Recording And Layering – Be Your Own Band!

By playing individual parts of a piece, recording them one at a time, you can play wonderfully complex music, with a variety of different musical instruments.

Since each instrument is played the same way using the KeyMusician Keyboard, you don't have to learn how to play the different instruments.

This tutorial teaches you how to record musical numbers with multiple instruments playing at the same time, and with many musical parts (often referred-to as “layers”).

Before doing that, we first need to introduce a few words describing the things or concepts we'll be using.

Glossary Of New Terms/Concepts (in alphabetic order)

General MIDIA standard that defines a default organization of instrument sounds (voices), allowing a piece (sequence) recorded on one synthesizer, to sound more-or-less the same when played on another synthesizer. The KeyMusician Keyboard assumes the use of the General MIDI (often abbreviated as “GM”) standard, but it can easily be tailored to fit most synthesizers.

MeasureA discrete portion of a piece of music, marked by vertical lines spanning the 5-lines of the staff. A measure has a given number of beats (corresponding to clicks of a metronome). Each measure is for the same moment in time, of all of the parts in a piece.

Metronomea device that taps-out musical time (as expressed in a time-signature, and a tempo), by making a clicking sound. The sound is louder for the first beat of a measure. A metronome works like the conductor of a band or orchestra, allowing the various performers to play together. To use the metronome of the integrated Recorder/Player, a MIDI percussion (drums) channel (usually channel 10) must be available on the synthesizer used for playing.

MIDIAn acronym that stands for “Musical Instrument Digital Interface”. It is the computer protocol that allows synthesizers and sequence editors from many different manufacturers to work together (be compatible).

MIDI ChannelOne of 16 possible musical parts that can be played by a MIDI synthesizer at the same time. Some synthesizers can't play all 16 channels at the same time, but no MIDI synthesizer can play more than 16 parts (channels) at the same time, because the protocol allows no more than 16. If you don't change it, the melody uses channel 1, and the chords use channel 2.

MIDI EventA discrete action in a MIDI Sequence, such as turning a note on (or off), or changing which instrument is played, or changing the volume-level with-which the instrument plays.

MIDI File TypesDifferent ways a piece of MIDI music (a sequence) can be saved in a file on a computer or MIDI device. Type 0 means that there is only one track (see below) in the piece. Type 1 means there is more than one track in the piece (sequence), and all of the tracks are played together simultaneously. Type 2 means there are multiple tracks in the piece (sequence), but that they are played one after the other. The Integrated Player/Recorder supports types 0, and 1. If you record only one track, it will be stored as a type 0 MIDI file. If you record more than one track it will be stored as type 1.

Over-Dub RecordingA method of recording where everything you record is added to what is there already, and nothing replaces (over-writes) what is there already. The integrated player/recorder always uses the over-dub recording method.

PartA part of the same musical piece, performed simultaneously with the other parts of the piece, usually by a separate performer). Often there is a part for each instrument, but there can be multiple parts for the same instrument sound (voice).

SequenceA piece of music, stored in MIDI format, in a single file. It is a sequence of MIDI events, ordered in time, often with multiple parts.

TempoThe speed of the piece of music, expressed as the number of quarter-notes per minute. Notice that it Is only the same as beats-per-minute if a quarter-note gets one beat (the lower number of the time-signature is a “4”). The tempo is specified at the beginning of a piece, and wherever it changes in the piece. The tempo not necessarily being the same as beats-per-minute is confusing, but that's the way music has evolved.

Time-SignatureA way of indicating how many beats are in each measure, and what type of note gets a single beat. It is usually shown as a fraction (one number over another). The top number says how many beats are in a measure, and the bottom number tells the type of note (4 means quarter-note, the same as a fraction ¼ means one fourth). Likewise, 8 means an eighth note, and 2 means a half note). A time-signature is shown at the beginning of a piece, and wherever it changes in the piece. An upper-case “C” means common-time (4/4), and a “C” with a vertical-line through it means cut-time (2/2).

TrackA group of 1 to 16 MIDI channels recorded together. There can be any number of tracks in a piece (MIDI sequence). When you start a recording session on the integrated Player/Recorder, you create a new track, which has a MIDI channel for the melody, and (if you use it) a MIDI channel for the chords. You can record many times into that newly-created track. When you finally click (tab-to and activate) the “Save” button, the track is finished, and any new recording sessions will go to a new track.

VoiceA distinct instrument sound (also called a MIDI patch). Usually, different voices are played using different MIDI channels, but you can change voices (by hitting a different function key) while using the same MIDI channel. Most voices can play multiple notes at the same time (like a piano), but some (on some synthesizers) can only play a single note at any given time.

It is important to realize that when you record using the Integrated Player/Recorder, it always adds or inserts newly-recorded notes (or events) into what is already in the MIDI sequence (if anything). It never erases anything that is already there.

Because of this, you can do a recording where you listen to the entire piece, only playing a new note occasionally, or perhaps (at the end) using the MIDI volume-control to fade-out a note.

This method of recording is called over-dub recording, and it is the only method of recording the integrated player/recorder uses.

When you add new parts to a piece (usually adding new instrument parts), you are adding new 'layers' of sound, in a process called 'layering'.

Here is a screen-shot of the Player/Recorder during recording, to refer-to when reading about the buttons to be used below:

Screen-shot of the MIDI Player/Recorder window, with "40-Waltz.mid" in the MIDI File drop-box, "3," in the Channels text-field, and with both the Play, and Record toggle-buttons selected.
When you first press the “Record” button of the integrated player/recorder, it prepares for recording (but does not start recording). In preparing for recording, it asks you (the first time) for the name of the new track to be created, as well as the Time, Tempo, and Metronome settings.

You start the recording process by clicking on (tabbing-to and activating) the “Play” button of the integrated player/recorder. You then play as much of the new track as you are prepared to play. You don't have to play it all – only as much as you can reliably play.

When you've finished playing what you intended to play in this particular recording session, you click (tab-to and activate) the “Stop” button (or click (tab-to and activate) the “Play” button to toggle it 'off') of the integrated player/recorder.

At that point, it will tell you if it succeeded in recording any MIDI events, and suggests that you play it back to see if you like what you recorded:

Picture of the "MIDI Recording" dialog box, saying "Recorded 169 events equals Success.  Try playing it back to see if you like what was recorded.  The single Okay button is selected.
When you finish playing back what you recorded, and click (tab-to and activate) the “Stop” button, it will ask you if you want to keep the performance you recorded, and integrate that recorded performance-data into the new track you're creating:

Screen-shot of the "MIDI Recording" question dialog box, asking "Do you want to include the last-recorded data as part of the soquence?  Of the "No", and "Yes" buttons, the "Yes" button is selected.
If you Indicate you want to keep it, the recorded performance becomes a part of the track you're creating. If you indicate you don't want to keep it, the newly-recorded performance events are discarded, and the new track you are creating is left in the state it was before you clicked/activated “Play” to start recording.

Keep in mind that the new track you are creating is not saved as part of the MIDI sequence file until you click (tab-to and activate) the “Save” button of the integrated player/recorder.

You can repeat the recording process (by clicking (tabbing-to and activating) “Record”, then “Play”, then “Stop”) as many times as you want, each time adding more to the new track you're creating.

Instead of clicking (tabbing-to and activating) the “Play” button to start recording (which will start at the beginning of the piece), you can set the playback position to a little ways prior to where you want to start the new recording, and click (tab-to and activate) the “Pause” button, which stops playback. At this point, click (tab-to and activate) the “Record” button to prepare for recording, and then click (tab-to and activate) the “Resume” button (formerly “Pause”), which resumes playback at the current position to start recording.

All of this newly-recorded performance data in this new track does not become a part of the MIDI file until you save it by clicking (tabbing-to and activating) the “Save” button.

Since a MIDI sequence (file) can contain an unlimited number of tracks, you could save each and every successful recording session as a new track. But to avoid confusion in looking at the tracks of the MIDI sequence when you load it, you might want to wait until you finish the entire new track before you save it. On the other hand, if there is any chance the power might go out, you might want to save it every time.

If you get far into the process of recording your new track, and decide you want to throw away the new track, and start over, as long as you have not yet clicked (activated) the “Save” button, you can click (tab-to and activate) the “Clear” button, which will erase all of the recorded performance data in the new track. Alternatively, you could click (tab-to and activate) the “New” button, and then re-load the original piece (MIDI file).

Loading the original file is useful where you have been saving each recording session, but saved it using a different filename than the original.

Okay, so now you understand the process of recording, let's take you through an actual example.

Recording – An Example

1. Preparation

Before you start recording, it's good to set up some things in advance, to avoid unexpected things that could happen to you later.

First, set the “Playback Device” of the MIDI Player/Recorder window to an actual MIDI device. Since we'll be taking steps to avoid notes 'colliding' with each other, it is okay to use the same MIDI device that the keyboard is outputting to. If you will be adding to an existing piece, load that MIDI sequence file (of the piece you're adding to).

Next, set up performance panes for each instrument you intend to eventually use in the piece. Setup each such performance pane to send on a different MIDI channel. If there are already tracks in the piece (and we're adding to it), choose MIDI channels not already used by the piece (if possible). If the instrument's part uses different key-signatures, set up a performance pane for the instrument in each key-signature used, again using the same MIDI channel. Make sure the performance pane you intend to first record-from is visible.

Next, in the “MIDI Player/Recorder” window, click on (tab-to and activate) the “Record” button. It will ask you for the name of the new track you'll be creating. Think of a descriptive name, enter it, and press the enter-key (which will click the “OK” button). It will ask you for your name for the copyright info for the new track. If you don't want to bother with a copyright, just press the enter-key. Otherwise, enter you name, and press the enter-key.

A “Time, Tempo, and Metronome” dialog box will appear, similar to the following:

Screen-shot of the "Time, Tempo, and Metronome" window.
If it's an existing piece you're adding to (as in the screen-shot above), the time-signature and tempo will be that of the existing piece. If it's a new piece, it will assume the default values of 120 beats-per-minute, and 4/4 time. 120 beats-per-minute is 2 beats per second.

If it's a new piece

Specify (or try to guess) the tempo, and enter it in the “TEMPO” text box. It's not critical if you don't plan to use the metronome, but it's often useful to have it at least be close to the proper value. Try to guess the time-signature. Do musical phrases tend to start on 3-count boundaries? On 4-count boundaries? On 6-count boundaries? That will help you decide what is in the top number of the time-signature. Again, it's not critical if you don't plan to use the metronome, but it's often useful to have it at least be close to the proper value.

If you're playing from sheet-music, simply specify what appears in the music.

If you don't want to use the metronome, clear (by clicking on, or tabbing-to and un-selecting it, if set) both the “Playback” and “Recording” check-boxes at the top of the dialog.

If you want to use the metronome (which is a very useful tool to aid you in keeping your musical parts together), make sure both the “Playback” and “Recording” check-boxes are set (have a check-mark in them). If you use the metronome, it's good to practice with the metronome sounding during playback, so it doesn't surprise you when you start recording.

If You Use The Metronome

Click (or tab-to and activate) the “Test” button to see what it sounds like. You may want to choose a different percussion instrument for it in the “Sound” drop-box. Choose a percussion instrument sound that isn't already in (or you don't plan to use in) the piece. A sharp, short sound, such as a hand-clap, or a wood-block, are good examples of a metronome sound. You may want to adjust the “Loudness” slider so you will be able to hear it better.

Click (or tab-to and activate) the “OK” button of the “Time, Tempo, and Metronome” dialog box.

If You Use The Metronome

Click (or tab-to and activate) the “Play” button of the “MIDI Player/Recorder” window. You should hear the metronome. Is it the tempo (speed) you want? Is it the number of beats per measure you want? Is it the right loudness?

Click (or tab-to and activate) the “Stop” button of the “MIDI Player/Recorder” window. It will indicate success recording events (it records the parameter settings of the current performance pane, as well as the chords pane). You can discard these events, when it asks (after you next click (or activate) play, and stop).

If you want to change anything based on what you hear from the metronome, with the player stopped (at position 0), click (or tab-to and activate) the “Time” button of the “MIDI Player/Recorder” window, enter your changes, an click (or tab-to and activate) the “OK” button.

Click (or tab-to and activate) the “Play” button again to see if it's what you want. You can repeat this process, except you don't have to click/activate the “Record” button again until you're actually ready to record.

Click (or tab-to and activate) the “Play” button, and practice playing the part you intend to record, played along with the metronome sound. Get used playing notes along with the metronome clicks.

When you're satisfied with how the metronome sounds, and confident in your playing along with it, click (or tab-to and activate) the “Record” button of the “MIDI Player/Recorder” window. Just click (or tab-to and activate) the “OK” button of the “Time, Tempo, and Metronome” window, and you're ready to record.

2. Recording

Click (or tab-to and activate) the “Play” button of the “MIDI Player/Recorder” window (when the “Record” button is toggled-on) to start recording. If you use the metronome, wait at least one measure's-worth of clicks before you start playing. Since not all pieces start on the first beat of the measure, wait for the proper beat before you start playing.

Start playing the piece, and continue playing it to the point you intended to play to, then just stop playing, and click (or tab-to and activate) the “Stop” button of the “MIDI Player/Recorder” window. Be aware that you can play chords along with the melody, and both instruments will be recorded simultaneously.

It will indicate the number of MIDI events it recorded (if successful), and suggest that you try playing it back to see if you like it. Click (or tab-to and activate) the “OK”button of the dialog, and then the “Play” button of the “MIDI Player/Recorder” window. Click (or tab-to and activate) the “Stop” button of the “MIDI Player/Recorder” window when you're done listening (very soon if you're sure you don't want to save it).

A “MIDI Recording” dialog will appear, asking if you want to include the last-recorded data as part of the sequence. If you want to include the data (keep it), click (or activate) the “Yes” button. Otherwise, click (tab-to and activate) the “No” button, which will cause the just-recorded data to be discarded.

If you kept it, you can press the “Play” button to play it back again, and when it gets near to where you want to record more music of the part, click (tab-to and activate) the “Pause” button of the “MIDI Player/Recorder” window to suspend playback.

Click (tab-to and activate) the “Record” button to set up to record again (just click (tab-to and activate) the “OK” button of the “Time, Tempo, and Metronome” window that appears in case you want to make a change).

Click (tab-to and activate) the “Resume” button of the “MIDI Player/Recorder” window to start the recording process (and playback of what you recorded earlier). When it gets to where you left off, simply start playing, and play until you get to where you intended to go to. Then stop playing, and click (tab-to and activate) the “Stop” button.

Click (tab-to and activate) the “Play” button to play it all back from the beginning. Click (tab-to and activate) the “Stop” button when you get to where you stopped recording. It will ask you if you want to include this last-recorded performance data as part of the sequence. Answer “Yes” to keep it, “No” to discard it.

You can repeat this process of recording, as many times as you need to finish the track you're working on.

As you get farther along in the track, to play-back what you just recorded, after clicking/activating “Play” you can slide the “%” (position) slider forward to nearer where you last started recording.

3. Saving The New Piece

When you're finally done recording the new track, click (tab-to and activate) the “Save” button of the “MIDI Player/Recorder” window. An “Open” dialog will appear, asking for the name of the MIDI file ('.mid') to be saved. For a new file, it will suggest “NewMidiFile.mid” as the filename. If you're adding to an existing file, it will suggest the name of the file you loaded to start with. Change the name if you want to preserve the original version.

When you play-back the piece after saving, you will notice that the position slider moves more quickly, and that at the end of the recorded music, it is at 100%. This is because part of the process of saving the new track as part of the sequence, involves removing any extra space at the end.

The first time you click/activate the “Record” button (after loading a MIDI file, or after saving a newly-created track), it will insert a fair amount of empty space at the end of the piece, to allow you to record new music past the end. When you save it after recording, any excess space will be removed again.

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