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Category: Cakewalk SONAR (Page 1 of 3)

MIDI notes, names, and numbers

How does your synth know what note to play, when you press a key? If it has a built-in keyboard, then the glib answer is, “whatever key I’m pressing!”. If your synth is a module in a rack, or your keyboard is responding to signals sent to it over the MIDI cable from your sequencer, it gets a little more interesting.

MIDI Note Numbers

MIDI signals are digital, so everything is represented by numbers. For example, if I want an instrument to play a sound, I need to send it a specific type of message: a “Note On” message. In addition to a number identifying the message as a “Note On”, it will include two additional numbers representing:

  • which note to play
  • how strongly the note was played (known as note “velocity“)

Because the numbers are 7-bit digital, there are 128 possible values. For example, the note number will be between 0 and 127, representing the lowest and highest possible notes respectively. The velocity will also be between 0 and 127, where 0 is the lightest possible touch, and 127 represents the most force you could use.

Your synthesizer uses these numbers to decide how to respond: which note (pitch) to play, and how to set the volume or tone for the requested velocity. For your typical instrument using a standard Western 12-tone scale, note number 60 will result in a tone of 261.63 Hz, or “Middle C”. The synth module will continue to play that note until it receives a follow-up “Note Off” message for the same note number.

A message here, a message there, and pretty soon you’re playing yourself a tune. MIDI messages get complicated quickly, and there are better places to go if you are curious about the details.

Introducing Note Names

Secure in the knowledge that our instruments – both physical and virtual – will respond with middle C if we sent them a MIDI Note Number 60, we can move on to note names.

If you’re used to conventional Western musical notation, it makes sense to refer to notes using the alphabet notation of the scale, .e.g. C, D, E, F, G, etc, instead of those confusing and non-obvious numbers. With ten and a half octaves covered by our 128 possible note numbers, back in 1982 Roland documentation writers chose “C4” to represent Note 60, middle C, and to enumerate octaves from C to B (.e.g. ascending notes would be A4, B4, C5, D5, etc.)

And everything was cool… until Yamaha used “C3” to represent note 60 in their own MIDI documentation.

Since then, instrument and music software manufacturers tended to pick one of the two conventions and ignore any subsequent confusion on the part of the users.

For example, XLN’s Addictive Drums follows Yamaha’s convention, and in their documentation and note maps, they use “C3” to refer to note 60.

Voxengo SPAN, however, displays ~262 Hz as “C4”, following the Roland standard.

Three notes walk into a bar

Just to be different, Cakewalk eschews both conventions, and shows note number 60 (middle C) as “C5” in their Piano Roll View.

“There is no industry standard for numbering octaves. By default, Cakewalk calls MIDI note 0 (the lowest possible note) C0.

Cakewalk Documentation

Here’s a scale from note 60 to 72:

Personally I think I know the reason for this: One side effect of middle C as C5 is that the lowest possible MIDI note 0 is then “C0”. Cakewalk started life as a character-based DOS sequencer, and if they’d used “C4” or “C3” for note 60, they’d have needed additional real-estate space for notating the lower octaves, e.g. “C-2”.

I don’t know for sure that this was the reasoning behind it, but it seems possible. Those were the days! I personally never used the DOS version of Cakewalk, but I used to develop character-mode applications in MS-DOS, and I feel their pain.

Fortunately, we’re not limited to Cakewalk’s default notation:

In the Preferences dialog, we can control the “base octave for pitches” offset to our needs.

The Yamaha FB-01, for example, shows MIDI note 0 as C-2 (C negative 2). To match Cakewalk to that standard, set Base Octave to –2.”

Cakewalk Documentation

Because I’m an avid user of XLN’s Addictive Drums virtual drum instrument, I set my Base Octave for Pitches” to -2.

And all was good, until the other day I was developing some SFZ patch definitions and I noticed that the samples were being played back 12 notes below where I was defining them:

<region> sample=WAV\DRUMS\CIBLON_TAMBOR_MEDIO\TAK.wav  key=C5 

According to my tests playing the keyboard, that sample was assigned to C4 or note 72, and not C5 or note 85 as I expected.

All was revealed when I tried defining the sample allocation using note numbers:

<region> sample=WAV\DRUMS\CIBLON_TAMBOR_MEDIO\TONG.wav  key=60

That worked as expected, responding when I pressed “Middle C” on my keyboard (i.e. sending MIDI Note 60 to the SFZ Player instance in my Cakewalk project.).

Bottom line: I could use the note numbers in my SFZ file definitions, but if I feel the need to use Note Names, I should remember that SFZ Player uses the Roland standard of C4=60.

Timeline Editing in Cakewalk, Reloaded

This is an update or re-write of an earlier post from 2014, titled “A work-around for Sonar’s Timeline Editing behavior: Slippy Clips”. It was really more of a case study than a work-around…

Since then, Cakewalk’s SONAR has been reborn as Cakewalk By Bandlab and includes many updates and new features, including “Ripple Editing”. This makes timeline editing much more convenient, and therefore I think it is time to revisit this case study.

So I have this project that contains a mixture of 7/8 and 4/4 bars. For example, in this section I have a series of 7/8 bars followed by a 4/4 at bar 26.

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Whilst practicing the keyboard solo, I realized that one of those 7/8 bars needed to be 4/4 also. However, if I change bar 24 from 7/8 to 4/4 by inserting a meter change at bar 24, this happens:

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All the measures following bar 24 are no longer aligned on the beat. In fact, the meter of all bars following 24 have changed from 7/8 to 4/4, until bar 26 and 27 which have explicit meter declarations of 4/4 and 7/8 respectively, in the timeline.

This suggests that we also need an explicit declaration of 7/8 meter on bar 25 so that only bar 24 is affected by our initial meter change:

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Of course we still have our clips offset from the underlying measures… The easiest way of correcting this is to enable “Ripple Editing” for all tracks and slide the clips into alignment.

First, to enable Ripple Editing we use the control in the top right of the track view to toggle it from “Off” to “All”:

image  image

Then we can simply drag the clip at bar 25 into alignment:

The Ripple Edit setting automatically includes all other clips in the timeline (on ALL tracks) along with the one we’re relocating. Handy! The Snap To Grid feature is very helpful to ensure that the clips move exactly 1/8 note to align to the start of the measure.

Before we do anything else, however, we should restore the Ripple Editing setting from “All” to “Off”, because if you forget that it is enabled while moving clips around, you can very easily mess up your project.

These kinds of edits are much easier with Ripple Editing! Thanks to the Cakewalk Developers for implementing it.

Using a MIDI controller with Guitar Rig VST in Cakewalk

I’m writing this post mostly to remind myself how it’s done.

Overview: I’ve got a nice setup in Guitar Rig, including a virtual volume pedal,  and I really want to be able to control it using a MIDI controller foot pedal.

Step 1 – Add an audio track for our guitar, to capture the guitar performance.
You’ll also want to select the appropriate input channel on your audio interface.

Step 2 – Put an instance of Guitar Rig in the FX bin, and select our super-awesome patch:

image

Step 3 – Using the VST2 drop-down menu in the plugin header, select “Enable MIDI Input”:

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Step 4 – Add a MIDI track to capture the MIDI controller data.

Step 5 – Assign the appropriate input channel for the MIDI track.

In my case, MIDI control data will be generated from my Roland A-80 controller keyboard with various pedals connected to it, connected to the Midisport 2×2 In A, so I assign the input channel thusly:

image 

Step 6 – Assign the output channel of the MIDI track to the Guitar Rig Plugin.
This is possible because we enabled MIDI input in Step 3 above – we get an option to select the plugin as the destination for the MIDI data in the output channel list:

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Step 7 – Define a controller inside the Guitar Rig plugin

Go to the Options > Controller tab in Guitar Rig, and click on “Add Controller”.

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At this point, a “New Control” module appears in the Controller list in Guitar Rig.

Step 8 – Click the “Learn” button and wiggle the controller’s foot pedal:

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Notes:

  • Obviously the controller must be turned on!
  • Assuming the foot pedal has been assigned to CC#4 (which is typical), you should see the controller number appear against the control definition in Guitar Rig.
  • For diagnostic purposes, it helps to have the meters in Cakewalk displaying incoming MIDI messages.

Step 9 – Assign the controller to the Volume Pedal

In the controller list, click on the Menu button and select Volume Pedal > Pedal

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At this point, moving the expression pedal should be reflected in Guitar Rig’s UI as moving the volume pedal level:

ExpPedal_Volume

If we now arm both tracks for recording, we can record the guitar audio and the MIDI controller data at the same time, capturing the performance.

Diagnosing a randomly changing patch in a VST instrument

This is going to be a somewhat random post but I want to record this before I forget what I just found out.

I was playing around with Arturia’s CS80V when the patch I was playing suddenly changed: the release time increased. Also I could see the patch had changed because an asterisk appears in the patch name.

I reset the patch by selecting it in the browser, and continued playing. Suddenly, it happened again!

This time I watched the GUI of the synth to see if I could see it happen:

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Sure enough, about a minute later the patch changed sounds and something caught my eye – a slider had changed positions:

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Moving the slider back restored the original sound (although of course, the patch was still “changed” as far as the environment was concerned).

OK, how to diagnose this? I’ll cut a long story short and say eventually I set a track to record MIDI data from my controller, in case something funky was entering the MIDI event stream, and played a few notes.

A short time later, I had this:

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Those vertical lines are Continuous Controller (CC) events:

image

I was recording on Track 2 and that’s three events for Continuous Controller 83 that I can’t explain.

I need to find out why my Roland A80 master keyboard is emitting these controller events. Is this new behavior, or has it always happened?

Normally they are harmless, I guess, but the default MIDI Controller mapping for CS80v  has CC# 83 mapped to this VCA envelope release time slider:

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So that explains the phantom finger on the slider. The ones in RED have been set to respond to a specific CC#.

It’s easy enough to fix – we can use the MIDI Mapping feature in Arturia’s software instruments to load an “empty” controller mapping:

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Now the patch remains unchanged even when I play back the track containing the controller data.

Next up, find out why the A80 is emitting those random controller values…

Another Way to Skin an FX Send

Modern digital audio workstations offer a plethora of ways to solve your mixing and routing problems. Inspired somewhat by Craig Anderton’s latest column in Sound on Sound, I discovered a new way to apply reverb selectively to multiple tracks, in Cakewalk By BandLab using the Sonitus Reverb VST. Here’s my use case:

I have Lead and Backing vocal tracks, and I want to apply a long-tail reverb to portions of the verse and chorus phrases. (The main sustained notes provide a wash of reverb in the background, but keeping it clean and un-muddled by fricatives and fast syllables.)

In the past I have created a “VOX FX” Buss, put an instance of Sonitus Reverb on it, and directed it to feed the “VOX” main buss. Finally, I add a Send on each vocal track to feed the VOX FX, and use “Send Level” automation on each track:

image

This works well, and allows the automation curves to be adjusted per-track.

But what if you have more than two tracks, and per-track envelopes isn’t needed? Could there be a way to send audio to the reverb using a single automation curve? I experimented with using an Aux track, intending to add a send on each vocal track to the Aux track, then use the “Automated Send To FX Buss” trick described above.

However, I realized that I could simplify things by putting the reverb effect on the Aux track itself, and then automating the “VST Input Level” instead:

From the Edit Filter selector (displaying “Clips” by default) we can drill down into the Sonitus Reverb and select “Input” from the automation choices:

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Now we can draw the automation envelope (only one is needed) to control the amount of audio from all tracks being processed by the reverb:

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This gets the job done, and no need for a general purpose fx buss.

As I mentioned above, there are good reasons NOT to do it this way – but it is nice to have the option.

UPDATED 27 Sep 2019

It seems you can’t “freeze” an AUX track, so if you find yourself in the resource crunch and the FX bin on the Aux track is CPU-heavy, well, that’s another good reason not to use this technique.

Cakewalk is dead; Long Live SONAR

My Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) of choice is Cakewalk’s SONAR. In 2017, Cakewalk (formerly Twelve Tone Systems) were celebrating their 30th year in business. Over the years, the “Cakewalk” MIDI sequencer evolved to support digital audio and matured to became a very capable music production environment. Eventually the company took the name of its flagship sequencer, and the DAW continued under the “SONAR” name.

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I first encountered Cakewalk Pro Audio in 1994 when my wife-to-be (long story) sent me a copy. I think it was version 5. It very quickly replaced Passport’s Master Tracks Pro * as my studio workhorse, especially after digital audio recording features were added. I’ve been a loyal, paid-up user ever since.

In 2008 the company was effectively acquired by Roland, which in 2013 subsequently sold their shares to Gibson.

In November 2017, Gibson effectively killed the company by stopping ongoing development and reducing the staff to the minimum required to keep the servers running.

We can guess that Gibson may have tried to find another owner for the company, and failed; or perhaps just decided that it was better to write it off as a loss for this financial year.

Either way, we’re not going to see any updates to the SONAR product in the foreseeable future, despite the fantasies being spun out by some on the user forum.

The company website still exists, and you can find links to “Buy SONAR” but they all eventually lead to the cease-of-business announcement and the statement that new purchases are no longer possible. Documentation and downloads of historical updates and resources are, for the moment, still available. You’d have to be an idiot to think that this will always be so, however.

So where does that leave folks like me?

  • Switch to another brand of DAW, immediately
  • Stay with SONAR for the time being

I think I’m totally in the second group. If I were to switch, it would be to PreSonus Studio One, because I already own it (I use it for the excellent Project page for mastering).

Negatives:

  • If you’re not happy with 2017.10, well, you’re out of luck waiting for changes.
  • A re-install will require access to online authentication servers (at least until a promised work-around is made available).
  • If you find an existing bug that doesn’t have a work-around, you’re out of luck getting it addressed.

Positives:

  • It’s not like SONAR is going to suddenly stop working;
  • No new features means no new bugs;
  • As far as we know, there aren’t any existing show-stopper bugs without workarounds;
  • Total mastery of the software is possible; current techniques won’t become obsolete;
  • We can finally create an up-to-date knowledge base of tips, tricks, and workarounds.

I don’t regret the time or money I’ve invested in Cakewalk SONAR up until this point. To throw up my hands and abandon it? That would be throwing away that investment. So for now, call me a happy SONAR user.

Onward, and create!

* Oh my goodness, they are still a Thing.

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