Articulation in music is the same idea as articulation in anything else. Specifically, it answers “how” something is said. In our case, the instruments are speaking, and they can “say” the notes in any way you choose. Think of the notes as the script and the articulation as the actor’s particular way of reading it. I believe articulation is what separates good players from great players and good producers from great producers. Almost anyone can program a beat these days, but to get a nice groove, it takes more thought. What’s more, it takes listening and subtle adjustments and most importantly, it requires special attention to articulation.
Can you pick out the difference between the two examples below? In the top example, the melody from Massive is played flat, as if a robot were performing it. This can work in specific contexts but, generally, it sounds lifeless and cheap. The second example has a better-articulated melody. Which do you prefer?
~ No Articulation in the Melody
~ Articulated Melody
Traditionally, there are four ways to articulate musical notes. I kept these in mind when I was improving the articulation in my example.
- Staccato – play these notes a little shorter.
- Tenuto – play the full duration of these notes as written.
- Accent – play these notes with a particular emphasis, louder.
- Marcato – play these notes much louder and harder.
To bring this concept into the electronic domain, we go to the MIDI editor in the SoundBridge: DAW. So here are a few actions I took to improve the articulation of my melody.
The simplest way to improve articulation is to experiment with different note lengths. Sometimes changing one long note to a short note or vice-versa can make a massive difference in the overall effect. You can adjust the duration of notes individually in the MIDI editor or automatically by using the “adjust length” button.
Without velocity sensitivity, one cannot achieve a dynamic performance. Most MIDI controllers support this, but I think the best way to get a groove right is to adjust the velocity of individual notes in the MIDI editor. As you can see below, I have drastically changed the way this is to be performed by the synth.
Automating the ADSR envelope on the Synth
Naturally, real instruments don’t make the exact same temporal envelope each time you play a note. Moreover, it varies depending on the devices used to make the impulse, and the amount of force applied. With this in mind, I automated several parameters of the ADSR volume envelope on the lead synth. I also automated the delay amount and modulated the pan position to make it “move around” a bit.