You Rock Guitar MIDI Controller

February 8th, 2011 Jonny Kaine Posted in Gear, Instruments, MIDI 1 Comment »

If you’re looking for a MIDI Controller guitar you should definitely consider the “You Rock Guitar.” I love mine and at about $200 it seems like a really good deal considering all that it is capable of.

It may look look like a video game controller (and it can actually be used as one) but it really works quite well. If you’ve got some sweet VSTi synthesizers (and/or samplers – even drum machines!) then you can plug this thing up via USB and control them. I use mine with REAPER but I believe it works well with any software that has MIDI input.

I’ve been very impressed with how responsive it is so far. I wasn’t really expecting it to work as well as it does. Nice surprise. Yes I have had some dropped notes with finger style playing but I think that may just be a matter of adjusting the settings and how I play it (you have to be a bit more precise with a MIDI guitar than you do with a real guitar.)

On the other hand, this guitar is much easier to fret than a real guitar as there are no strings to hold down (the only strings are for the picking hand.)

It’s got all kinds of on board features and sounds but to be honest most of them seem really cheesy to me, I say skip all of that silliness and use it as a MIDI controller that’s where it’s true awesomeness lies.

I plan on sharing some samples of the kind of things you can do with the You Rock Guitar as a MIDI controller in the future, in fact I may just edit them into this post (after I put them up on YouTube.)

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Rock Band 3 MIDI Controllers

October 28th, 2010 Jonny Kaine Posted in Gear, MIDI 1 Comment »

Even if you don’t care much about playing the Rock Band video game there are some very interesting developments if you are interested in MIDI controller instruments.

Guitars

The “Fender Mustang” enters the market as the cheapest MIDI controller guitar available (and it’s also a game controller, of course.) It uses buttons for the left hand and real strings for strumming and picking for the right hand.

It seems like it would be quite interesting to play VSTi instruments with this thing and the price is nice ($150.)

I’m considering buying this myself but I’m also thinking about waiting for the “Squire Strat” version which will have strings over the frets too (thinking that may be more realistic feeling to play.) There’s no price point or release date on it yet, so who knows how long I’ll be waiting.

Keytar

This thing is just $80 and would be pretty cool for live performance in certain situations, but I don’t have much use for it myself (I’ve already got a great 88 key velocity sensitive weighted key keyboard for MIDI control – the Studiologic SL-990.)

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SL-990 Weighted Key MIDI Controller Keyboard

March 12th, 2010 Jonny Kaine Posted in MIDI, Virtual Instruments 2 Comments »

In an earlier post I talked about the Pianoteq software which I use for all of my piano sounds and I think I also mentioned that I have an SL-990 Weighted Key MIDI Controller Keyboard to play it (and all of my other virtual instruments) with.

With this post I want to emphasize important it is to use a weighted key MIDI controller such as this one (and in my research it’s the best deal around for a full 88 key weighted keyboard – that’s why I bought it.)

Really there’s not much point in even getting Pianoteq unless you have a weighted keyboard because what makes it special (and more realistic sounding than sampled pianos) is that it is extremely responsive to the touch of the keyboard player and that touch is only going to be right if you’re playing on weighted keys.

That’s not to say that I only like using the SL-990 because of Pianoteq. I love the way it feels on everything. I think it helps give the sound of my virtual drum machine (I have been using Superior Drummer 2) a more “real” sound and I even like the feel of it when playing VSTi synths (some seem to disagree on this, but I like it.)

I think people often underestimate how important velocity is in giving music it’s “feel.” Real people don’t play every note or every drum hit or every piano note with the exact same velocity so when we have static velocity in our MIDI it gives our virtual instruments a very “robotic” sound.

So much of the “groove” is created by the differences in velocity between the different notes. It’s those differences in velocity that makes the music come alive. It’s what makes it human. And I think the SL-990 Weighted Key Keyboard is a great way to get your “humanity” into the MIDI in your DAW.

If you’ve never played a weighted key keyboard, it’s definitely something to check out.

As of right now this keyboard is out of stock at Amazon, but there are many other 88 weighted key MIDI controller keyboards you could buy instead.

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“Humanizing” Your MIDI

February 28th, 2010 Jonny Kaine Posted in MIDI 1 Comment »

I used to do a lot MIDI programming (placing the notes into my DAW with my mouse) rather than recording the MIDI from my keyboard playing (whether it be keyboard parts or drums.) I found this to be a faster approach to get what I wanted because I’m an awful keyboardist and have a lousy sense of rhythm.

While this approach gave me technically correct results, the sound was very robotic. There are a variety of techniques one can use to try to get the of programmed notes to sound more “human” (such as varying the timing and velocity of the notes) but I don’t think that’s the best way to go about it.

Instead, I’ve decided it’s better to play my keyboard and drum parts. I’m still not very good at it (although I get better the more I do it) but I find if I take enough passes (which is of course very easy with MIDI) that I can get it close enough. And if it’s still not quite good enough then I can use quantization to improve the timing.

Quantization

You may be thinking that quantizing the notes defeats the entire purpose of recording my playing in the first place but that’s not true. First of all, a lot of the “human touch” is in the changing velocities, not just in the not perfect timing. Secondly, you don’t have to (and you shouldn’t) quantize 100%. Instead, I play around with the quantization percentage (and other settings, with REAPER – my preferred DAW – there are a variety of quantization settings to manipulate) until I get the feel that I want where it still sounds “human” but it’s not overly sloppy like my playing tends to be without it.

Playing One Bit At A Time

If you’re a bad keyboardist like me then you may want to borrow my technique of playing one bit a time. For example, instead of playing both the left and right hands of a keyboard part – I may play each one separately and then add them together. Or when playing drums I may do the kick and snare in one pass and then the hi-hat in another.

Looping

Another technique I use to make the process of getting a “human” sounding MIDI recording a bit easier is looping. For example I may play 8 bars of my hi-hat playing and then just loop that to wherever it needs to be. This tends to give enough of a “human feel” while not taking a huge amount of time.

Keyboard

I think it’s essential to use a velocity sensitive keyboard if you want to get a “human” sounding MIDI recording. And it’s preferred to have a weighted key keyboard. I use the SL-990 MIDI Keyboard and I definitely highly recommend it. It comes close to the feel of playing a real piano and it’s not crazy expensive. No, it has no built in sounds – but so what? Built in sounds are crap anyway in most cases. It’s meant to be used to control the drum machines, samplers, and synths you have on your computer and it works wonderfully for that.

Pianoteq

Combine the above weighted key keyboard with Pianoteq piano software for an extremely realistic piano playing experience. It’s really an awesome combination.

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