Quantization and Sequencing
We live in the best times to be producers because technology advancements has created an unlimited amount of tools and adjustments we can use/make to our projects. In this series, we go over some of the main tools that are available to all users of DAWs and deep dive into the specifics of each tool. Don't forget to stay In The Loop to keep up with the posts in this series and we hope you enjoy this week's blog post.
What is quantization?
Quantizing, quantizer, quantized. These are all forms of the term quantization. A weird word no doubt, however, this process is one of the quintessential pieces of any Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Quantization comes up in an array of fields such as physics, signal processing, chemistry, music, etc. Since this is a blog post related to music production, we will focus on the true definition of quantization as it relates to music. Quantization in music refers to the DAW process of created exact positions for notes played previously. The notes can be transformed to precise beats It can be a bit confusing to understand just from seeing the definition so I’ve provided a picture below to help visualize this process:
Music and Math
This is one of those many instances where two major subjects collide. Math and music have had a famous relationship dating all the way back to the ancient Greeks with the discovery of intervals. When you highlight the notes you play and quantize the notes in your DAW, it’s telling the system that you want to put notes in a specific spot in the measure. You have to take into account the beats per minute or BPM, your personal timing with the recording of your notes, as well as what note series you’re trying to quantize to. If any of these parts are messed up, then you could run into issues with using the tool.
Quantization tools are used mostly for their main purpose of creating accurate note plays but one of the main applications you can see with this tool is with arpeggiators. An arpeggiator is a tool that most music software has that records and plays back music that you record but arpeggiates it, meaning the notes are played in chordal tones following each other. This image helps visualize a few of the different variations of arpeggio sequences.
As you can see, each note makes up the notes of a chord but is played in a certain order. You could have a descending pattern that would start with the highest note and descends to the root of the chord or you could have ascending which is the exact opposite. Random order arpeggiators allow you to place notes in whatever order at whatever timing you'd like. Some plug-ins even have the ability to create a random order for you.
Issues with Quantizing
Not all systems can be perfect and quantizing falls in the category of an “almost perfect” tool. It’s an incredible tool that works to move the notes to exactly where you want them to be but you could run into issues with the notes moving to a grid section in the measure where you didn’t want it to move. This issue almost always stems from the input of notes and the timing of the metronome. For example, if you wanted to create a series of notes that are in the quarter note triplet pattern so you input three notes and then quantize to triplet quarter notes, the system will do its best to place the notes where you want. It could end up putting one or two of the notes in a triplet pattern but outside of the sequence because the input notes were just enough off from the metronome that the quantization tool moved the note or notes outside of the sequence.
What is Sequencing in Music Production?
This topic can be confusing as the definition of sequencing is arranging in a particular order which for a sequencer tool, that definition also applies. However, with sequencer tools, the particular orders can be manipulated to however you want, similar to an arpeggiator tool. Sequencers are popular in the Electronic Dance Music scene as synth sequencers can create a build-up to a drop or you could use them for a repetitive hook.
Hardware vs Software
You’ve probably seen the midi beat pad instruments that have a series of squares which can each have a specific sound to them. Most if not all of those devices have a switch or button on them that can have that sound repeat, arpeggiate, or sequence notes in a looping fashion. An example of a beat pad that is commonly used for sequencing notes is the Akai Professional MPD218 and if you were looking to purchase this device, it has an average cost of about $120 and can be found on most music stores online.
Music and audio software also can have built-in sequencers such as SequenceAir which is a free plug-in you can use for your DAW. As you can see from the picture below of the tool, it looks just like a mixing board and has tons of features that you can use to manipulate your sounds.
In The Loop Community
We hope you've learned a bit more about quantizing and sequencing. The entire purpose of In The Loop is to connect growing artists and producers and allow them to showcase their work in a space for constructive feedback while also participating in competitions tailored to the community. Currently, we are creating our community on Discord as we finalize our application, In The Loop. We are always looking for new beta testers to help improve the application so that we can be sure to match our app to user wants and needs. If you would be interested in being a beta tester, we have an Instagram page @itl_studios and we can give more information there if you shoot us a direct message!
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