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Sherry C 06-04-2010 02:47 PM

Recording using a MIDI microphone or guitar-to-MIDI unit
Hi friends,

I just answered a question at the helpdesk about using a MIDI microphone and recording into Composer. When using any audio-to-MIDI conversion equipment, it's important to remember that the unit is attempting to take a complex audio signal, and convert it to a much simpler (and easier to use) MIDI signal. There are some "tricks" that are used, depending on the unit, to preserve as much of the original performance as possible, and have that "speak" in MIDI. For example, vibrato of the notes, or slides from one note to another are typically performed using Pitch Bend data. These "tricks" are really just other MIDI data besides the note pitch, and may affect the notation you get in Composer.

Here is what I told the musician, based on my own experience using a guitar-to-MIDI converter unit:

As long as the signal that Composer receives is MIDI and not audio, then it will recognize it and record that signal, giving you notation (and performance) in the score.

I'll add a caveat here from my own experience using a guitar-to-MIDI converter unit, because some of the same principles may apply to the situation of singing notes. I sometimes use a Sonuus G2M guitar-to-MIDI interface to get notes into Composer. What I've found is that the Sonuus unit's built-in processing adds far more in the way of pitch bends than what I'd like to have. If I want "clean" notation, I have to go in after recording and remove the pitch bend data (Composer records all incoming MIDI data) and adjust some of the note pitches to compensate for the absence of the pitch bends. The Sonuus unit doesn't have any way for me to "turn off" the pitch bend data, so I'm stuck with that. Depending on your goals, you may want to find out what kind of control of different MIDI data you can have with your MIDI microphone.

Guitar and vocals both have some amount of vibrato and "slide", which is why my Sonuus unit also records the pitch bend data. It's just trying to be faithful to my original performance, and it does that very well. But if I want "clean" notation in Composer, then I have to remove the pitch bends and sometimes adjust the notes from there. If I'm just creating a backing track and want to preserve the performance, then I don't have to do that. I don't know which MIDI mic you're looking into (or already have), but when you record, you may want to minimize the amount of vibrato in your voice, and try to avoid sliding into notes if you're looking to get really "clean" notation transcription. If you're looking to add "nuance" to the performance for creating a backing track or such, then you'll probably want Pitch Bend (or other MIDI performance data) included. It just depends on what your ultimate goals are for recording your voice using the MIDI microphone.
MIDI keyboards - either synthesizers with sound or controllers without sound - are by far the most popular MIDI instruments for playing and recording into Composer. They have the MIDI controller issues nailed down pretty well. There are other specific MIDI instruments out there. But taking an acoustic signal and turning it into MIDI is an extremely difficult task. As long as we understand the caveats that are associated with the particular audio-to-MIDI unit we're using, it will help us use both that unit and Composer to get the results we want.

If you use any kind of audio-to-MIDI unit and would like to share your experience (either good or bad) here, please do. I'm sure there are folks who could use the information.


dj 06-05-2010 01:02 PM

Re: Recording using a MIDI microphone or guitar-to-MIDI unit
Hi, Sherry:

I've never actually heard of a MIDI microphone before. I think I'd be too scared of seeing what I hear to use one. As I said to an auditioner once: "I'm a hoofer and belter, not a dancer and a singer."

I just got a new Windows 7 computer and will have to buy some new hardware to go with it -- my main MIDI interface won't run on 64-bit! So, I might look for something that can handle guitar, too.


Sherry C 06-05-2010 03:08 PM

Re: Recording using a MIDI microphone or guitar-to-MIDI unit
Howdy David,


Originally Posted by dj (Post 14380)
I just got a new Windows 7 computer and will have to buy some new hardware to go with it -- my main MIDI interface won't run on 64-bit! So, I might look for something that can handle guitar, too.

I had the same issue when I had to get a new machine last October. The audio/MIDI interface that I'd had wouldn't work properly on it (MIDI was nonexistent, and the audio sounded like a drunk robot inside a metal barrel), and neither would my soundcard (lost about 2/3 of its functionality), so I ended up getting a soundcard with an external interface for audio and MIDI (Gina 3G) It took me a little bit to get adjusted to it, but now I really like it for what I'm doing, and the audio is a lot better quality than the other soundcard I had. The only thing it doesn't support is duplex recording, so I end up routing signals if I want to do that, but since it has digital ins/outs it's not a huge problem for what few duplex needs I have.

Using the Sonuus unit has forced me to increase the clarity of my playing, because it only does single notes. It also only cost about 1/6th of the typical guitar MIDI setups, so I guess I can't complain ;) The Sonuus G2M goes for about $100 usd, while the Roland and Axon units go for about $250 for the pickup, and then you have to have "The Box" (which varies from $400 to $650, depending on the particular one you get) that translates the signal from the pickup into MIDI. From what I've read about them, and from hearing musicians like Phil Keaggy who use them, they're pretty cool and flexible. However, I don't do anything close to what would take advantage of that kind of setup, except maybe chords. So I just stick with what I've got, and am thankful for it :) I still have my Kaysound MK4902 MIDI controller, and that fills all the needs I have for solid MIDI recording.

One thing I have found that I can do with the Sonuus, and it actually does pretty well, is plug my microphone into the "guitar" jack (using an adapter), and play my whistle(!) to get notes into Composer. That actually even does a little better job at "clean" notation than the guitar (not so many overtones to confuse it like the guitar) and so I've actually used that a few times to record MIDI. I just have to not use any vibrato. There are all sorts of fun ways to "misuse" equipment ;)


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