10. Working with Note Events

As we work with Bitwig Studio to assemble music, there are two forms of source material that we can use. One form is audio events, which was covered thoroughly in the last chapter. The other is note events — or simply notes — which we will investigate in this chapter.

As the introduction to the last chapter suggested, these two chapters are really parts one and two of working with the contents of clips. Accordingly, the format of this chapter is highly similar to the previous one, with many of the same issues and concerns being presented from the perspective of notes. And consistent with the rest of this document, ideas that reappear will reference the section where they were first discussed.

We will begin by revisiting the Detail Editor Panel to see how it works with note events, as well as the vast per-note modulation capabilities of Bitwig Studio. We then will see the last face of this panel as it allows us to work with multiple clips and tracks simultaneously. And after revisiting the Inspector Panel in the context of notes, we will take a look at the Edit View, the third and final panel set.

Let's sharpen our tools for working with that other type of musical content: note events.

The Detail Editor Panel, Note Clip Edition

The utility of the Detail Editor Panel should be clear by now, but the truth is that we have covered only half of it at best. We will start again with this panel because when it is focused on note clips, the same Detail Editor Panel adapts and provides slightly different options that are appropriate to the situation.

To better understand the incarnations of the Detail Editor Panel, let's take a moment to differentiate the structure of audio events and notes. (They are clearly made of different materials, but the way they are stored and structured is critical here.) The most important distinction is that while audio events are all of one kind, note events have pitches that allow us to distinguish them and make them overlap.

Only one audio event can occur at a time within a single clip, so while audio events can be arranged sequentially, they cannot be played simultaneously. And because no audio event has inherent priority over another, the last event placed in a certain position will "win."

If you move an audio event to a position already occupied by another event, the new event will effectively clear the position that it now occupies, leaving behind no trace of what was here.

This is because audio events cannot coexist. (Clips of all kinds behave in exactly the same fashion.) To illustrate this, moving the new event back to its original position will leave a hole where you had placed it.

The most important characteristic of each note is its pitch. This characteristic immediately gives us a way to distinguish notes from one another. And once we can distinguish notes by type, we can now have overlapping notes.

Chords and other overlapping gestures are a part of music, and note clips support them by allowing notes of different pitches to overlap. So while audio events are the smallest workable unit (and have their own headers to work with them), individual notes are the fundamental units here.

We will discuss the many similarities between how audio events and notes are edited. And they start in the Detail Editor Panel.

Layout of the Detail Editor Panel

Double-clicking a note clip in either the Clip Launcher Panel or the Arranger Timeline will call up the Detail Editor Panel and place its focus on that clip.

Much of this is familiar, such as the Beat Ruler (see Arranger Area, Arranger Timeline, and Zooming), the clip aliases (see Track Editing Mode), and the Clip Editing button (see Clip Editing Mode), as well as this panel's own beat grid settings (see Beat Grid Settings), snapping settings (see Moving Clips and Snap Settings), and Follow Playback button (see Arranger View Toggles). The panel itself can still be vertically resized, but the y-axis can also be zoomed by clicking and dragging in the dark gray field just to the left of the piano keyboard.

Three other new buttons have appeared in the bottom left corner of the Detail Editor Panel.

  • When the Audition button is enabled, clicking and dragging any note to a new pitch will send a corresponding note to the track's device chain. This provides an audible preview of the action being considered.

    Additionally, clicking the piano keyboard to the left of the note event area will trigger a note when the Audition button is enabled.

  • The Fold Notes button hides either unused or unavailable notes, depending on the instrument being used.

    For nearly all instruments, only notes which are used on the current track (while in track editing mode) or for the current clip (while in clip editing mode) will be shown.

    If the track's primary instrument is Drum Machine, then all notes which have available instruments will be shown.

    In either case, everything else about the panel continues to work as usual.

  • When the Note Expression toggle is enabled, the Note Expression area becomes visible below the Note Event area.

Drawing Notes and Quick Draw

In addition to recording or importing note clips, you can also draw notes into a clip from the Detail Editor Panel.

To draw an individual note within a note clip: either double-click while the Pointer tool is selected, or switch to the Pen tool and then single-click within a note clip.

Notes will be given a velocity of 78.7 % (the equivalent of 100 out of 127) and a length of the beat grid value. You can also adjust these values while drawing each note.

To set velocity while drawing a note: continue to hold the mouse down, and then drag up or down to adjust the velocity.

To set note length while drawing a note: continue to hold the mouse down, and then drag left or right to shorten or lengthen the note.

After drawing a note with an adjusted velocity or note length, these values will be the new defaults for notes drawn into this particular clip.

Quick Draw is a feature that allows you to draw multiple notes at once. The requires the Pen tool to be selected.

To draw successive notes within a note clip: hold ALT, and then click at the position of the first note and drag to the position of the last note.

The current beat grid value (1/16 notes, above) will set the length of each note and quantized start position of the series. And again, dragging up and down will adjust the velocity used for all notes. If you would prefer instead to draw notes on different pitches (kind of like step sequencing pitches), you can do that too.

To draw successive notes with different pitches within a note clip: hold ALT and click to initiate Quick Draw mode. Then add the SHIFT key to free the pitches being drawn.

Note Color Options

When dealing with notes in the Detail Editor Panel, various options for how notes are colored are available from the panel's context menu. Right-click a blank area of the editor to see the NOTE COLORS options.

  • Clip uses the color of the parent clip for each note, and the velocity of each note scales the relative saturation.

  • Note Channel colors each note by the channel it is on, and the velocity of each note scales the relative saturation. To illustrate this range in the image below, the chords shown are spread across all 16 channels with the chord on the far left on channel 1 and that at the far right on channel 16.

  • Pitch Class colors each note by its pitch class (for example, all Cs are treating the same, as are all C#s, Ds, etc.) and the velocity of each note scales the relative saturation. The colors are based on the musical circle of fifths, with harmonically-related intervals colored similarly and more dissonant intervals using contrasting colors.

    To illustrate this range in the image below, each chord is a succession of fifths (C-G, then G-D, then D-A, and so on). This shows how consonant intervals, such as fifths, looks alike and how more tense intervals, such as half-steps (for example, G to G#) and tritones (C# to F), contrast strongly.

  • Velocity colors each note exclusively by its velocity. This provides a clear contrast, particularly when doing detail work on your notes.

    The range used is similar to a level meter on a mixing board, with the velocities progressing from pale green to solid green, then yellow, orange, and eventually red. The range of velocities in the image below help illustrate this.

Note Event Expressions

Like audio event expressions, note expressions are parameters that can be set for each individual note. Many of these parameters can change over the course of the note, making them like specialized automation curves.

Only one note expression can be focused on at a time, and you pick which expression to view by clicking its name in the list. We will take them from top to bottom.

[Note]Note

For all of the note expressions including micro-pitch (see Micro-Pitch Editing Mode), Spread is available for each expression point (see Expression Spread).

Velocity Expressions

Velocity expressions represent the strength with which each note should be triggered.

Similar to the MIDI specification, a velocity expression consists of a single value that is transmitted at the note's start. Each device determines how velocity will be used. Any device or plug-in can use the Expressions modulator device to route velocity expressions. See Modulator Devices for information on using the modulator devices and Expressions for more on the Expressions device.

To adjust a velocity expression: mouse over the velocity expression so that a double-arrow cursor appears. Then click and drag the expression vertically.

Notes are colored to match their clip's color, with the saturation of each note set relative to the strength of the note's velocity. A note at full velocity (100 %) will be shown as the full color of the clip. As a velocity lowers, the color of that note will change.

Chance Expressions

Chance expressions represent the likelihood that any note will be played (see Chance).

Like Velocity, Chance is only set at the beginning of each event.

All other expressions can be programmed like automation across the length of each note, which we will look at next.

Gain Expressions

Gain expressions represent a level control for each note event.

To start with, each note's expression contains no individual points. By initially clicking and dragging an expression, you are both creating an initial point within the expression and defining the entire expression's value.

Once an initial point has been defined, additional expression points can be created and edited in the same way that automation points are (see Drawing and Editing Automation).

A gain expression is measured in units of decibels with the center line representing zero decibels of change (unity gain).

A gain expression is identical in function to volume automation. The difference is that the expression is applied at the beginning of the audio signal path — in this case, at the output of the instrument device (pre-FX Chain) that initially synthesizes audio signal. Volume automation is applied as the last stage of a track's signal flow (after the track's device chain and everything else).

Pan Expressions

Pan expressions represent a stereo placement control for each note event.

Once an initial point has been defined, additional expression points can be created and edited in the same way that automation points are (see Drawing and Editing Automation).

A pan expression is measured as a bipolar percentage with the center line at 0.00 % (center placement, or no panning adjustment), 100 % for hard right, and -100 % for hard left.

As with the gain expression, the pan expression is often applied at the beginning of the audio signal path. The pan expression has no direct interaction with pan automation, which is applied by the track mixer after the device chain.

Timbre Expressions

Timbre expressions represent an assignable modulation source for each note event.

Once an initial point has been defined, additional expression points can be created and edited in the same way that automation points are (see Drawing and Editing Automation).

The word timbre refers to a sound's tone color, but the timbre expression here has no fixed purpose. Rather, it can be used to freely modulate one or more parameters of the track's instrument device (see The Unified Modulation System). Mapping is done with the TMB modulation source, which is available on any device or plug-in via the Expressions modulator device. See Modulator Devices for information on using the modulator devices and Expressions for more on the Expressions device.

A timbre expression is measured as a bipolar percentage with the center line at 0.00 % and the extremes at values of 100 % and -100 %.

Similar to the gain and pan expressions, the timbre expression is often applied within the instrument at the beginning of the audio signal path.

Pressure Expressions

Pressure expressions represent an assignable modulation source for each note event.

Once an initial point has been defined, additional expression points can be created and edited in the same way that automation points are (see Drawing and Editing Automation).

As the word pressure suggests, this expression is similar to the idea of polyphonic key pressure (or aftertouch) from MIDI. But the pressure expression here has no fixed purpose. Rather, it can be used to freely modulate one or more parameters of the track's instrument device (see The Unified Modulation System). Mapping is done with the PRES modulation source, which is available on any device or plug-in via the Expressions modulator device. See Modulator Devices for information on using the modulator devices and Expressions for more on the Expressions device.

When working with external MIDI via the HW Instrument device (see HW Instrument), any pressure expressions are directly transmitted as polyphonic key pressure MIDI messages.

A pressure expression is measured as a percentage with default values set at 0.00 % and a maximum level of 100 %.

Similar to the gain, pan, and timbre expressions, the pressure expression is often applied within the instrument at the beginning of the audio signal path.

Micro-Pitch Editing Mode

When working with notes, the Detail Editor Panel appears as a standard "piano roll" editor, with notes placed on their vertical pitch at the appropriate horizontal time. The notes can be created and edited in the exact same fashion as clips are (see Inserting Clips, Moving Clips and Snap Settings, and Adjusting Clip Lengths).

By default, the Detail Editor Panel works with notes in the standard, discrete semitone fashion. But by enabling the Micro-Pitch toggle, we enter Micro-Pitch editing mode.

[Note]Note

Micro-Pitch editing relies on Bitwig Studio's unique per-note modulation capabilities. Micro-Pitch expressions will function properly with Bitwig's instrument devices, but not with VST plug-ins.

Micro-Pitch editing mode is not available while the Fold Notes button is enabled.

Thin lines are now drawn across the center of each note event. We can zoom in to make this easier to work with.

These lines are Micro-Pitch expressions. Like all other note expressions, Micro-Pitch expressions are per-note events, allowing the specific pitch of each note to be set precisely, or even to change the pitch of the note while it is played. You can think of Micro-Pitch expressions as a precise, polyphonic version of MIDI pitch bend, where each note played has its own pitch curve.

Micro-Pitch expressions are measured in semitones, with the center line at 0.00 (for no pitch shift), a maximum of 24.00 (two octaves up), and a minimum of -24.00 (two octaves down).

Just a few examples of how this might be used:

  • Building a chord with one of its notes bent while all others are held steady.

  • Shaping a lead line with graceful transitions, where each note fades (perhaps with a gain expression) while gliding to the pitch where the next note will begin one.

  • Carving out a solo, where the shape of the vibrato is precisely drawn.

  • Structuring a microtonal part, where each note's pitch is meticulously defined.

  • Creating a part that combines any of these ideas, or something else altogether.

Like the other note expressions that can be automated, each Micro-Pitch expression is blank to begin with. The centered line represents that the note is tuned only by its standard pitch assignment.

By initially clicking and dragging the Micro-Pitch expression, you are both creating an initial point within the expression and defining the entire expression's value. In most cases, you will want to single-click the expression to start.

Once an initial point has been defined, additional Micro-Pitch expression points can be created and edited in the same way that automation points are (see Drawing and Editing Automation).

The semitone snapping option causes Micro-Pitch expression points to snap to whole number semitones. As with the position snapping options (see Moving Clips and Snap Settings), holding SHIFT will toggle this behavior. Semitone snapping is enabled by default.

Layered Editing Mode

We have seen the Detail Editor Panel work at various levels. We examined the panel while it focused on a single clip at a time in clip editing mode. We have also (and primarily) explored the panel while it focused on all contents of a track in track editing mode. And now there is one, larger level left to explore.

Layered editing mode still has a clip editing button for letting us toggle between clip or track editing mode. But once we have chosen that mode, entering layered editing mode allows us to view and edit several clips or tracks together. So once we pick the clip or track paradigm, we can then zoom out and work with several of those side by side.

We enter layered editing mode by enabling the Layered Editing button.

In the image above, we are in track editing mode, as set by the vertical track editing button.

[Note]Note

In the image above, the button at the top of the left column labeled TRACKS must also be selected. This indicates that layers are being shown by track content, and reads CLIPS when the clip editing button is enabled instead.

The alternate option, CHANNELS, is available when editing notes show layers by note channel (see Layered Editing by Channel).

When we were previously in track editing mode within the Detail Editor Panel, the top of the panel displayed a clip alias. While track editing in layered editing mode, we now have a clip indicator instead. This indicator still shows us the start and end times of displayed clips, but the clip's name is no longer present and its length and position can no longer be manipulated.

Other than that, the right side of the panel is unchanged. The left side of the panel, however, contains several new items.

On the top left edge of the Detail Editor Panel are two buttons — the Layered Editing button and the Clip Editing button — which are already familiar. And if as in the image above the Clip Editing button is disabled, below it will be two new buttons that form a toggle pair.

If the Note Editor button is enabled, the Detail Editor Panel will focus on note containers as we have examined in this chapter. If the Audio Editor button is enabled, the Detail Editor Panel will focus on audio containers as we examined in the previous chapter. Only one of these can be enabled at a time so clicking either button toggles the current selection.

Taking all this together, we must select whether we want to use clip or track editing mode, and also choose whether we want to work with note or audio clips. For the current example, we will continue with note clips in track editing mode.

Layered Editing in Track Mode

Now that our modes are set, the resizable track controls section houses editor parameters for each instrument and hybrid track in the current project. These controls include:

  • Track Color stripe: A swatch of the track's assigned color.

  • Target button: A pencil icon that sets this track as the target layer, making it the destination for newly drawn or pasted notes. Also note that clicking on a layer's name or editing its contents will make that layer the target layer.

    [Note]Note

    By right-clicking anywhere in the track controls area and toggling on the Selected Layer Becomes Target Layer option, clicking a layer's header will no longer make it the target layer.

  • Track Name: The title assigned to the track.

  • View toggle: This thumbtack icon keeps the layer visible, even when it is not selected.

  • Lock button: When enabled, the layer’s data is protected from being selected or altered. When a locked track is visible, its contents are still shown but significantly dimmed.

To make a layer visible: either select it or enable its view toggle.

All aspects of unlocked visible tracks are editable with the techniques we have seen. Data from various tracks can also be edited together in this fashion, and objects can even be placed in relation to one another with object snapping (see Moving Clips and Snap Settings).

Any clip indicators for the target track will also shade the note event area to indicate both the boundaries you are working within and how those boundaries might change by moving notes into empty space.

While in the Note Editor, the background display setting is the final interface item. The menu labeled Background appears below the track controls and allows you to pick a background for display behind the note event area. The choices are either None (for no background) or any of the audio or hybrid tracks in the current project.

This setting is purely visual but can serve as a helpful reference.

Layered Editing in Clip Mode

Switching from track editing mode to clip editing mode presents a few structural differences.

Again, the right side of the Detail Editor Panel is largely unchanged from its standard clip editing mode layout.

On the left side of the panel, the track controls have been replaced by clip controls. The primary difference here is that only clips which are currently selected in the active sequencer (either the Arranger Timeline or the Clip Launcher Panel) will be shown as options.

Because your selection is made in the sequencer, no view toggles are needed. Also the Note Editor and Audio Editor buttons will appear only when both clip types are selected.

Otherwise, this configuration works as expected.

Layered Editing by Channel

When working with note events, you can also layer them by their channel for editing purposes.

Note that the vertical track and clip editing buttons are still present on the far left, allowing you to specify whether you are viewing one entire track or one clip at a time.

The interface itself is mostly a streamlined version of what we have seen already. The layers here are listed by channel, with used channels shown at the top of the list in a bright white. The only real difference is the menu of editing/display modes, just below the layer listing. Options include:

  • All channels displays all notes, keeping them all editable.

  • Selected channels allows only selected channels to be edited. Non-selected channels are still displayed but greatly dimmed.

  • Selected channels (hide others) allows only selected channels to be edited. Non-selected channels hidden.

Layered Editing with the Audio Editor

Switching from the Note Editor to the Audio Editor also presents a few structural differences.

In track editing mode, audio events can be freely worked with as described in the previous chapter. In clip editing mode, both audio events and clips can be worked with.

Audio expressions can also be worked with in both modes. A single audio event expression menu appears above the track headers to determine which expression is globally displayed.

And again, events and/or expressions can even be set in relation to one another with object snapping (see Moving Clips and Snap Settings).

The last new interface option is the Lane Resize toggle. When enabled, resizing the Detail Editor Panel also tries to resize each individual track/clip lane in order to fit the available space.

Otherwise, this editor works as expected.

Layered Comping

Layered editing mode also serves as a way to perform layered comping, or to use all comp editing gestures (see Comping in Bitwig Studio) on multiple comps at once. This is ideal for comps that were recorded simultaneously, but it can work on other material of similar length and configuration.

To work in layered comping mode: select multiple clips that contain comping data, then open the Detail Editor Panel and click the layered editing button.

All composite tracks will be shown up top (three in this case), with the takes visible for only one of the comps.

To edit only one comp while in layered editing mode: hold CTRL (CMD on Mac) and start your edits on the desired comps.

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