates to include the Quantize menu. Click in the Quantize drop-down and choose Make Groove Template. Logic will now add a Groove Template to the Quantize menu named after the drum region it was taken from.
To apply the groove template to a MIDI region on a software instrument track, record a drum beat on a software instrument track, select the region and then go to the Quantize menu and choose the groove template; again, experiment with the Strength parameter if the quantisation feels unnatural. To apply your groove template to an audio region on an audio track, record a guitar riff or equivalent, then go to Edit / Show Flex Pitch/Time. In the Audio Track header choose the Polyphonic Flex algorithm and then go to the Regions Parameter area and from the Quantize pop-up menu select your groove template. The audio will be time compressed and expanded according to the groove template.
As you can see Logic has a vast array of quantisation options to help you lock your audio and MIDI performances to a particular rhythmic feel — just remember that many of the options are there to help you retain an amount of the feel of the original performance, and that rigid quantisation can be just as fatiguing as overused pitch correction.