Logic Pro Tutorial – Articulation Switching

Creating an expressive, sample-based music score requires an informed understanding of articulation switching. Mark Cousins shows you how…

Logic Pro Tutorial

Given the range of emotions and actions a composer needs to enhance, it’s no surprise that sample libraries are packed with a variety of different articulations that have become an essential part of the screen music tool set.
For the uninitiated, articulations cover a range of playing styles, so that, rather than providing just a single violin sample, a string library will present the principal instrument performed in a variety of ways: often including short and long notes, legato phrasing, pizz, tremolo, trills, col legno and so on.
Put simply, the greater the range of articulations, the more colour and interest you can inject into your score – moving between languid melodic lines, for example, to sharp and spiky pizzicato.
In these workshops we’re concentrating on exploring the techniques used by media composers as a means of extracting the full expressive potential of sample-based instruments. In this workshop, we’re going to look specifically at the art of articulation switching: using keyswitching, split individual ‘brushes’ and even velocity to control how a part is performed in the virtual domain.
Key Facts
The main technique used to move between different articulations is keyswitching, whereby keys at either end of the keyboard are used to move between articulations ‘on-the-fly’. Keyswitching is certainly an intuitive solution, letting you record a complete performance in the one pass, but unless you’re particularly ambidextrous, there’s usually a degree of editing after the event to refine what you’ve performed.
Another point worth considering is the position of the keyswitches, possibly moving them back by a few ticks so that the engine has a small amount of time to switch the sample ahead of the note.
Don’t worry if a note is still sounding, though, as the switch only happens when the next played note starts.
While embedded keyswitching is an easy solution, it can be tricky to keep tabs on the use of articulations from an arrangement level. In this case, consider running a separate track lane for the keyswitching, so that it’s clear to see what’s happening outside of a MIDI region in the Piano Roll editor.
Colour coding and naming the articulation can also help, potentially making it much speedier to copy or reposition articulations (even between instruments) as you begin to arrange the cue as a whole. You can still edit the two regions together (by selecting both regions before you open the Piano Roll editor), if you still want to see the notes alongside the keyswitches.
Many Rushes
As we saw in a previous workshop, it’s still worth using individual articulations (referred to as split patches, or individual brushes) assigned to discrete MIDI channels as a means of moving between different performance styles. You have the option of applying the switching either at part level (using an event list editor and moving different notes between different MIDI channel assignments), or at arrangement level (using a discrete arrangement track for each articulation).
Not all libraries use keyswitching, though, as a number of other solutions make creative use of other facets of the MIDI protocol, notably Velocity and MIDI Controllers. Velocity, for example, can often be used as means of moving between different note lengths, so that a staccato is triggered on high velocities, or that progressive longer articulations are triggered as you play harder.
With a little thought, you can adapt how you work with your DAW to best match the switching technique. In the case of Velocity, using a MIDI transform editor to fix the velocities makes subsequent editing far easier and consistent.
Expressive Scoring
As we’ve seen there’s no one ‘perfect’ solution to articulation switching, and indeed, it’s often best to use elements of all the techniques, adapting your workflow to the demands of the music, or the technicalities of the library you’re working with.
It’s also worth experimenting to see what techniques work best with your compositional style – you might, for example, like the improved mixing potential of running articulations as separate brushes, or simply prefer playing everything live. Either way, it’s reassuring to note how flexible modern sound libraries have become, often providing a number of different solutions for moving between articulations.
Check out this tutorial where I explore the deliberate omission here: dynamics and legato performances. Combining the practices explored here with the techniques there arguably forms the complete palette of techniques for expressive sample-based scoring.
Focus On – Logical Editing
The use of velocity-based articulation switching makes it useful to apply either Cubase’s Logical MIDI editor or the MIDI Transform Editor in Logic Pro X. Both of these solutions are forms of conditional, text-based MIDI editors – in other words, MIDI editing is applied as a series of text-based instructions, rather than using a mouse. Here, the process starts by selecting all the notes, followed by an operation that fixes to the Velocity to a default value of 40.
These text-based editors can perform a wide range of tasks that relate to music to picture work – from humanising a rigid performance, to creating pseudo-random percussion sequences – so they’re well worth closer inspection.

Step by Step – Keyswitching

  • Logic
    1: A keyswitched instrument uses an array of keys at either the bottom or top-end of the keyboard to move between a number of articulations. In this example, the keyswitch keys are labelled in red, with the current selected articulation in yellow.
  • 2: If you’re a good keyboard player, it’s possible to play the musical line and record the keyswitches live. Here you can see the resultant musical sequence, with the keyswitching at the bottom of the Piano Roll editor.
  • 3: Even the best performances might need some tweaking in the Piano Roll editor: either to edit misplaced keyswitches, add new keyswitch events, or move the keyswitches back slightly so that you ensure Kontakt triggers the correct sample ahead of the note.
  • 4: Editing keyswitch events in the Piano Roll has its advantages, but it can be tricky to see what’s happening on an arrangement level. Another strategy is to run a parallel keyswitch track lane, creating a new track assigned to the same instrument.
  • 5: To keep the articulation usage clear, consider colour coding your regions, as well as naming them. Once set in this way, it’s easy to move or duplicate them around your session, confident that the correct samples will be triggered at the appropriate time.
  • 6: As we saw in last month's workshop, another approach to moving between articulations is to use a seperate MIDI channel for each different sound. In this case, three violin articulations have been split between three MIDI channels.
  • 7: Moving between articulations assigned to different MIDI channels can be achieved in two ways. One solution, where you’re moving between articulations quickly, is to use an Event list – selecting the notes and then assigning them to the corresponding MIDI channel.
  • 8: Much like the first example, using multiple track lanes is the best solution if you need to keep tabs on articulation usage from an arrangement perspective. Create new tracks, each assigned to the same instrument but with an incremental channel assignment.
  • 9: To trigger different articulations, either record on the corresponding track lane, or edit an existing region, moving the edited section onto the desired sample set. To keep the arrangement clear, consider collapsing the tracks into the same Track Stack.
  • 10: Keyswitching isn’t the only technique used by sound libraries. Like a growing number of other libraries, CineBrass uses velocity as a means of moving between shorter and longer note articulations, with the sustain pedal used for triggering legato.
  • 11: Although it’s possible to use velocity-based articulation switching on-the-fly, a degree of tweaking needs to be applied. In this sequence, velocity has first been levelled, with selected notes triggering longer articulations with higher velocities.
  • 12: The final piece of the puzzle is the addition of sustain pedal as a means of triggering the legato phrase. As we’ll see more of next month, the modulation wheel becomes the principal tool for dynamics, rather than the traditional velocity-based approach.

This tutorial is endorsed by Point Blank. With courses in London, Online and now LA, Point Blank is The Global Music School. You can study sound to picture on their Music Production Diploma courses, with pro industry tutors. More info here:www.pointblanklondon.com 


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