MIDI Bass Programming Tips

When diving into the world of bass programming, it's crucial to steer clear of common pitfalls that can leave your bass MIDI sounding bland and robotic. Programming all MIDI at maximum velocity, not positioning riffs correctly and programming superhuman playing styles are some of the common mistakes that can have real bassists raising their pitchforks. At SubMission Audio, we don't rely on synthesized or artificial bass sounds. These are real bass guitars, with every note, fret, articulation and playing style being recorded by real bass players. By following a few best practices and techniques, you can program bass that sounds just as good, if not better than a real performance. Yes, bass players, you read that correctly.

Bass Programming Best Practices

Use the "Humanize" Knob

One of the simplest ways to add some realism to your bass programming is by utilizing the Humanize knob found in our truBass instruments. The Humanize knob acts as a velocity randomizer, adding subtle variations to note velocities during playback that can help to take your performances out of the uncanny-valley of sample fatigue.

At its default setting “Machine”, samples will be hard hitting and consistent. Turning the knob halfway to “Human” will add some velocity variation and inconsistencies that sound much more like a competent, realistic performance, while turning all the way to “Bassist” will add even more inconsistencies and sloppiness to the playback. We find around 12-3 o’clock to be the sweet spot in most cases.

On the opposite end of this spectrum, activating the ‘DOOM’ button will use only the hardest and most punchy samples and will make your productions sound more robotic on purpose. While this is great for hard hitting tracks or genres like EDM, it’s not recommended if you’re trying to humanize your bass parts.

Tune Your Virtual Bass

Tuning your virtual bass instrument might seem silly at first, but ensuring that the instrument is setup the same way that a real bass would is essential in making sure that notes are played in the correct positions. If you’re writing a song in drop C, set the bass tuning to drop C and make your life easier when it comes to replicating guitar parts 1:1, which you can easily do by…

Using Force String and the "Position" Knob

By default, a programmed note will always play from its first available position on the fretboard. For example, if your virtual bass is in a standard tuning, it will skip to the open note of the next string instead of playing the 5th fret, which sounds very unrealistic in the context of a riff. If the notes were being played on the correct frets instead, it would immediately sound far more realistic due to the timbral differences between an open note, and a fretted note.

Thankfully, you can tell your truBass instrument exactly where on the fretboard you want a riff to be played using the Force String articulations, or the Position Knob. First, let’s look at understanding the differences.

The Force String articulation is a MIDI note trigger that will tell the instrument to play the programmed note on whatever string you tell it to (providing it’s possible). This is particularly useful for Slide, Tap and Hammer On/Pull Off sections that need to be played on a single string to work properly. For example, if you have a tapping section where all notes are played on the A string, use the Force A String MIDI note (F8 by default) across the length of the tapping section, and all notes will be played on the A string. Force String can be used on top of all other playing style articulations like Tapping, Hammer/Pull, etc.

The Position knob on the other hand works by applying a virtual capo to a position on the fretboard. It won’t play any notes below the capo unless it absolutely has to, such as notes that go lower than the virtual capo on the lowest string. This is useful for sections that employ a lot of string skipping for example, where programming in Force String for every note may get tedious. The Position knob is best used with automation in your DAW to easily change the position automatically, or simply switch it on and off. To avoid open notes entirely, you can simply set the Position knob to 1 as a super simple option to add more realism to your programming.

Both are essential for making your programmed riffs sound natural, though which method you choose usually depends on what you’re trying to have the bass perform specifically.

Adjusting Velocities

Most DAW’s will have a default piano roll velocity of 127, which produces maximum energy when playing notes. Imagine striking a string as hard as you possibly can, and that’s 127. You wouldn’t consistently be able to do that through an entire song, so don’t expect your poor virtual bass to do it and sound realistic either.

Lowering note velocities to ranges that more accurately represent the way a real (competent) bassist would perform goes a long way in making your programming sound like the real thing. If you’re a guitar player, think about the way you might accent certain notes in a riff with harder pick attack, and try to apply the same practice to your note velocities when programming your bass lines.

Whether you're a bedroom producer or engineering in a world class studio, by following just these few simple practices, you're now equipped to elevate your compositions and productions to new heights of authenticity and realism. Say goodbye to bland, robotic bass MIDI, and hello to professional-grade, true-to-life bass performances with our truBass instruments.

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