A-Z Of Pro Tools, Q Is For Quantise

03-21-2015 10:00 AM

I couldn’t cover the letter Q without looking at quantize. When “quantizing” people are usually talking about forcing musical events into strict time. Very, very useful but also very misused, how can you use quantize in Pro Tools and how can you avoid over-using it?

In Pro Tools you can quantize MIDI notes, audio clips or the audio within clips using elastic audio. This can be rendered or “baked in” to the clip using the quantize window, found under event operations in the event menu and it is this window on which I’ll concentrate here but there are other methods available. If you find you are quantizing everything to a 16th note grid after you have played it in you might as well enable input quantize, also found under event operations. For some styles this approach is appropriate but I’d think very carefully before leaving it switched on as a matter of course. A more recent addition to Pro Tools, and far more flexible than the previously mentioned approaches is using real time MIDI properties to quantize the unquantized performance in real time, on playback. Much like a real-time MIDI plug-in. Quantize can be applied using real time MIDI properties either on a per track or a per clip basis. For audio there is another option. Using beat detective offers a comprehensive toolkit for manipulating the timing of audio clips. Its been around a long time and the interface is showing its age but it gets the job done and crucially, it offers all the tools you need to fix timing in transient-rich audio all in one place.

The Quantize Window

The quantize window offers plenty of control for MIDI, with the option of quantizing note on, off or both, neatly changing the note duration to fit the quantize level. Tuplets are available so polyrhythmic tricks are easily experimented with, anything from triplets to five over four and beyond. Randomize offers a useful amount of “anti-quantize”. Under the options section are some really useful things. Variable swing is available. I’ve seen many people try to apply swing to events using too coarse a quantize value for the events being quantized, for example an eighth-note hat pattern won’t be changed if swung using a quantize value of 16, you would need a quantize value of eighth notes in this case. Obvious when stated like that but I’ve seen too many people think swing is broken because of this.
The last three parameters in the quantize window are potentially very powerful but I know I use them less than I’d like. Include within, exclude within and strength are all extremely useful when trying to avoid the damage which unrestrained use of hard quantizing can cause. Using exclude within you can set a margin of error within which the event will not be quantized, a “close enough” setting if you like. Exclude outside allows you to set a value beyond which timing won’t be corrected because if you were that far out, you probably intended to be and strength provides a global control which allows you to specify by how much you want to correct timing (perfect timing doesn’t necessarily make perfect music).
Approaches To Quantizing

This leads me to my best tips for using quantizing. The first thing I’ve found is that like everything in music, trust your ears. If it sounds in time, it is is in time. Don’t go looking for timing errors you didn’t hear. You may well end up killing the performance. Secondly, when quantizing a part, I rarely find it necessary to quantize every note, for example try selecting only the downbeats and quantizing those. If the downbeats are in time then variations on the off-beats will add character or feel.
There is so much more to this subject. if you want to know more watch Russ’ video overview of MIDI quantize here.