Reason Tutorial: Become a Power User Part 5 – Working With MIDI In Reason

The concepts behind MIDI have been around for a long time, but Reason’s ever-evolving tools and features have kept it ahead of the game. Hollin Jones takes control.

One of Reason’s most appealing qualities has always been its approachability as a MIDI editor and sequencer. Despite lacking the more advanced features of some of its competitors – Logic or Cubase, for example – its various MIDI tools are nonetheless much-loved by users for their consistency and usefulness. And for a long time, Reason was a MIDI-only application, so it has benefitted from many years of development in this area.

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At the most basic level, MIDI editing means manipulating notes in the sequencer, but there is much more to it than just that. The flexibility of MIDI as a programming medium means it’s capable of more than simply recording and re-creating the notes that you play into it. Reason is equipped with advanced quantization tools such as the ReGroove mixer, which intercepts and re-quantizes parts non-destructively, complete with a ‘humanised’ feel. You can also lock your tracks together to give a unified feel, or apply different settings to up to 32 musical elements in your track. Each of its channels features controls for Groove Amount, Slide and Shuffle, plus more detailed settings.

The Tool window contains tools for processing and batch-altering MIDI parts, such as randomise, quantize, transpose, altering velocity, length, pitch and more. It’s even possible to extract a groove from one part and apply it to another, effectively transferring the feel of a loop to other sounds.

Although you might think of MIDI as simply referring to notes, in Reason it can also be a term that’s applicable to other control data, such as pattern data, blocks and REX slices. Many of the built-in tools for working with MIDI also work with these types of data and you can import and export MIDI clips and files, although Reason will do this in a standard MIDI file format in order to ensure better compatibility with other applications.

Working with MIDI inside Reason is powerful and flexible but has a relatively gentle learning curve. So whether you’re a novice or an expert, read on to find out how to get the most out of it.

Basic MIDI Editing

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1: With MIDI data recorded into a track you can perform various edits using the tools from the toolbar at the top of the sequencer. When working with clips you will find the Erase and Razor tools useful for quickly deleting or splitting clips. Remember that the Razor tool obeys whatever the current snap settings are. Double-click on a clip to open it in Edit mode.

2: The tools still work in Edit view but are more specific, operating on one or more selected notes rather than whole clips. You can select any note, group of notes or even non-continuous notes by holding down the [Shift] key while clicking, and move, delete, transpose, shorten or lengthen them simply by dragging with the mouse.

3: If you right-click on one or more notes you can access further tools. In the contextual menu are three handy options: Select Notes of Same Pitch, Move Selected Notes to New Lane, and Duplicate Selected Notes to New Lane. These make it easy to extract specific notes – a drum part, for example – and have them doubled-up using extra instruments.

4: Here we have duplicated specific notes from a drum clip and moved them to a new note lane. We have then routed that new note lane through a ReGroove channel by assigning it in the box to the right of the lane’s name. Using this trick you can process, say, your kick and snare using one groove, and your hi-hats using another.

5: Open the ReGroove mixer and click on the File Load button for a channel to see the presets that come with Reason. These are all non-destructive and you can apply as little or as much as you like as well as using the Pre-Align button to force-quantize the notes before they are groove-quantized. This ensures that ReGroove quantizing works as expected.

6: If you click the Edit button on any ReGroove channel you will open the relevant area of the Tool window. Here you can make more detailed changes to the swing of the quantization. Changing the timing and velocity impact and introducing some randomisation can really make a difference, and you can save your new patch.

Sequencer Tools

1: Leaving ReGroove aside, move to the Sequencer Tools section of the Tool window. Select a MIDI clip or notes in the sequencer and you can adjust all kinds of settings via this section. The first and most obvious is quantization, and you can choose a less than 100% value to maintain more of a realistic feel, if that’s what you’re after.

2:  Moving down, investigate the other options. Pitch lets you transpose or randomise the pitch of selected notes; Velocity helps you to batch-change the intensity with which notes are played by a specific amount; Tempo enables you to quickly alter speed, with handy half- and double-speed buttons. Using these tools you can quickly get control over your MIDI parts.

3: The Alter Notes section is an interesting one since it pretty much randomises notes’ pitch and velocity while maintaining their timing. This can be really good for applying to drum parts triggering ReDrum or Kong because in creating new pitches for notes, what it actually does is makes new beats, since drum kits use a different sample for each MIDI note.

4: At the base of the Tool window you will find the Extract Notes to Lanes command. Select a clip or a bunch of notes and then choose to either extract a specific note, a note range, or to explode the whole clip. This will create a single lane for every note in a clip. Initially this will play back identically, but it will now be easier to quantize notes individually or re-route them to play new modules.

5: To get into even more detail you can return to the Clip Edit view and select a note. You will see that at the top of the sequencer several numerical fields appear that display the characteristics of each note – position, length, note name, velocity and so on. Enter new values into any of these fields to change them very precisely.

6: Select more than one note and you will see small ‘equals’ buttons appear. Clicking one of these will equalise the settings for the selected notes of whatever parameter that is. This is particularly handy for making the velocities of several notes the same very quickly, without having to draw in the velocity lane.

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