Program drums and automate effects faster with Logic’s Step Editor.
In this month’s Logic workshop, we take a look at how we can use the Step Editor to program drums and manipulate different types of automation data.
They are many different ways to program drums in Logic Pro X. Let’s begin in the familiar Piano Roll Editor, and then switch across to the Step Editor to compare the approaches. On a Software Instrument track, go to the Media Browser and choose the preset Electronic Drum Kit / Drum Machine Designer / Trap Door. Create a blank region and double-click on it to open the Piano Roll Editor. Scroll down to C1 and zoom in vertically until you can comfortably read the names of the different drum elements in the Note Grid. Drag out the Inspector on the left of the Piano Roll until you can comfortably read the Time Quantize and Velocity fields. Set your left-click tool to the Brush tool and your Command-click tool to the Velocity tool (see Screen 1 above). To input notes, simply click and drag inside the Note Grid so that the Brush tool creates a line of notes at the Time Quantize setting. To draw in 1/32nd notes, set the Time Quantize slider to 1/32nd notes and then just click and drag with the Brush tool. To erase notes, click and drag the Brush tool over them; you will see that the pointer automatically turns into an eraser. To edit the velocity of the your hi-hats you can use the Velocity tool and click on a note and drag up or down to adjust this. Alternatively, you can go to the View Menu, choose MIDI Draw / Note Velocity and edit the velocity in that editor.
Now let’s look at the alternative approach: programming drums in the Step Editor. One of the main advantages of the Step Editor over the Piano Roll Editor is you can paint in both notes and their velocities at the same time. Draw in another blank region and go to the Step Editor. The Step Editor is made up of lanes, and a single lane represents a MIDI event type: usually Note or Controller, though as we will see later, you can also display automation events. Each step in a lane represents a MIDI event, and its value is displayed by the height of the vertical sliders. Set your left-click tool to the Pointer tool and your Command-click tool to the Pencil tool. When the focus is set to the Step Editor, the Inspector contains a new Lane Set field. Using the options in the Lane Set combo box, you can create many different Lane Sets which can be switched to display different data. Click on the Lane Set combo box, and from the drop-down, choose the GM Drum Kit option. This will create a lane for each note in a General MIDI drum mapping (see Screen 2).
Let’s program a simple drum beat. Click on the Closed HH lane, go to the Inspector, and from the Lane area set the Grid to 1/16 and the Pen Width to 2. Now go to the Closed HH lane, Command-click and drag the mouse to the right to draw in a row of 1/16th-note hi-hats. Go back to the Inspector, change the Grid to 1/32 and draw in some further, faster hi-hats to taste. Once you have input the notes, you can use the Pointer tool to tweak their velocities. I find it much easier to adjust velocities of a drum beat in the Step Editor than in the Piano Roll, as I can use the Pointer tool to click and drag multiple note velocities up and down, so as to experiment with where the accents may be placed. To erase any wrong notes, use the Pointer tool to select them and press backspace. You can delete more than one note by holding down Shift and using the Pointer tool to draw around multiple notes to select them, and then pressing backspace. You can also Nudge a Step by selecting it and then using Logic’s Nudge key commands to move it left or right.
In the Step Editor you can link different consecutive lanes to each other to mimic the behaviour of a hi-hat. In the GM Drum Kit mapping, the hi-hat lanes for closed, open and pedal are linked so that inserting a note in any hi-hat lane automatically removes any notes at the same point in time in any of the linked lanes. This is designed to mimic the fact that a drummer can only play one of those hi-hat strokes at a time. Try drawing notes into the Closed HH, Ped HH and Open HH lanes and observe how you can only have one hi-hat voice at a time. To link any two lanes together, first of all make sure that they are next to each other — you can move a lane by clicking on its header and dragging it up or down. Now go to the lane header and click on the dot just before the name, then go the lane above or beneath it and click on its dot. A blue line appears to indicate that the two lanes are now linked.
Another cool aspect of the Step Editor is its ability to display automation data alongside note data. On the Trap Door channel strip, create a send to a reverb such as Logic’s Space Designer, and record some automation of the send level knob. Next, from Logic’s main menu bar go to Mix / Convert Automation / Convert All Track Automation to Region Automation. This will embed your send automation into your drum parts region so that selecting the region will also select the automation events. With your drum beats region selected, return to the Step Editor such that it has focus, and from the Inspector, go to the Lane Set combo box. This time, choose Create Lane Set for Current Events. Now the Step Editor will display any notes in your drum beat and a lane for your send automation (see Screen 3). Click on the Send 1 lane and delete the existing send automation by holding down Shift to select the range of events and hitting backspace. Now experiment by drawing in send automation on different drum hits using the Pencil tool. It’s fun having an automation lane that can follow the grid and quantise settings of the note events.
In the Step Editor you can create your own custom Lane Sets with just the notes or controller events you wish to see. Each time you use the Create Lane Set for Current Events command you will create a new Lane Set. Go to the Inspector’s Lane Set menu and click on it. You will see a number of Logic presets, and one called Trap Door which is the current Lane Set you created in the earlier example. Let’s create a new Lane Set tailored to manipulating a synthesizer patch. Create a new software instrument track and add Alchemy to it; then, from the browser, choose the Modern Synth / Pads / AlphaPad preset. Record a simple chord progression and then go to the Step Editor. From the Lane Set menu, choose Create Lane Set. Logic creates a new Lane Set, with just a single lane for Volume CC7 automation. From the Lanes menu, choose Create Lane, then go to the Inspector and set the Number field to ‘1 = Modulation setting’. Now draw in some sweeping Modulation automation, and then go to the Volume lane and draw in a simple pattern of on/off events to give a pattern tremolo effect (see Screen 4). The Step Editor makes entering rhythmic modulation a breeze, and it’s much easier to tweak automation events in a rhythmic manner than it would be in the MIDI Draw or Automation lane alternatives. Lastly let’s name the Lane Set. To do this, go to the Lane Set menu, choose Rename and call it Modulation.Logic04
If you were previously baffled by the Step Editor, hopefully this article has demystified its purpose, and now this powerful editor can become part of your core Logic Pro X workflow.