Music Theory Basics: How to Animate Your MIDI Programming by Adding Space and Groove Using Rests

In this lesson we take a slightly more rhythmic twist, checking out the rests – though unfortunately not the kind where you put your feet up in a hammock. The type of rests we will be dealing with here are the periods of silence that occur in music when an instrument momentarily stops playing.

When musical notation was first developed, those who wrote it needed a way to communicate to the player not only when to play, but also when not to play. This was especially necessary when writing parts for orchestral players, who often have to sit for several bars during a performance playing absolutely nothing until their big moment – think of the cymbal guy who has a big crash afterwards 132 selection measures of her nails.

So what does this mean for the modern computer musician? Well, while we’ll briefly cover the symbols for each rest, we’ll mainly look at how to use the blanks effectively in your MIDI programming.

The feel of a track often depends more on what you’re not playing than what you’re playing, and changing the values ​​and placement of rests can make a big difference.

In practical terms, it’s often as simple as removing a note or two from a sequence, because unless you’re printing your score for someone to actually play, you shouldn’t worry too much about how whose rests are displayed in your DAW’s score editor.

After all, the most important thing is not what the music sounds like, but what it sounds like, and the key to using rests effectively is to place them in the right places so that the remaining notes have maximum impact.

Music Theory Basics: How to Animate Your MIDI Programming by Adding Space and Groove Using Rests

(Image credit: Apple)

Step 1: The image above shows the musical notation symbols for common rests. Each note duration has an equivalent rest duration, seen here on the opposite staff above/below. Here we have half notes (minims), quarter notes (quarter notes), eighth notes (eighth notes) at the top, and sixteenth notes (sixteenth notes) at the bottom.

Music Theory Basics: How to Animate Your MIDI Programming by Adding Space and Groove Using Rests

(Image credit: Apple)

2nd step: This bar of music contained four quarter notes, but we removed the second note. The remaining beat will be heard as a rest, but in notation it is visually represented as a rest. So while in the piano roll we only have one hole, in the score editor, the missing note is replaced by a quarter note. Watch the video to hear – and see! – all this in action.

Music Theory Basics: How to Animate Your MIDI Programming by Adding Space and Groove Using Rests

(Image credit: Apple)

Step 3: Now that we’ve seen the symbols for rests, let’s put the rest to work with a MIDI bassline. Here is a four-bar bass part composed entirely of eighth notes: two bars of E, a bar of D and a last bar of A. We’re going to animate the bassline by punching holes in the sequence; or in other words, by inserting rests.

Music Theory Basics: How to Animate Your MIDI Programming by Adding Space and Groove Using Rests

(Image credit: Apple)

Step 4: We start by deleting all the notes in bar 1 except those in beats 1, 2, and 3. The score display shows the missing eighth notes as eighth note rests. The empty 4th beat is represented as a crotchet (or crotchet) rest.

Music Theory Basics: How to Animate Your MIDI Programming by Adding Space and Groove Using Rests

(Image credit: Apple)

Step 5: In measure 2, we delete notes 1, 5, 7 and 8. Notes 1 and 5 are replaced by eighth note rests in the Score Editor, but the gap left by notes 7 and 8 is equivalent to a quarter note, so it’s filled with a quarter note silence.

Music Theory Basics: How to Animate Your MIDI Programming by Adding Space and Groove Using Rests

(Image credit: Apple)

Step 6: In bar 3 we do the reverse of what we did in bar 1 and remove all the strong notes – 1, 3, 5 and 7 – leaving only the off-key notes. Because the remaining notes don’t fall on the downbeats, our DAW – Logic, in this case – inserts eighth note rests where the missing notes were.

Music Theory Basics: How to Animate Your MIDI Programming by Adding Space and Groove Using Rests

(Image credit: Apple)

Step 7: In bar 4, we only delete notes 4 and 6, but take note 7 and move it a sixteenth note earlier. This has the effect of inserting a sixteenth note (sixteenth note) rest on either side of the note. Interestingly, note 7 is now represented by two sixteenth notes tied together, rather than its own eighth note value.

Music Theory Basics: How to Animate Your MIDI Programming by Adding Space and Groove Using Rests

(Image credit: Apple)

Step 8: Inserting rests can also be a useful tactic when arranging keyboard parts. For example, here’s a synth part and a bassline that are both pretty busy. As a result, they fight for space, with both parties’ notes all occurring at the same time.

Music Theory Basics: How to Animate Your MIDI Programming by Adding Space and Groove Using Rests

(Image credit: Apple)

Step 9: Inserting some gaps in the synth part gives the bass room to breathe. Here we have deleted the notes of beats 1, 2 and 3 in measure 1, as well as the “and” of beat 4. In measure 2, we have inserted a quarter-note rest on beat 1, thus removing all the notes of the whole beat.

Music Theory Basics: How to Animate Your MIDI Programming by Adding Space and Groove Using Rests

(Image credit: Apple)

Step 10: Then we cut the bass part on the beats where we want the keyboard part to have priority, as shown. Not only do we end up with a funkier bass line, but the two parts now work much better together rhythmically, fitting into each other.

Music Theory Basics: How to Animate Your MIDI Programming by Adding Space and Groove Using Rests

(Image credit: Apple)

Step 11: Finally, let’s look at how you can increase the impact of a dropout by inserting a quarter note rest on the downbeat, effectively bringing the track back to the second beat of the bar rather than the first. Here’s a short build followed by a drop that comes on the downbeat of bar 3. It works pretty well, but maybe we can increase the tension even further…

Music Theory Basics: How to Animate Your MIDI Programming by Adding Space and Groove Using Rests

(Image credit: Apple)

Step 12: Here is the same build and drop with a quarter note rest inserted on the downbeat of bar 3 on each track. After a moment of silence, everything now returns to the second beat of the bar, giving a sort of “take-off and landing” effect. As a final touch, we add a crash cymbal on beat 2 to accentuate the re-entry.

Daft Punk – Traveler

This cut from the 2001 album Discovery features one of the best basslines around. With a jerky rhythm that borders on syncopation, this über-funky line is actually based on a straight sixteenth note pattern punctuated by clever use of rests. Gaps are just as important as the notes around them, giving much of the overall feel of the game.

Gorgon City feat Mnek, Ready For Your Love

This superb current version is a great example of the quarter-note rest technique for the drops shown in steps 11 and 12. The bridge before each chorus features a buildup that slowly intensifies below the “mostly, mostly” lyrics. Then, as the “I’m ready for your love” chorus drops, the downbeat misses. Everything starts a quarter note later than expected, resulting in a more punchy chorus.

Pro tips

hip hop drop

When creating mixes, early ’80s hip-hop producers used the mute buttons on multiple channels of the mixer to momentarily remove rhythm tracks behind the vocals to accentuate certain lines. The technique is very efficient, so it’s still popular today, but nowadays, of course, cuts are more likely to be done through DAW automation.

Arrange

When programming and arranging multiple keyboard and synth parts, try to adopt a “less is more” approach to prevent everything from becoming too cluttered. If each part contains fewer actual notes, but the notes within it fit together perfectly, you’ll create an arrangement that works better rhythmically and in which all parts can be heard. Knowing which notes to drop is a good instinct to develop, so focus on keeping only the notes that are absolutely necessary for each part.

About Mariel Baker

Check Also

What’s the hardest part of transitioning into a career in computer programming?

The answer depends on a variety of personal factors, the most important of which is …