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MIDI Merge Recording | Video Tutorial
Tips and Tricks
MIDI Merge allows us to add, or “merge”, MIDI musical sequenced performance data to an existing MIDI track without overwriting any existing data on that clip. This allows you to layer your parts. When using this mode, we can layer MIDI parts one-at-a-time, building a full MIDI performance from multiple passes. This article and video tutorial shows you how easy to build complex musical parts in Pro Tools.
MIDI Merge mode is a MIDI recording workflow in Pro Tools that allows us to add layers of MIDI data to an existing clip without overwriting any existing data. When using a MIDI controller to record MIDI parts, MIDI Merge mode can be extremely helpful for quickly sketching out parts, particularly for MIDI drums. Because MIDI is simply performance data that is sent to a virtual instrument (or external MIDI device), there are multiple workflow options available to MIDI recording that don’t exist for Audio recording. MIDI Merge mode is one of these options.
This is extremely helpful if you don’t feel confident recording a perfect, complex performance in one take. Using MIDI Merge mode is perfect for recording MIDI drum parts, for you can devote each pass to a different part of the drum kit and build a complex arrangement from multiple takes. For example, you can record the kick drum first, then add a snare drum on the next take, then add a hi-hat on the next take, etc. When finished, you will have a fully arranged/performed drum groove built from its constituent parts.
To set up your session for MIDI Merge recording, you will want to engage three separate options in Pro Tools:
Input Quantize (optional)
Turn On MIDI Merge
The MIDI Merge button can be found in the Transport Window. To open the Transport Window, navigate to Window > Transport or, using the numeric keypad, input the keyboard shortcut Command+1 (Mac) or Ctrl+1 (Windows).
Make sure the MIDI Controls are toggled on within the Transport Window. To do this, click on the dropdown arrow on the right side of the Transport Window, then check the box next to “MIDI Controls.” This will give you access to the MIDI Merge button.
Within the MIDI Controls section of the Transport Window, you will see four buttons that can be toggled on or off.
The MIDI Merge button is located in between the Metronome button and the Conductor Track button. Click the MIDI Merge button to toggle it on/off—when it is blue, this means MIDI Merge is toggled on.
Turn On Input Quantize (Optional)
Engaging Input Quantize is an optional step in the process, but it can be very helpful when used in conjunction with MIDI Merge mode, especially when recording drums. Since you will be recording MIDI data one pass at-a-time, having Input Quantize turned on will ensure that your MIDI data will playback in perfect time—this will help keep your performance of subsequent takes in time as well.
To turn on Input Quantize, navigate to Event > Event Operations > Input Quantize… This will open the Event Operations window.
Under the “What to Quantize” section, check the box next to Enable Input Quantize and Note On. Under the “Quantize Grid” section, choose the rhythmic value you would like to use as your quantization value. I’m going to set mine to 1/16th notes. You can configure any other quantization parameters as desired. Close the Event Operations window when you are satisfied with your configuration.
Turn On Loop Playback
Loop Playback will allow us to record subsequent takes over a Timeline selection without needing to constantly click Stop and Play in the Transport Window. Pro Tools will continuously loop the selection where we want to record, allowing us to input MIDI data as desired.
NOTE: We use Loop Playback for MIDI Merge workflows rather than Loop Record. Loop Record is incompatible with MIDI Merge, so if your Transport is set to Loop Record mode, toggle it off first.
To turn on Loop Playback, navigate to Options > Loop Playback. Clicking Loop Playback in the Options menu will toggle it on. Alternatively, you can right-click on the Play button in the Transport window and select “Loop” to toggle on Loop Playback.
When Loop Playback is toggled on, the Play button will have a green, circular arrow, a shown below.
Recording Using MIDI Merge
With each of those options turned on, you are now ready to record MIDI data using the MIDI Merge workflow.
To begin recording MIDI data:
Make a Timeline Selection on the Instrument Track (or MIDI Track, if you’re using an external MIDI device) you want to record. This will designate the area that will be looped.
(Optional) Set a Pre-Roll for recording, if desired.
Record-enable your Instrument Track.
Click “Record-Enable” in the Transport, and then click “Play.”
Record your MIDI data. A MIDI clip will be created within the boundaries of your selection. If you do not play anything, the MIDI clip will remain on your track playlist, but it will be empty.
Try recording one part at-a-time, adding elements on subsequent loops. Notice how no MIDI data is overwritten in this process—it is only added, or “merged,” to the current data. Click “Stop” when you are done recording.
Quick Tip: While you are recording using MIDI Merge, you can click the Record button in the Transport to stop inputting MIDI data at any time. Your selection will continue to loop, but you won’t record any data. This is helpful for if you want to experiment with a new part while your selection loops without needing to stop playback altogether.
While MIDI Merge is most often used while recording drum parts, it can be used for any type of MIDI-compatible instrument, increasing your creative possibilities. For example, if you want to record a piano part, you could record the left-hand part first, then record the right-hand part on a subsequent loop. The resulting MIDI clip would contain both the right-hand and left-hand performance as if they were recorded together.
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