How to turn a vocal recording into MIDI in a DAW

Got a melody in your head but don't know how to transcribe it as MIDI note data? Your DAW might be able to do it for you…

How to turn a vocal recording into MIDI in a DAW
It was audio... but now it's MIDI.

Once the stuff of music production dreams, audio-to-MIDI conversion is now a feature of many DAWs, enabling us to grab beats, basslines and melodies from audio recordings as MIDI note data, reprogram them and use them to trigger any sound sources we like. It's amazing.

One of the most useful applications of MIDI conversion, though, is as a means of getting musical ideas out of your head and onto your arrange page. In this walkthrough, we'll show you how it's done - before you start, make sure you download the tutorial files.

For more vocal-related tips and techniques, pick up the August edition of Computer Music (cm233), with its massive The Creative Guide to Vocals cover feature.

Step 1: Many DAWs can convert audio into MIDI, and it's great for getting ideas out of your head and onto the screen super-quick, just by humming or singing. We'll show you how to do it in Ableton Live, so load Garage Loop.wav onto an audio track in a 135BPM Live project, then loop it for playback.

Step 2: Now add a new Audio Track (Cmd-T), and set it up for recording. Hit record, and sing or hum your idea. Try making different vocal sounds - ahhs, oohs, hums, and so on - to find something that feels easy and natural for you. Hit Stop when you're done.

Step 3: Access your takes by pulling out the left edge of the clip. Once you've picked the best one, right-click it and select Convert Melody to New MIDI Track. Your singing is now converted to MIDI! Before you mute the vocal, play it back alongside the MIDI clip and listen for clashing, missing, or added notes such as the yellow one shown here - fix any mistakes now.



Step 4: You can now mute the vocal, and you may also want to quantise the MIDI for tighter timing. Once you've tweaked the MIDI to perfection, load any instrument you like - we've used Synth_Bell_C2.wav - in a Simpler. The same sample works well an octave up, too.

Two Focusrite plugins, worth £229…
…for absolutely FREE with Computer Music 236