screen showing the quantise editor in cubase


Quantisation is the process of aligning a set of musical notes to conform to a grid. When you want to quantise a certain group of MIDI notes in a song, the program moves each note to the closest point on the grid. Invariably, the quantise value determines where on the grid the notes are moved to.

Swing: Allows you to offset every second position in the grid, creating a swing or shuffle feel. Swing is actually a great quantise weapon. It is most commonly used by the Hip Hop fraternity to compensate for the lack of a ‘shuffle’ feel to the beat. The amount of swing applied to the quantise is determined in percentages. The more swing, the higher the percentage applied.

It is important to remember that the slower the tempo of your track, the more syncopated the music will sound if low value quantise is used. This has caused problems for many songwriters and they usually compensate by using higher quantise values or working in double time (ie using a tempo of 140bpm for a song that is meant to be in 70bpm). Working in double time is the equivalent of using half the quantise value. For example, a song in 70bpm written in 140bpm can use a quantise value of 16, which would equate to using a quantise value of 32 when using the original 70bpm (beats per minute) tempo.

 The swing function allows for a more ‘offset’ feel when quantising and makes the music sound more human as opposed to robotic. In fact, swing is such a potent tool that the Dance heads are now using it to give a little life to the hi-hat fills etc.
Grid and type:

Grid allows you to pick a note length (for example: 1/4, 1/8, and so on) to use for the resolution, while Type sets a modifier for the note length: Straight, Triplet or Dotted.  I will not go into this as you would need to understand about note lengths etc, but what I will say is that the triplet is extremely handy when programming drums and particularly hi-hat patterns that require fast moving fills.

Random Quantise:

Another feature that can be useful to make your performances sound more in time without being completely mechanical is Random Quantise. Here you specify a value in ticks (120ths of sixteenth notes) so that when a note is quantised to the nearest beat specified by the other parameters in the quantise template, it is offset by a random amount from zero to the value specified by the Random Quantise setting. Basically, this takes away the rigidity of syncopated rhythms, particularly when dealing with hi-hats. It allows for a ‘random’ element to be used, much akin to a drummer’s human timing.

Most software will come with many additional tools to refine the quantise function and its settings. Humanise, iterative, freeze etc all go to giving the user more detailed editing power. For the sake of this e-Book, I am keeping it simple and only using the functions that most will adopt.