by Julian Schmauch | 2,9 / 5,0 | Approximate reading time: 5 Minutes
How to quantize in your DAW - Better beats and sicker grooves

How to quantize in your DAW - Better beats and sicker grooves  ·  Source: Deliris, Shutterstock

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Have you ever wondered how to quantize MIDI notes in your DAW? And more importantly, why? Quantization in music production can be your secret weapon for creating tight, rhythmically precise tracks. And add some swing to drum programming.

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In this article, we’ll explore why quantizing MIDI notes can be the thing missing from your productions. We’ll explain how to quantize and guide you on how to properly set up your DAW for MIDI quantization.

Choosing the right quantization settings for your MIDI tracks can be a game-changer, and we’ll help you navigate this decision-making process. Should you go for straight 16th notes or perhaps add a little shuffle or swing?

How to Quantize and why?

Imagine you’re playing a beautiful piano piece. Or a banger or a bass line. Or a beat that makes your head shake. They’re soulful, and they’re all grooving, but wait… a note hits too offbeat, and the magic is broken.

These notes are played so loose, the groove almost falls apart

These notes are played so loose, the groove almost falls apart

In music production, timing is paramount. That’s why quantization can help save the day. It aligns your MIDI notes to the nearest beat, creating a perfect rhythm every time. It’s like the autocorrect of the music production world.

But does quantizing mean you’re sacrificing creativity for perfection?

How Quantization Works 

Your DAW, whether it’s Ableton, Logic, or Pro Tools, can automatically adjust the timing of your MIDI notes (and even audio clips in most DAWs!), snapping them into place along the rhythm grid.

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After quantization, they neatly sit on the grid

After quantization, they neatly sit on the grid

When you typically quantize to, say, a sixteenth-note grid, your DAW will move any selected MIDI note in your MIDI clip to the nearest grid line.

Most DAWs offer ways to set a quantization amount. That way, you avoid an overly robotic feel and just slightly nudge those notes into place that breaks the groove.

Ableton Live 11 Intro Download
Ableton Live 11 Intro Download
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A MIDI Quantization Workflow: from start to finish

MIDI quantization is like having your own personal conductor, ensuring every note hits precisely when it’s supposed to, adding an overall polish to your creations.

Unquantized and stumbling beat

Unquantized and stumbling beat

Step 1: Recording Your MIDI Information 

First off, you need something to quantize. Record your MIDI performance—be it a drum pattern, a groovy bass line, or an ear-catching melody—into your DAW with your MIDI controller. Don’t worry about nailing the timing just yet; that’s what quantization is for.

How to quantize in Ableton Live

Step 2: Selecting The Right Quantization Settings 

Once you’ve got your MIDI notes recorded, select the notes you want to quantize and open your DAW’s quantization menu.

Most DAWs offer various quantization grid settings, typically based on note lengths (1/8, 1/16, 1/32, etc.). Choose the one that aligns most closely with your performance or the rhythm you’re aiming for. Also, experiment with the amount – maybe you don’t need 100%!

The quantized beat

Step 3: Applying Quantization 

Now, apply the settings. Voilà! Your notes will now snap to the nearest selected note value, significantly tightening up the timing of your performance. But wait, there’s more!

Choosing the Right Quantization Setting 

How to quantize in FL Studio

How to quantize in FL Studio

There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ in quantization. It’s a creative decision, just like choosing an instrument or creating a chord progression. The right amount depends on the genre, feel, and groove of your song.

  • For tight, precise genres like Techno or House, consider a high quantization amount. This aligns notes more rigidly to the grid, giving you that precise, machine-like rhythm.
  • If you’re aiming for a loose, natural feel (think Jazz or some forms of Hip Hop), go for a lower amount. That way, you retain more of your original performance’s timing variations.
  • Add some swing: adjust the swing setting. This offsets every second note, giving your tracks a pleasant off-beat feel.

How to quantize: Using Swing to add Groove and Human feel to your Quantized Tracks

A touch of swing can transform your mechanically precise beats into a lively, toe-tapping groove. Before we dive into the ‘how’, let’s clear up the ‘what’.

Swing it like you mean it!

Swing it like you mean it!

Swing, in the context of MIDI quantization, is a rhythmic concept. It’s all about shifting some notes off the grid to give your music a natural, less robotic feel.

There is Swing in Jazz and, obviously, Swing music. Swung rhythms also have a long-standing tradition in Hip Hop. Legendary beat makers like J Dilla created an almost drunk rhythmic feel with heavily swung beats.

How to quantize in Bitwig Studio

How to quantize in Bitwig Studio

And finally, the Swing settings in Hip Hop’s most important drum machine, the MPC, also played a major role in shaping the groove of many Hip Hop classics.

Roland SP-404MKII
Roland SP-404MKII
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AKAI Professional MPC One+
AKAI Professional MPC One+
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How to Add Swing in Your DAW 

Most DAWs have a swing or groove setting in their quantize options. To apply swing, simply select your MIDI notes in a MIDI clip and adjust the swing parameter.

How to quantize in Logic Pro with Swing!

How to quantize in Logic Pro with Swing!

While swing can add a beautiful human touch, remember this: moderation is key. Too much swing can make your track sound offbeat or messy.

Steinberg Cubase Elements 12
Steinberg Cubase Elements 12
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Conclusion on how to Quantize

Now you know everything about how to quantize in your DAW! And why! Quantization can be a great tool for both corrective and creative purposes.

You can fix beats and melodies that are too much off the grid and disturb the groove. But you can also add swing to rigid drum programming. Happy beat-making!

More on DAWs, Drum Machines, and Workshops

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Image Sources:
  • These notes are played so loose, the groove almost falls apart: Julian Schmauch
  • After quantization, they neatly sit on the grid: Julian Schmauch
  • Unquantized and stumbling beat: Julian Schmauch
  • How to quantize in FL Studio: Julian Schmauch
  • Swing it like you mean it!: Kyrylo Glivin, Shutterstock
  • How to quantize in Bitwig Studio : Julian Schmauch
  • How to quantize in Logic Pro with Swing!: Apple
How to quantize in your DAW - Better beats and sicker grooves

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One response to “How to quantize in your DAW – Better beats and sicker grooves”

    Diki Ross says:
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    Some sequencers also allow a ‘window’ where you can specify that notes within a certain number of ticks don’t get moved at all, and only notes outside the window get moved. This can be handy for preserving something that feels near perfect, and just needs the odd notes tightening… it’s quicker than doing it manually on a note by note basis, but less destructive than a percentage quantize which is going to move everything…

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