Thursday, January 15, 2015

Jamstix Software - Part 4 of 4 - Options, the Bar Editor, & Final Thoughts

Welcome to the fourth and final part of my Jamstix tutorial series.  In this video, I'm going to use Ableton Live as my host DAW (audio editor) for the Jamstix virtual instrument plug-in.

If you're looking for other blog posts in this series, here are the links.  Each one has it's own tutorial video:

In this tutorial, I'm going to cover the Bar Editor in detail.  I'm also going to talk about Restore Points, all of the items in the Options Menu, and VST Automation.  Again, if you don't understand how MIDI works, some of this info will be really confusing, but I still recommend that you watch it because it will help you learn a bit more about MIDI and its capabilities.

Before I go any further, I should point out two things that I should have covered in the last video.  First, I quickly went through a bunch of Brain controls.  Be aware that these controls will change depending on the style and drummer that you're using.  I don't just mean that the default values of the knobs and sliders may be different.  I mean that the actual controls (within boxes called "elements") may vary.

Elements that are titled in white are associated with the current style.  Elements in orange are associated with the current drummer.  Go into the drop-down menu in the upper left and try loading a different style.  Some of the white elements will probably change.  Now try loading a different player (drummer).  Some of the orange elements will probably change.

Also, I said that when you click on a label at the top of an element (either right-click or left-click), you get a menu that allows you to disable, freeze, or hide the element, and a bunch of other options.  But if you right-click on a specific control within the element itself, you get a completely different menu.  This separate menu is how you map the control to your external controller.  If you know the specific number of the control on your controller, you can pick it, but you'll probably find it easier to just move the physical control that you want it to be associated with, and Jamstix should figure it out and complete the assignment.

Before I get into a description of the advanced features, here's the video for this part of the tutorial series.  I have to apologize in advance, it's a bit blurry in a few places.  I didn't realize that the camera had been switched to auto-focus, and it sometimes went slightly blurry without me noticing the problem on the small screen.  But it usually takes four or five hours to do the filming on one of these tutorials (they're a lot more involved than they probably look) and I figured that it would make more sense for me to invest the time in a different tutorial than spend an evening re-shooting this video, just to fix a few minutes of slight blurriness:

Ok, so those are a couple things that I should have mentioned in part three.  And also, I mentioned that I'm using Ableton in the video this time around.  I'll cover a couple of Ableton-related setup items in the video.  At this point, let's get to work on the Bar Editor.

Bar Editor

So we've already touched briefly on the Bar Editor.  The resolution of the editor is 16th notes.  We have six vertical rows, and these represent the four limbs of the drummer, plus two hands of the percussionist underneath.

All of the notes generated by the Brain are shown in this grid, in one of the three layers.  Remember the layers:  Groove, Accent, and Fill.  Even though they are displayed separately, they play simultaneously.  If you want, you can program the kick and snare yourself (the Groove layer) and then let the Brain handle the accents and fills.

When the Brain merges the three layers, what happens if there are limb conflicts between the layers?  Well, the Brain knows that it needs to watch for this, and resolves them based on a priority system.

Looking at the notes and cells, if you double-click on an occupied cell, the note is removed. If you double-click on an unoccupied cell, a note is created.  The Brain will add the most common sound for that limb, or the last sound you selected for that limb in the current editing session.

If you want to edit a note, there are two things you can do.  If you do a left-click, you'll see a white line appear around the note.  You can then play with the four knobs in the upper right corner of the bar editor.  Unlike the knobs on the mixer, these knobs specifically control the one note that you've selected.  So if you change their settings and then select a different note, you'll notice that the controls probably change instantly, to reflect the settings for the new note selected.  Here's what each of the four knobs does:

- The VEL knob adjusts the velocity of the note, which is pretty straightforward.

- PRI is the priority of the note.  Although it initially seemed counter-intuitive to me, moving the knob left will increase the priority.  I'll talk about this more in a minute.  Anyway, the note with the highest priority beats out any others that are supposed to hit at the same time.

- The TIM knob moves the notes ahead of or behind the beat by intervals of up to 47ms.  This is the heart of groove processing within Jamstix as part of the drummer modeling. 

- The HAT knob sets the opening amount of the cymbals of the hi-hat.

A minute ago I mentioned that moving the PRI knob to the left in the current version of the software will increase the priority of a note.  This seems really odd, when 99% of knobs are at higher levels to the right.  You should think of this as maybe a micro position adjustment on the grid.  First of all, remember that the Brain is working in three layers.  It might find a certain position in the bar where a specific limb generates hits on more than one layer at the same time.  As an example, on beat three, maybe a snare hit is generated on the right hand in the groove layer, and a hi hat hit is also generated on the same beat with the same hand in the accent layer.  The Brain knows that by playing one of the two, it has to skip the other because of the limb rules, so it plays the one with the highest priority.  I believe that will probably always be the hit in the main layer (the groove), although I could be wrong and there could be some random chance assigned.  I'm still getting a feel for this.  Anyway, by changing the priority of the simultaneous notes, you can affect which one gets played and which gets skipped.  So going back to my comment about conceptualizing the PRI knob as a micro position adjustment, you can think of it this way:  rotating the knob slightly to the left will position the hit slightly to the left of (ahead of) the downbeat.  So it's like a race.  The hit that happens first, ahead of competing hits on the same downbeat, prevents the other [practically simultaneous] hit from being allowed to happen because of the limb movement rules.  The drummers arms can't move that fast, so the Brain disallows one of the "simultaneous" hits.  I'm not sure if this is the best way to explain it, but it seems like a great explanation in my own mind.

Ok, so all the stuff that I just described applies if you left-click on a note.  If you right-click, you'll see a context menu pop up.  However, you have to have the sound selected first before the proper context menu shows up!  Here, you can cut, copy, and delete, but you can also change the sound, the hit style, the timing mode, or the shuffle.

Changing the sound is pretty intuitive.  And the options make sense.  If you're trying to change a foot item, you're going to have options like a kick, or a hi hat close/splash.  Your foot obviously won't play a ride cymbal – even Rick "Thunder God" Allen doesn't do this (although you can accomplish that task elsewhere by using redirection).

The Hit Style is pretty basic too.  "Single" refers to a single hit.  "Double" refers to a double-stroke.  "Bounce" refers to three hits (a 32nd triplet) of decreasing power, like the natural bounce of a drumstick.

The Timing modes in the context menu are a musical time offset of  a 24th, 32nd, or 48th note.  This will make sense to a professional drummer or music student.

The Shuffle option also affects the ultimate timing of the note, by shuffling the timing on just that one note rather than that of the entire bar.

Outside of the context menu, you'll see a Learn toggle and a Locked toggle, each of which turns bright blue once they're turned on.

If you lock an individual note, it's the same concept as locking a bar, but it only applies to that one note.  Remember that the lock symbol icon on the right side of the bar editor is the one that locks the whole bar.  If you manually add a note in the bar editor, the default setting is that the particular note is automatically locked, under the assumption that if you took the effort to put it there, you want it there.  Of course, you can unlock it if you want.

If you see a red cross on a note, it means that the Brain attempted to generate it, but then suppressed it during the last play-through.  This was probably due to a limb conflict or the internal limb timing rules.  You can move the mouse over the note and look at the status line to find out why.  It might say something like, "Priority override by Crash 1."

If the Learn button is turned on, the Brain will listen to incoming MIDI performance data, interpret it, and enter it into the Bar Editor.  So if you're comfortable playing a MIDI keyboard or eDrum kit, this can be useful.  If you're doing this, Jamstix pays attention to "quantize import" setting and locked items.

If you look closely at notes on the editor, the icons can communicate a lot of info.  Unfortunately, this is tough to demonstrate in writing, so you might be better off to refer to the manual for this one.  But essentially:

- There is a vertical red line on the right side of the note. It represents velocity, and if it goes all the way to the top it means a full velocity of 127.

- There might be a small red dot on the lower right side (the current manual incorrectly says it's on the left side).  This indicates that the hit is a Double.

- There might be a pair of two vertical red dots on the lower right side (the current manual incorrectly says that they're on the left side).  This indicates that the hit is a Bounce.

- If there is a black triangle on the left side, it means that the hit is shuffled, either individually or because the whole Part is shuffled.

- If there's a red line across the top, it means that the event is locked.

- The hi hat icon gives you a visual representation of the openness level of the hat on that particular note.

I've already touched on the Bar Menu in a previous video, and it's really self-explanatory, so I'll skip that.

If you click on one of the limb labels on the left side of the bar editor (two capital letters), you'll see a small limb menu.  Again, it's pretty self-explanatory.

Along the top of the bar editor, you can do a normal left-click on any of the sixteen beat divisions, to see a small menu.  This lets you play with the groove weights.  You'll want to play with this to understand it more, because different styles put emphasis on different beats.  Controlling the groove weights can be especially useful if a song has an unusual time signature.  There are three choices for groove weights:  heavy, neutral, and syncopated. 

There are several more options to the right of the large Compose button:

- You can click "Compose" if you don't want to change any Brain settings but want to audit an alternative performance.

- If AUTO is turned on, changing Brain controls can lead to immediate recomposition.

- If BAR is highlighted, a recomposition only recomposes the current bar.  Otherwise, the entire Part is generated again.

- The disk icon saves a Restore Point of your song.  It's like the System Restore option in Windows.  If you want to recover to a saved restore point, go over to the song menu drop-down in the Song Sheet.

- The trash can clears the current aspect (layer) of the bar and marks it as composed.  When this happens, the Brain won't replace the deleted events unless a re-compose happens.

Style and Drummer Models

I've talked several times earlier about the style and drummer affecting the performance.  I also mentioned the priority system, whereby the Brain will block out certain notes if they are lower priority than conflicting notes.  You're probably wondering why the Brain has to do that.  I did.  Why even have the conflicts in the first place?

It's because the Brain doesn't really do all the composition as a unified whole.  It's split up into two separate models, then it reviews what happened and decides what gets played.  The two separate models, of course, are the Style model and the Drummer model. 

The style model goes first.  It focuses on the groove, and also contributes to the accent and fills.  The drummer goes next, and mostly focuses on the accents and fills.  This is how some overlapping hits can be created that conflict with the style model.

Some drummer models will add notes to the groove, but many do not.  After both models have finished composing, the Brain does its limb and priority checks, and creates a realistic performance.

If you have a saved MIDI file from any source, in GM format (the General MIDI standard), you can use it by going to "import style."  The Jamstix drummer will personalize it by adding accents, fills, power level, etc.

If you want to use the Jamstix bar editor to create a MIDI part, instead of doing it in your host DAW, you can.  Just use the Silent style and the Silent drummer, and go into the Bar Menu to "Lock Manually Created Events."  If you want, after you've made a hand-crafted groove, you could switch to a different drummer model to have that drummer interpret it.  You might want to export your performance or create a restore point first though, in case you don't like the new results.


A number of these are very obvious, so I won't list them all, but a few are worth clarifying.

- The Debug Log should be left off.

- You can turn off Limb Controls if you want to have a drummer with more than four limbs.

- Auto Edit Sounds means that a drum will play when you mouse over it in the Bar Editor.

- Usually, for hi hats, if the pedal pressure MIDI controller value is 127, it triggers a closed hat, and 0 triggers a fully open hat.  If you activate Reverse High Hat Controller, it sets 127 to open and 0 to closed.

- Never Mix Down overrides the downmix switch in the mixer, which I mentioned earlier.

- Enable Song Looping is an option that allows you to keep a song from ending, by looping back to a specific part when it finishes the last part.  I find that this is useful when you're just practicing a song with a guitar or something, and don't want to keep moving back to the start and hitting play every time the song ends.

- The LoD, or Load On Demand system, reduces memory consumption of the drum kits.  I wouldn't disable this unless you're having technical problems with an underpowered system. 

- Voice Reduction is also related to the CPU loading, so look this up in the manual if you're having problems.

- This is the number of stereo audio outputs sent to the host.  The default is eight, and it ranges from one to seventeen, although Pro Tools is currently limited to one.  If you change this, you have to restart Jamstix and possibly your entire host.

- Bar Offset (Visual or Actual) options are useful if the Jamstix Transport bar and beat numbers are not matching the ones in your host.

- Auto Save is expressed in minutes.  You have the option to turn it off.  The default is to save on exit.


When it comes to VST automation, there are actually only three things that you can currently automate in Jamstix 3:  the Power Level, Reduction, and Global Timing Slider.  This is because of a limitation with the VST standard.  However, not to worry.  You've already seen that just about every control can be individually mapped to a controller, and most hosts allow complete automation this way, by automating the envelopes for the MIDI controls.  It's odd, but it's an effective workaround.

There are several status lights at the bottom right.  MIDI In and Out are obvious, and they flash when MIDI is being sent or received.  The Audio-In LED only lights up when data is coming into Jamstix from AudioM8.  And finally, if you ever start to hear clicking noises in the audio (I haven't), look to see if the LoD% is bright red.  If so, go into the Options and either increase Voice Reduction or increase the LoD pre-buffer.

If your song uses time signature changes, I said earlier that it wasn't a problem because you're slaved to the host.  But unfortunately, it's not that simple, so I need to clarify.  The VST standard isn't good with time signature changes, so you should set each part manually to be certain, if they aren't grey'd out.  First, go into Options and make sure Time Sig Changes is enabled.  That ensures that the controls aren't grey'd out.  Then, go into each individual part and select the time signature for that part.  If you have a time signature change in the middle of a part, you may need to get creative and call it two separate parts.  Where this gets to be odd is that when using Pro Tools, you're using AAX plug-ins rather than the VST standard, so I had assumed it would be different.  But apparently it's not.  You can change the time signature in all hosts (including Pro Tools) so that Jamstix is not following the same rhythm structure as the host.  Jamstix IS still forced to slave to the host's tempo, but you can have an inconsistency with the time signature if you aren't careful.

If you're trying to jam with audio, obviously you start by setting up Jamstix in a project as a VSTi, and click the Audio Jam button.  Make sure you add AudioM8 as an insert effect on the audio track being monitored.  You may have to enable "Input Monitoring" or "Input Echo," depending on your host.  You should now see the Audio-In LED flickering as you play.  The MIDI Jam works the same way.

Up to ten restore points are allowed.  After that, new restore points erase older points.  If Jamstix is auto-saving restore points because you've turned this on in the Options menu, Jamstix won't save a point while the host is playing, so you don't have to worry about it interfering with your ongoing work when a performance is happening, or when you're recording.

And finally, the rotary knob in the upper right controls the brightness of the Brain controls and Song Sheet.


Ok, that's it.  By this point, hopefully you're quite comfortable with most of the capabilities of the Jamstix software.  And by now, you should realize just how powerful it is, especially for beginning and intermediate producers, because it really can avoid the very tedious tasks of hand entering complex MIDI data on a timeline.  It avoids the static and boring feel that usually results from patterns that were hand-coded by non-experts.

So at this point, what should you do next?  Well, I'd recommend getting a couple books on drumming, even if you don't want to become a real drummer, to get you into the proper headspace of what drumming is all about.

Next, I'd experiment a lot by setting up drum tracks for various songs, so you get really comfortable with Jamstix.

Finally, I'd recommend that you study the art and science behind mixing a kit in a DAW.  Rather than just sending the output to a single stereo channel and playing with the volume, you can take things to a whole new level if you learn to split the pieces of the kit into their own separate tracks so you have a lot more flexibility over relative volumes within the kit.  You can then learn to process individual pieces of the kit separately in terms of EQ'ing, compression, reverb, and so on.  You'll truly be able to get some professional sounding results. 

In the near future, I'm going to put together a couple of full tracks, and document the entire process from start to finish.  I'll do a video or series of videos about each.  My current guess is that I'll do an indie folk/rock style track with Pro Tools, and a Deep House track with Ableton.  When I'm done, I'll put links under these videos and on my videos page on my website, and also directly down below within this blog post, and I'll also include all the session and project files as free downloads.  If you have Pro Tools or Ableton, you'll be able to open up my exact projects, play with the settings, remix the tracks, or whatever you want.

Thanks for watching, thanks for subscribing to me on YouTube or following me on Twitter or SoundCloud, and thanks especially for sharing these videos with your friends.  Good luck with your music making!


(By the end of February 2015)

By the way, I've created a clickable index for the whole series, so if you've watched everything but you want to review a certain section, this might come in useful. CLICK HERE to go to that index.

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