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Posts Tagged ‘software’

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.

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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: , ,

Sekaiju tutorial: User interface

September 23, 2012 12 comments

Sekaiju is an actively developed open source MIDI editor for Windows. If you are on Windows, the good DAWs cost money. The free DAWs may be a bit complex and overwhelming especially for beginners (LMMS and Macaw). So, the next alternative is to have a good  free MIDI editor and a way to render to audio using quality VSTs and soundfonts. Synthfont solves the latter. I’ve already successfully made a dozen audio tracks using these software combined with free soundfonts/samples and VSTs around the web. This tutorial gives an overview of Sekaiju’s user interface and should, hopefully, get you started into using it.

Looks (first impressions)

The first thing that makes me decide whether or not to use any software is how its GUI looks. Although GUI look has nothing to do with functionality, it has a lot of psychological effects. I personally think that Sekaiju’s screenshots have a clean and professional feel. Like a well integrated native Windows program, no fancy dark themes most DAWs tend to have*. Although the screenshot on their website shows you several child windows at a time, it is much simpler once you try it. Sekaiju has a MDI (multiple document interface) GUI, meaning that you don’t have to see everything at the same time.

Sekaiju 2.0 simultaneously showing Track View, Piano Roll and Event List windows. (Screenshot taken from their website)

Getting started

For those who prefer an English interface and are mystified by the initial Japanese menus, press “ALT + S + L” to change to a language you prefer. That is the shortcut key for Setup and Language. You need to restart the program for the changes to take effect.

The user interface

Without any background in MIDI editing, at first I thought that the interface was complicated. But eventually I observed that many DAWs have the same user interface paradigm as Sekaiju. One thing about Sekaiju is that it contains both advanced and basic MIDI editing functionality. It is not as simple as, for example, Aria Maestosa, but it is also not something that you would leave as you become more proficient and advanced.

There are four windows that show MIDI information differently:

  • Track list
  • Piano roll
  • Event list
  • Musical score

These are accessible through the “View” menu and through respective buttons in the toolbar.

Sekaiju's menus and buttons for the different windows

Sekaiju’s menus and respective tool bar buttons for the Track list, Piano roll, Event list and Musical score windows. Also seen is the universally recognized Play, Record, Rewind and Fast forward buttons.

Track list

When you start Sekaiju or open a MIDI file, this is the first window that will show. The track list is a sort of a summary, showing different instruments together as tracks. Here you see the measures/bars of the track , midi  device related information such as ports and a zoomed down representation of the notes.  The common things you can do here are:

  • Choose an instrument for the track (Program Number column). You either scroll through the list of 128 GM instruments, but if you already know the number (e.g. 73=Flute), it’s faster to type the number directly.
  • Turn sound ouput on a  track on or off , emulating typical “mute and solo” functionalities (OutputOn column).
  • Give a track a descriptive name (Name Column). It can be something other than the generic instrument name (e.g. “Stratocaster” instead of “Distortion Guitar”).
  • Drag/copy/paste parts of a song across measures or across channels (like mixing in DAWs)
Sekaiju's Track List window

In the track list window you can change the instuments, name tracks, and mix tracks.

Piano roll

For me, this is where most of the work is done. You access this by pressing “View -> Show new Piano roll window” or by pressing the button in the toolbar that looks like a , uhm..,piano roll (note that this will create a new window). Here, you will see the notes in piano roll representation and be able to edit them. Below the notes, you also see the automation, other MIDI parameters that can be tweaked like velocity, pan, pitch bend etc.

Piano roll zoom

The first thing you will probably do in the Piano roll is increase the zoom level (this was my first problem). This can be done by clicking the “+” or “” buttons beside the scroll buttons, or as of version 3.2, using “Ctrl +” “Ctrl –” keyboard shortcuts (similar to web browsers and word documents). To change the default zoom levels, go to “Setup -> Options… -> Piano Roll (tab)“, and change the Default zoom scale values.

Automation

Besides pitch and  time and duration, there are many more properties that can be altered in a note. These are modified through the “Automation” part which is also in the piano roll window, below the actual piano roll.  The most common being the velocity (related to loudness). Some properties, like velocity only applies to one note at a time. Other properties like the CC# numbers (control change events) can be changed at any time during the song and is not specific to a single note.  Examles of CC# parameters are pan, reverb, chorus and delay.

Sekaiju's Piano Roll window

Sakaiju’s piano roll and automation windows. Where most of the music is done.

Musical score (notation) window

For those who are comfortable with music notation, this is another way of editing MIDI. You access this by pressing “View -> Show new Musical score window” or by pressing the button in the toolbar that looks like two eight notes (♫). I would admit that it is better to use something like MuseScore if you are serious with music notation. But there are also good reasons to have it around. If you eventually want sheet music, this is a way to see whether the notes you make are readable on standard format. Despite not having a “sheet music”-like appearance, Sekaiju actually does a cleaner job than MuseScore in converting MIDI into a readable notation. However, I would still consider score notation a transition instead of a main functionality as there are a lot more things you could do in a full blown score writing program. Nonetheless, I prefer the greater freedom in a piano roll editor.

Sekaiju's Musical Score window

Not as good as MuseScore (or Finale/Sibelius), but not bad either for a MIDI editor.

Event list

Except for the three to five rows in the event list, beginners or hobby musicians, like me, will seldom need to modify the event list directly. The event list is a more for the advanced users or sound engineers who understand the MIDI internals. The Event list reflects much more detailed information abut the MIDI file, with more precision in time. But it is difficult to imagine musical structure from the event list alone. If you’re not creating MIDI files from scratch, you may ignore the Event list for the moment. I’ve used this once to alter the tempo in a more controlled way (tempo is one thing where you need exact numbers). Event list can be accessed by pressing “View -> Show new Event list window” or by pressing the button in the toolbar that looks like a spreadsheet/table.

Sekaiju's Event List

If you know the MIDI specification, advanced editing can be done in the Event list.

Use of the Event list (update to this tutorial 05 Oct 2012)

When creating a MIDI file from scratch, some global musical properties are set here (since I always start by using MuseScore, or recorded MIDI, I did not notice this until more than a dozen MIDI projects). The following can be modified in the event list:

  • Tempo (default is 120 BPM)
  • Time signature (default is 4/4)
  • Key signature (default is C Major)

The Tempo, Time Signature and Key Signature fields will be seen in the “Event kind” column within the first few rows.  You don’t have to know the microseconds per quarter note or clocks per quarter note values as Sekaiju automatically corrects these when you modify the tempo and time signature. Some MIDI files won’t have the Key signature specified.

Recording

After setting the MIDI input device, recording looks rather straight forward. You press the record button or press “Ctrl R” and you’re ready to go. You should also setup MIDI output to hear what you’re playing (the default Windows GS if you’re not too picky, you just need the MIDI data). I sometimes use BASS MIDI to replace the default Windows Roland GS Synth. You can set the position at which recording starts similar to setting the playback position.

Switching between windows

Using the “View” menu or the buttons as described above creates a new window. This can allow you to see different part of the same file, like using split or multiple windows to edit different parts of a Microsoft Word document. If you don’t want to create a new window, you either click the window where you want to work, use the standard “Control Tab” shortcut key, or use the “Window” menu.

Quirks/Tips/Not so obvious things

  • Remember to press “ALT +  S +  L” to change the language during first time use.
  • Prior to version 3.2, zooming can only be done by clicking the “+” or “-” buttons along the scrollbar. I failed to notice this at first.
    • Ctrl +” and “Ctrl  –” ,which are more common shortcut keys, can now be used.
    • The default zoom may be a bit small, but these can be changed on the settings.
  • In the Piano roll, the Line tool which is for drawing lines on the automation also works for note entry, but not for a single note.
    • The Pen tool can make an extended single note.
  • In the Piano roll, if you want notes with arbitrary positions and lengths (unquantized) select “Free” from the note length dropdown.
  • No installer. The program is portable. Since Windows 7’s interface is type and search, I never bothered putting it in the proper “Programs” folder and making a shortcut.
  • The truck looking button opens a new track window. I still don’t get the logic behind the fish looking button (Auto page update).
  • By default the playback restarts when it reaches the end of the song. This can be disabled by toggling off the loop looking  button (Auto Repeat).
    • The play button remains pressed. So if you go  back to a part of a song, and Auto Repeat is enabled, it will keep playing. You have to manually “un-press” this button.

Moving forward

With a familiarity of Sekaiju’s user interface, you may now proceed to creating a MIDI file from scratch* which would be dealt with in the next tutorials on creating a simple MIDI example.

Foot notes:

* I have nothing against dark themes used by most DAWs. I’m just puzzled to why most of them do that. It makes me feel that they are copying each other, even in the non functional features.

* This tutorial is based (biased) on how I use Sekaiju. Other users might emphasize different features.

*Not totally from scratch. The tutorials will use a sheet music for reference. I can’t teach creativity, imagination and composition :P. But the point is, we don’t start with an already existing MIDI file.

Categories: Music making Tags: , ,

Sorting music files by date in Windows 7

September 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Windows 7 comes with many features enhanced for multimedia. One of these is that in Explorer, when a folder contains audio files, such as MP3, the columns in list view are optimized for sorting multimedia content. Specifically you will see the following columns:

  • Name
  • Contributing Artist
  • Album
  • # (track number)
  • Title

In varying order. Categories, typical to lists in media players. Cool for people listening to music. But potentially annoying for music creators!

Since I produce music files in the same manner that I produce Word documents, I want to sort them in a way that makes my work easy. In particular, I simply want to sort my media files by date to easily know which one is the newest and probably the best version of a track I’m working with. Of course, you can always add the “Date modified” column by a few right clicks here and there. But doing this in each project folder I’m working in simply makes you hate this “upgraded” features, knowing that it used to be simpler.

Solution

Fortunately, there is a way to revert to the generic sorting columns. Assuming all your music folders are within a generic music folder, you can do the following.

In the generic music folder (“D:\Music” in this example), within Explorer, right click in a blank space to show Explorer’s popup menu and select “Customize this folder…”

Customize This Folder (Windows Explorer)

Customizing folders in Windows explorer to change the sorting categories.

In the window that will appear, look for the “Customize” tab. Under the “What kind of folder do you want?”,  “Optimize this folder for”:, change the dropdown selection from “Music” to “General Items”. Check “Also apply this template to all subfolders” so that every folder within your music collection will now show the following “traditional” columns we all grew up with:

  • Name
  • Date Modified
  • Type
  • Size
General Items and Apply To All Subfolders

Select “General Items” and check “Apply to all subfolders” to remove the special treatment in your multimedia files.

If you have planned ahead before creating your folders, it would be a good idea to separate your audio files for listening (e.g. downloaded audio), and audio files that you create. This way, you can apply different folder settings and still benefit from Windows’s enhancements.

Categories: Music making Tags: ,