Making Tracks: Make Mine Rubato

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FIG. 1: Before creating a tempo map, record a MIDI click track in real time. Edit it afterward as needed so that all MIDI Notes land squarely on downbeats.

Many musicians hate recording while following a soulless click track that constrains their playing to a rigid tempo. Unfortunately, recording tracks with a freely shifting tempo results in an edit grid that has no relation to the actual bars and beats of your performance. This makes the copying, pasting and quantizing of subsequent MIDI overdubs (such as virtual drums) difficult because there are no logical grid lines to guide your time-range selections and snap MIDI Notes to.

I'll show you how to use Digital Performer (DP) 6 to make MIDI overdubs march to the beat of a rubato audio track. The key is to create a tempo map with bars and beats that follow all of your robato performance's tempo changes. Doing so automatically creates an edit grid to which you can quantize your MIDI overdubs.

Draw You a Map

In DP, create a tempo map in the Conductor Track. An option in the Receive Sync dialog allows you to tap on a MIDI controller to record a rubato tempo map directly into DP's Conductor Track in real time. However, I prefer to record a MIDI click track — whose notes I can see and hear for easy editing in the Sequence editor — as the foundation for building my Conductor Track.

Playing to your previously recorded rubato audio track(s) as best you can, record steady half- or quarter-note beats, with a MIDI kick drum for example, throughout your song on a new track; this is your MIDI click track. (Half-notes provide sufficient tempo resolution for fast-tempo songs, whereas quarter-notes are usually needed for slower tempos.) Listening back to your MIDI performance, edit the timing of any MIDI Notes that were played out of sync with your original rubato track so that all notes land exactly on downbeats (see Fig. 1).

Now you're ready to create your tempo map (see “Step-by-Step Instructions” below). Lock all audio and MIDI tracks in DP's Tracks List. This critical first step preserves all tracks' real-time performances (keeping them in sync with each other) when creating a tempo map.

Next, set DP's Tempo Control menu to the Conductor Track setting, select all of the data in your MIDI click track and choose the Extract Tempo From MIDI command in DP's Region menu. This moves the Conductor Track's bars and beats so that they roughly align to your MIDI click track (and to the rubato audio track it was played to).


Despite the now approximate synchronicity of beats and notes, you may find that beat 1 of each actual bar of music sits under the wrong beat (for example, beat 3) in the time ruler. Correct that by first selecting Project > Modify Conductor Track > Adjust Beats. In the Adjust Beats dialog that appears, check the following boxes and radio buttons: Drag Beats In Graphic Editor, Move All Following Beats By The Same Amount and Preserve Realtime Performance. In the dialog's Adjust and Snapping menus, choose Beats and None, respectively.

With the Adjust Beats dialog open, the mouse cursor becomes a crosshairs cursor when positioned over DP's Sequence editor. Clicking and holding with the crosshairs cursor on a beat division in the MIDI click track causes a vertical line to appear at that point in the Sequence editor. In your MIDI click track, click your mouse under the time ruler's first beat of bar 1 and drag the vertical line so that it aligns with the first note in your MIDI click track.

The placement of bar lines should now make more musical sense, but all beats will likely need to be moved slightly to align them exactly with the notes in your MIDI click track. In the Adjust Beats dialog, check Move One Beat At A Time and choose Notes Or Audio Beats in the Snapping menu. Beginning with the very first beat of your song, drag to the left or right with your mouse in your MIDI click track to make the beat snap to and line up exactly with the start of the first MIDI Note. Use the same technique to snap all following beats in turn to their corresponding MIDI Notes.

Good Conductor

When you are finished snapping all of the Conductor Track's beats to the notes in your MIDI click track, close the Adjust Beats dialog and unlock all your tracks in DP's Tracks List. The tempo map should now follow all the tempo variances of your original rubato audio track(s). Any MIDI tracks you subsequently record in real time may now be copied, pasted, quantized or otherwise edited using the edit grid that DP automatically generated from your new tempo map.

EM contributing editor Michael Cooper is the owner of Michael Cooper Recording in Sisters, Ore.


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Step 1: Lock all audio and MIDI tracks in DP''s Tracks List.

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Step 2: Choose the Conductor Track to control tempo, make a time-range selection of all the data in your MIDI click track and select Region > Extract Tempo From MIDI.

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Step 3: Select Project > Modify Conductor Track > Adjust Beats and make selections in the Adjust Beats dialog that will move all beats by the same amount.

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Step 4: Align bar 1, beat 1 of the time ruler with the first note in your MIDI click track.

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Step 5: Make selections in the Adjust Beats dialog to move and snap one beat at a time.

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Step 6: Click and drag inside the MIDI click track to snap each beat in turn to its corresponding MIDI Note.