Round-up: Theory-Busting MIDI Processors

We compare and contrast five MIDI processing plugins
Publish date:



Ahoy there! This bundle of four MIDI plugins has a refreshing take on getting your whole project playing [shantying?] in key. Start out with the Captain Chords plugin, and you can define a four-chord progression, swap out certain chords for suggested substitutions, try inversions, and define timing, rhythm, and more from the piano-roll-style sequencer panel. Next, build up a few variations on the progression in the Verse, Pre-Chorus, Chorus and Drop tabs to keep things interesting across your track. You can also demo your notes with the onboard sounds.

That’s already a great lot of functionality to start off with, but let’s say you add Captain Melody to your lead MIDI track, and Captain Deep to your bass track. All the Captain plugins communicate behind the scenes, taking the same musical information you've already set up in Captain Chords to inform what notes they’re going to play. The final plugin in this particular fleet is Captain Play, which lets you jam out note-perfect lines using only your QWERTY keyboard.

Captain Plugins is a really well-integrated system that works the way you actually make music. Well recommended.



Another, different, take on MIDI processing, Kameleono sends MIDI signals to an instrument on another track, sure, but it also takes a third, sidechained MIDI track to determine the pattern of notes played. This has the potential to generate some innovative results, with sidechain sequencing, input sequence gating, chord and scale definition and more MIDI-tastic tools, but Kameleono’s system of tabs for different functions makes it too abstract to give the user quick, meaningful results.

After working out Kameleono 2 and eventually getting some good results, the question still begs itself: why not just sequence the MIDI notes within the plugin itself instead of setting up a three-track routing situation? Perhaps live performance and two-player jamming could be worthy targets for Kameleono, and the results you can get from it once you get the hang of things are fresh and useful, but a rethink is needed for the average electronic musician.



Not just a plugin but seemingly a whole MIDI theory workstation, Scaler offers more than 1,500 scales to choose from, as well as the ability to listen to input MIDI to determine which key you’re currently in. Once you arrive at a scale, you can then select appropriate chords to lock into a progression, lego-style, and swap out inversions, voicings and substitutions. When you’re happy with the progression, you can drag it out as MIDI into your DAW. It’s a to-the-point system that requires far fewer brain cells than does working without Scaler. The recent 1.5 update adds a guitar-style fretboard display and allows strumming articulation on each chord, parallel harmony, relative chord finders, and new sounds to demo it all through. If you need a huge, comprehensive tool to take the theory pressure off you, Scaler could well be the right call.



This is a seriously comprehensive tool for getting your input notes to conform to your choice of nearly 25,000 scales. It runs as a standalone application rather than a MIDI plugin in your DAW, the idea being to transform the notes input by your MIDI controller so that you’re always playing in the selected key. When using AutoTonic, your actual playing is done on only the white notes of the keyboard, with the black notes acting to change the scale that you’re playing through. This approach has actually been patented by AutoTonic, so you shouldn’t find it anywhere else.

AutoTonic may appeal more to the hardcore scale-heads out there, and must be used as a standalone application for live play via a MIDI controller, but if you fit into that particular Venn diagram, this software opens up new worlds of possibility with very little effort. I'd love to see a MIDI plugin version, with fewer scales, to match the way that most producers use software.



It might be a bit strange at first, but once you’ve got the hang of Instascale, the benefits are obvious. Start with one note, the Home note, mapped to MIDI note A5. A5 plays your MIDI A5, but press any other white note (say, B5), and that note redefines the home note, so the next time you hit A5, it plays an B5.

Sound complicated? It’s easier to grasp once you start playing around with it, and the real beauty is that any white keys play in the scale you’ve chosen, while the black notes can be set to do other cool stuff, like repeating the Home note without changing its value, adding or subtracting an octave, or redefining Home but not actually playing it.

Still confused? Yep, it’s certainly a new concept to understand, but once you’ve got your head around it, Instascale is great for helping you to jam out new musical patterns that you wouldn’t otherwise have come up with, and can make you feel like a keyboard wizz with even the most spasmodic of hand-flailing.