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Learning Center | Recording, sequencing, sampling

You have decided to give it a shot. You want to hook things up to your computer and make music. Everyone seems to do it these days. You hear terms like midi, interface, wave etc. It appears obvious at first but as you get a little deeper into it you find yourself attempting to fit square pegs into round holes at each step of the way.
Everyday we listen to a confused customer looking in all the wrong places when it comes to establish a relationship between his/her musical skills and his/her computer. The first step is to learn the right terminology.

The 3 most confused and misused terms:


  • Recording,

  • Midi Sequencing

  • Sampling


Recording ,sequencing and sampling are terms that invoque the same idea because they all involve storage of music in a digital format that is editable and graphically visible on your computer display.


Think of "recording" as the same as recording audio on a tape recorder. Sound that you "record" with a microphone or thru any line input. On your computer, this audio information is stored as WAV files for Windows and AIFF files for mac. These files can be very large depending on duration and sampling rate.
For example, one minute of stereo sound recorded at 44.1Khz sampling rate, will take up 10Mg of space on your hard drive. Most PC's come equipped with consumer level sound cards that allow you to input audio. It typically looks like a 1/8 inch stereo female jack with a small microphone icon in most cases. Better recording quality can be achieved with other audio interfaces


- Midi sequencing

This is the term that most beginners confuse with "recording" because in essence, sequencing is also recording information into your computer that results into music, however, it is a completely different type of data. Midi stands for : Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It's a small 8 bit protocol that allows a series of specific messages to travel between a keyboard and a computer or any other midi instruments. There are many types of midi devices. Midi can also convey several types of instructions depending on the application. Unlike "audio", midi is inert on it's own. Midi data does not make any sound until decoded by the receiving device like a keyboard, a sound module, a drum machine, etc. It's like the music notation on the staff that is played by the musician.
The most common application of midi is Sequencing.
Sequencing on your computer requires 3 main components: Sequencing software, a midi interface
and a midi instrument, typically, a keyboard.
Instead of recording the sound of the keyboard, we now record the key events that we play. Everytime we push a key, the software records the note number that you played, when you played it, how hard you pressed it and so forth. When you are done, you can have the computer play that sequence of events back, so the midi data, now travels to your keyboard and tells it how to play it.


The big advantage of midi is directly related to it's small data size and the ability to edit individual musical events of a sequence with great ease. Remember, you cannot. for example, burn a "midi sequence" on a audio CD because midi is not sound. However , you could have an instrument play the midi sequence and record the audio result as a wave file that can be burned on a CD as a sound recording. On the other hand, you cannot manipulate or apply "musical editing" events to an audio recording, because, as opposed to midi information, an entire audio file is like one big event.



Sampling and digital audio recording are virtually the same thing but the small differences in terms are fundamental enough to create confusion.
Sampling is recording and storing a sample of a sound in the appropriate digital format as a single audio event that can be re-triggered manually or automatically.
For example , I could take a single sample of each individual component of a drum set as they are played. I could then replay or trigger repetitively these audio events to form a pattern that would sound like a drum beat. I could achieve a similar result by "recording" the drummer playing the beat live but after the drummer leaves the studio I cannot alter his beat pattern.

Most of the time , when we think "sampler", we think sampling keyboard where each key of the instrument plays a wave sample . Sampling keyboards have their own drawbacks too. You have to load the sample (s) into the keyboard before you can play any sound. You also have to store, manage and keep trackof all this memory hungry data.
One of the most powerful features of sampling is looping. You can recycle and reuse audio elements as many times as you want without taking up any more memory. A few bars of a stereo drum part may be looped and repeated 100 times and still occupy less than a Meg of disk space.
Sampling can also be used to assemble existing musical recordings into collages that can be superimposed and mixed together .You may not sample copyrighted audio without the license or the permission of it's author.

Written by:
Eric Warlaumont





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