Why Quantize Everything? Get Rid Of The Grid

This week we're going to take a look at going off-grid. But don't worry- we don't mean the act of living in a remote log cabin, eating voles and fashioning a hydro-electric iPad. No, much more comfortable than that, we're talking about getting away from the quantise grid in your DAW or sequencer. Do you sometimes find it difficult to get the right flow and groove into your beats? Do things sometimes sound too rigid? Well, join us, as we show you a few tips on how to get some more natural feel into your tracks, from the comfort of your own home! You may have heard people talking about that 'natural' or 'human' feel to a beat or a groove. What they mean by this is, of course, the subtle inaccuracies of the timing. No human musician can play bang on the beat, exactly the same every time. They can get close, but even then your ear picks up the differences, and this makes for a much more interesting beat to listen to. So what can you to give your beats and programming a bit more of an organic feel? Well, in summary, start making them less accurate! There are a number of ways you can do this though. The first one is simply to programme your parts as you want them, and then start moving things off the quantise grid. All DAWs have a 'nudge' function where you can move things a tiny bit earlier or later. You usually won't notice one nudge, but try making two similar sounds (like hi-hats) play at the same time, and then nudging one of them a dozen or so times. You'll soon hear what sort of a difference this can make. So to make small, incremental changes, try using the nudge function a lot more. Give your melodies a looser feel, or your beats more of a funky vibe by tweaking certain notes off the strict quantise. In general, it may be worth keeping certain notes on the grid; the first beat of the bar, say, to anchor things a little, and in a drum beat you should normally keep the kick fairly steady – this is dance music after all. But beyond that, you're free to experiment. Listen to a funk track by the likes of Zapp and Roger – they don't just have one clap sound, they'll be two or three, fairly loosely timed, and often making full use of the stereo spectrum. So try using two or more claps or snares, pull one early, one late, and pan them a little bit. See? You're sounding funkier already! If you're a bit more confident with a MIDI keyboard or pad though, you might want to try playing things in yourself. But you don't need to be a hotshot musician to achieve a decent sound – this is where more advanced quantise techniques can really help out. Once you've got your melody or beat recorded as MIDI data, then try partially quantising it. On Cubase, this is called 'Iterative Quantising', while on Logic it just involves changing the Quantise Strength away from 100%. Then, when you press the quantise button, instead of shifting everything onto the beat, your notes will simply be moved closer. They'll retain the character of your playing – so that if you played a note late, it will still be late, but just less so! This is a great way of achieving a natural, human feel without being so loose that it seems sloppy. Another way of keeping a bit of groove and looseness is just to be a bit slack when you're chopping your samples. That might sound like a slacker's charter, but it's surprising how effective it can be! So many programmes these days offer instant sample slicing, editing and tweaking, and they identify transients to the nearest milisecond. That's all very handy, and it can certainly save you a lot of time, but sometimes the side-effect of all this is that your beats come out just a touch too perfect – it's so easy to opt for this option that people forget you can do it by hand. Chop things a little more roughly and throw them into your track with abandon; you'll start to see lots of new opportunities for loose funkiness presenting themselves. Ultimately the challenge of creating a human, organic groove with your tracks comes down to timing. A few gentle nudges here and there, a few parts that feature your own hands playing some MIDI bongo or synth action, and a couple of roughly hacked samples and you'll soon see that when you stop tying everything down to the quantise grid, your tracks take on a new life. So try it – go off grid and see where it can take you!

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