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How to use MIDI controllers to add pathos to a string part

(Image credit: Future)

Let’s use MIDI controllers to add more pathos to a sad string piece. We’ve seen how leaving melody lines ‘unquantised’ enhances feel, but MIDI controllers and velocity assignments can help too…

(Image credit: Future)

Step 1: Start with a simple, sad piece for three instruments. The first is a cello solo from the LA Scoring Strings library; the others are two Flautando string ensemble patches for high and low strings from Spitfire Audio’s Tundra library. We’ve added reverb to the cello.

(Image credit: Future)

Step 2: We want to add to the feeling of pathos. We ensure the Spitfire Audio strings don’t ‘lag’ behind the cello, using MIDI delay to bring these forward in time. There’s a 1/4 note rest in the cello at the end of bar five which we introduce to the flautando strings too.

(Image credit: Future)

Step 3: The cello part relies on velocity to control the portamento speed between notes, so we adjust each note to create a smooth, arching line. We also manually adjust the timing of some notes – some rush in the original performance, so even though these are subtle adjustments, they help.

(Image credit: Future)

Step 4: We introduce dynamic layers to the cello part by drawing a line for MIDI Controller 1; Modulation. This allows us to move through the recorded sample layers, triggering notes which were captured with gentle and more aggressive playing techniques. This finesses the notes at the start of each phrase.

(Image credit: Future)

Step 5: We add a second line of MIDI data, this time for Controller 11; Expression. This acts as a MIDI volume control, letting us shape the output level of the cello phrase using MIDI. Working in tandem, these two controllers let us add a lot more shape and feel to the phrase.

(Image credit: Future)

Step 6: The Spitfire Audio libraries use the same controllers in similar ways to finesse dynamic layers and overall volume, so we add lines of data to both the upper and lower strings. There’s now a much greater sense of phrase and feel throughout the piece.