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Hungary, where I learned about SFZ internals

October 31, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s quite a coincidence how the first meaningful SFZ tutorial I found in youtube is made by a Hungarian. I’m visiting Hungary at the moment for other business matters, and I just happened to be killing time during the night, when I found this video tutorial for using Garritan’s Aria player to sample instruments.

(He’s just using Garritan to play the samples, so don’t let that “scare” you)

After seeing the video, I learn that sfz is like a markup language like html or ini files. Prior to this, I have never even thought about loading sfz files in a text editor (just loaded one now in SciTE). So unlike sf2, sfz files themselves do not contain audio, but instructions or mappings on how to handle audio files located elsewhere. I had always though that the wav files in the “samples” folder in the Sonatina Symphonic Orchstra was just there for curious people who want to tweak it. They’re actually the files loaded in the DAW. I even did not notice that the sfz files themselves are too small to contain audio data. Thanks to synthfont working smoothly.

Back to Hungarians, I also appreciate how, in general, they seem knowledgeable about music or musicians. I was having dinner with a group of biologists and the conversations eventually lead to wine, cars and then to artists like Edvin Marton and local groups, how many independent musicians are great in doing covers but bad with their own compositions (sorry to the indies out there), and how you can enjoy even a “bad” song once you play it with an instrument.

Elsewhere in Europe mealtime conversations lead to sports, gym, the weather or outdoor activities … hmm …

Anyway, for those interested in building sfz files, here is the reference from Cakewalk:

The sfz Format: Basics

If your DAW does not support sfz natively, you can get Cakewalk’s sfz player VST. Prologue also recently released a free sfz player called sfrorzando.

Happy sampling!

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The Linux Sampler, something interesting (other formats also)

October 29, 2012 Leave a comment

It seems that the determining factor in choosing a sample format is not the format itself, but the availability of samples in that format.  SF2 seems to date back in the era of computers with 32MB RAM, thus being rather old, widely used and compatible to many DAWs. It is quite popular since there are a lot of free samples in this format (just look at hammer sound which dates back to 1997). I happened to learn about SFZ due to the Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra. Being more recent than SF2, it offers some advantages, such as sample round robin support and a more convenient way to build sample libraries (supposedly, I have not tried yet). Recently, I’ve been trying out the Kontakt Player as Kontakt (NKI) seems to be preferred by financially well-off musicians, and is therefore associated with good/professional quality (the free samples found on bedroom producers blog tend to have this format).

Linux Sampler

Nice dark theme too (Fantasia frontend hotlinked from wikimedia)

Another sample format that I recently wanted to try is the GIG (Gigasampler) format which is currently preferred by the Linux Sampler. Although I’ve been familiar with this before, the “Gig” made me think gigabytes, which scared me a bit. That is not necessarily true though. Furthermore, opensource/free software like the Linux Sampler have the mysterious power of motivating “prosumers” on sharing works they have done with it. In fact the reason I got interested in the Gigasampler format is the available samples in the Linux Sampler website which include a Yamaha Concert Grand and London Philharmonia Orchestra Instruments (licenses still pending though). Below is an impressive demo of the grand piano:

Update: This seems to be the same sampled piano on this site: http://sonimusicae.free.fr/matshelgesson-maestro-en.html

What is the best choice then?

I usually find this question irrelevant. Although there is certainly a best format in terms of programmability, flexibility, convenience when working with MIDI and other technical aspects, in the end it is your ear that decides which sample to choose. Being able to use any of the formats allows you to pick the best of all those worlds. My favorite beginner DAW, synthfont, supports SF2, SFZ and GIG (*most), though I’m still missing out in the NKI (Kontakt) world. This question will matter though if the same sound sample is offered in several formats. In which seldom case, I’ll personally go for SFZ being more advanced than SF2, more compatible to my DAW than GIG and not tied up to a proprietary sampler like Kontakt.

Other (free) software for creating instrument samples

  • Viena (SF2) (not to be confused with Creative’s Vienna)
  • SFZed (SFZ)


There’s also the SWAMI Project although I’m reluctant to recommend it as I’m not totally into Linux when it comes to Audio (reliance of its available DAWs on Jack is to blame in my case…) and it still needs donations before Windows (or Mac) versions would be released.

Categories: Music making Tags: ,

Sekaiju tutorial: A simple example (Part II)

October 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Creating notes through the Piano Roll

Having set the song’s general properties in Part I of this tutorial. We’re now ready for the most involving part, editing notes. If you haven’t seen the previous parts of this tutorial series, please go to the following links:

With a sheet music for reference, we can now see the value of Sekaiju’s Musical Score interface. But for now, we will discuss another commonly used note entry method in DAWs and other MIDI editing programs, the Piano roll. We will be “manually” converting a sheet music of Silent Night into MIDI.

Silent Night

Silent Night by Franz Gruber, from Wikifonia. [Published by benoit on December 14, 2006 © reserved by Musicopy]

If you can read music, then you can interpret the notation and convert it to piano roll (I also realized that this is a great way of practicing sight reading without a musical instrument in hand). Each major division is a measure/bar and the minor divisions are quarter notes. Since we are using 3/4 time signature, we see 3 divisions per measure. For reference middle C is MIDI note number 60 which can be located in the sideways keyboard in the left.

As I mentioned previously in the introduction to Sekaiju’s user interface, zooming is done by pressing the little plus and minus (+ -) buttons along the scroll bars, or by using “Ctrl +” and “Ctrl –” keyboard shortcuts. (I have to rewrite it here as it was not obvious to me back then). Also, the Piano Roll window is shown by selecting “View -> Show new Piano roll window” or clicking the button with little purple rectangles looking like a piano roll.

Basic Piano Roll editing tools

I find it difficult to tell someone how to draw without telling him what the drawing tools do. Hence, I have to go through a few basics before we can create a simple song. Feel free to skip this section if you want finding things out through your intuition :).

Sekaiju: Pen, Line, Erase, Select and Preview

Toolbar Buttons in the Piano Roll. From left to right:Pen, Line, Erase, Select and Preview.

The buttons are the Pen, Line, Erase, Select and Preview. When selected, these buttons do the following:

  • Pen:
    • Draws a new note with a pitch determined by its position and duration by the set or previous note length.
    • Extends an existing note by dragging a note if it is close enough in the left or right edge of that note.
    • Moves an existing note by dragging when it near the middle of that note.
      • The note is played in the process, even if it is not moved to a new place.
  • Line:
    • Draws a series of connected notes with equal lengths connecting a starting point and an end point. As it goes through the chromatic scale, I seldom use this for note drawing.
    • Does the same in the automation part below the piano roll (where it is most probably intended to be used). Useful for making linear volume ramps.
  • Eraser:
    • Erases an existing note.
  • Select:
    • Selects multiple notes and allows multiple notes to be simultaneously extended to the left or right, or to be moved.
    • Also works for a single note.
    • Allows keyboard or menu actions like Copy, Cut, Delete to the selected notes.
  • Preview
    • Plays existing notes when the cursor is dragged on top of them (you will see a vertical line).

Entering notes through the Piano roll interface.

The flute (melody) track

1. We start by selecting the flute track (second) in the right panel. This means that notes we will be drawing will belong to the flute track. We may also select the flute track on the Track dropdown just beside the Preview button.

2. Set the snap length. Since the smallest note is an eight note or quaver (♪) and the notes on the song are multiples of a semiquaver, we could choose 60-Quaver from Snap dropdown (third). (I normally ignore those tick numbers when working as there is enough visual information in the piano roll).

3. Choose the Pen tool and start drawing on the piano roll grid area. Create notes by clicking on the grid. Each new note’s size will be the same as the previous note’s size (or the default size for the first note). Resize the notes by dragging their edges with the pen tool.

Creating notes on the Piano roll.

You may play your work at any point using the Playback button in the main toolbar or hitting the spacebar in your computer keyboard.

Adding the strings (harmony) track

1. Select the strings track from the right panel or the Track dropdown list.

2. Since there is only one chord per measure in the song, we can use a larger snap like 120-Quarter note.

3. Proceed with the Pen tool, just like when editing the flute track.

For simplicity, I only used the root of the indicated chords in the transcription and play them an octave below the melody. This may look quite boring as the first few measures use C chords. But there you have it, just repeat the steps to finish the song and you will get MIDI song file from scratch!

Silent Night in Flute and Strings.

The next and final part of this tutorial will deal with using the musical score window which may be easier if we are copying directly from a score as in this example.

Categories: Music making Tags: , ,

Sekaiju tutorial: A simple example (Part I)

October 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Introduction

Perhaps the best way to learn any software is to start with a simple step by step example that users may replicate.

I will be dividing this tutorial into several parts to avoid cluttering a single web page (and to publish the whole tutorial in smaller installments).

Since the cold lonely season of gratuitous money spending is approaching, I decided to use Silent Night for this tutorial. I will use score found in Wikifonia as the basis for the MIDI file. I’ll also use the friendly key of C version so we don’t have to worry about key signatures. For the instruments (not specified in the score),  I chose a flute for the melody and strings for the harmony. For those new to Sekaiju, please check my overview about its user interface. And for those who do not have it yet, download the latest version from the Sekaiju website.

Silent Night

Silent Night by Franz Gruber, from Wikifonia. [Published by benoit on December 14, 2006 © reserved by Musicopy]

Part I: Setting up basic song properties

Before creating notes, there are some basic things you have to define in a song. Hence, in this first part you will learn how to:

  • Give descriptive names to the tracks
  • Choose instruments for the tracks
  • Set the tempo
  • Set the time signature
  • Set the key signature (if you want to)

If you’re the type who doesn’t like reading, you can zoom on the pictures below. I’ve made them as informative as possible. Now, here we go.

1. Creating a new track. Sekaiju starts with a MIDI file with 17 tracks without by default (16 used for storing notes). You can also create a new track from the File menu or pressing “Ctrl N“or clicking the “New File” button in the toolbar.

2. Name the tracks (optional). On the “Track list” window, enter names under the “Name” column. I just wrote the title of the song in the first track. I then named the second and third tracks “Flute” and “Strings” respectively (they can be any other valid name). Naming tracks is not strictly required, but it is a good practice and it will make your work easier in the long run.

3. Choose instruments. Either click the little arrow buttons Under the “Program Number” column or enter the instrument number directly. The flute and strings are 73 and 48 respectively.  The first track can not contain notes and can not be assigned to an instrument since it has a special purpose for containing general properties like tempo, time signature and key signature and other author specific information.

Sekaiju Tack List

Track names and instruments are modified through the track list window. (For steps 2 and 3)

4. Now may be a good time to save your file. Saving is standard, just like in most Windows programs. If you wish you can use Sekaiju’s skj file format instead of mid. It has some extra features on top the standard midi file format like keeping the colors of your tracks if you decided to change them (double click the boxes in Color column). You’ll eventually need to save as MID though for interoperability with most audio/music programs.

The next steps are done through the Event list window. To open this window, go to the menu and choose “View -> Show new Event list window” or click the button on the toolbar that looks like a table/spreadsheet.

5. Tempo. This is modified through the Event list. The tempo in this example sheet is not specified meaning that it is the default 120 BPM [Citation needed?]. By default, Sekaiju also uses 120 BPM, but lets use a different tempo for the sake of learning. A bit slower, like 100 BPM. Within the first few rows, you will find an “Event kind” called “Tempo“. In the Value (1 2 3) column on the same row, change the 120 to 100. Note that the Microsec / Quarter note part automatically changes from 500000 to 600000, so you don’t have to worry about this.

6. Time signature. For this you have to look for the Event Kind called (you’ve guessed it already) “Time Signature”. Silent night is in 3/4 or Waltz as the score also indicates. Most songs (that I know of) are in 4/4 and Sakaiju also uses this by default. As with the tempo, you only need change the 4/4 part to 3/4 and the other numbers are taken care of.

7. Key signature (optional). This is specified by the number of sharps (#) in the “Key Signature” Event Kind. The default has zero sharps being the key of C Major (as with anyone beginning to read sheet music). You have to replace the word “major” with “minor” if you want the relative A minor. I decided that key signature is optional as it will not affect the actual pitches of the notes in the song. However, this will affect how the song will look (with accidentals) in the Musical Score window or if you eventually import the midi file into score editors.

Event List window

Global song properties like tempo, time signature and key signature are modified in the Event list window. Note that these parameters are stored in the first track.

These general properties, tempo, time signature and key signature are stored in the first track. They are also seen in the first few MIDI events as this information are necessary before the notes can be interpreted. People who have a fair amount of MIDI know how would notice that Sekaiju is tightly developed around the MIDI file format.

The next part of this tutorial series will discuss the creation of notes through the piano roll.

My apologies if you’re reading this and later parts are not yet available online. Nevertheless, I hope that the information available here and the previous tutorial is enough to help you learn the rest on your own. (These apologetic sentences will be deleted soon, hopefully).

Categories: Music making Tags: , ,

The making of Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra

October 12, 2012 Leave a comment

While looking for orchesrtral sounfont collections, googling “bellatrix squidfont sj”, I stumbled upon this forum on cockos (maker of the affordable and well received Reaper DAW):

http://forum.cockos.com/showthread.php?t=41266

It dates back to August 2009 and most of the links in the thread are now broken. It follows the experiment of user cerendir as he combines various free samples of solo instruments to build orchestral ensembles/sections. As I followed the thread and got to 2011 posts, I eventually landed on a familiar page:

https://www.box.com/shared/9og0bht86y

As it turns out, this is not another sad ending story of an amazing free download in the past that I’m too late to discover. cerendir, aka Mattias Westlund, happens to be the person who brought us the Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra (SSO). I had been using it for a while now. It’s a great sounding free orchestral sample collection that could get you started before deciding which of the hundred dollar alternatives to buy. The clips below are examples of what can be achieved with SSO:

Mr Westlund’s official demo:

 

My own demo (discussed here):

 

And others…

and many more…

The samples are in sfz format instead of sf2, but that is not a problem with synthfont or any modern DAW today. There are also VSTs that load sfz files, such as Cakewalk’s free sfz player.

As for the other older orchestral collections that I’m googling, I managed to find them in a gaming forum of all places! The soundfonts are contained within bigger rar archives.

http://www.newgrounds.com/bbs/topic/1200140


I think this user in deviant art is the same guy:

http://the-filmmusic-group.deviantart.com/journal/Free-HQ-Orchestra-Soundfonts-224143947

Download and use them to keep the links alive!

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