Tempo changes and how to match the grid to MIDI notes


I am used to making "grid based" music at a specific BPM. Now I am getting into scoring where the tempo is much more fluid. So, I simply play MIDI into my DAW (Ableton), ignoring the BPM and grid.

So I end up with music that sounds fine, with cues in the right places in the video, but the MIDI is not on grid, and so among other things, I cannot quantize MIDI to the grid if I want to.

There must be a way to match the grid/tempo to the MIDI notes in an area of the score? So far, cannot figure out how to do that in Ableton. Do others here run into this, and if so how do you deal with it?



Best Answer

  • Retroblueman
    Accepted Answer

    I was looking into this for my own benefit and apparently you can't do the following in Reason (don't know about Ableton). But the (non-DAW specific) answer to your original query is (I think) as follows:

    1. You change the properties of your midi channels so that they are tied to the timecode rather than the tempo - this means, when you do step 2 below, the midi stays put. Some DAWs (including Logic - according to "the internet") prefer that you lock the midi region ("SMPTE lock region" came up often in my searches) - to the same effect.
    2. You then automate the tempo for the whole track as per my first post above so that the grid is in time with the original midi (provided the first beat of every bar is in time you will probably be close enough).
    3. You change the midi properties back/unlock the regions so that they are now tied to the tempo again.

    I suppose if Ableton can't do it you could export your track as a midi file, import it into a DAW that will and do the above.

    Of course, it never comes up as an issue if you plan & automate your tempi & time signatures in advance as per Clint's suggestion. I also understand that some DAWs (including Logic I think) have a feature that maps the tempo of the track to your midi as you record it.


  • I may have found something on this (links below), which seems to go like this:

    1. Figure out what the tempo is of the section of the score you are working in.
    2. Change the tempo of that section to that BPM value using tempo automation.
    3. Then you have to adjust the midi notes back to the right positions because they will have moved.
    4. Now the grid should be useful.


    A. This is kind of a pain, especially if there are many MIDI tracks to adjust after changing the tempo.

    B. Of course this only works if the section of the score does in fact have a steady tempo. I guess if it does not, no grid will work, unless if is possible to have a gradually changing grid?

    I have not tried this yet, will do...

    But is this something people do, or do they simply ignore the grid and don't quantize when composing something with changing tempo?

  • No idea how you go about imposing a grid on already recorded midi notes, but, regarding one of your points in the second post, at least in my DAW (Reason 10), you can automate the tempo of the entire track as with any other parameter (in Reason you hold ctrl+alt and click the parameter - it will then record your automation when you next press record), and record that in a transport lane (which you can then edit to draw in a "line graph" of the tempo as desired, which lets you do accels, decels, and, with some fiddling, short pauses if you automate it all the way down to 1bpm). The grid would then be "gradually changing" along with the tempo too.

    Funnily enough, I just figured this out a week or so ago (still in my first year of production) - I find it is great when you have the full orchestra playing a big loud section at the end of the piece - you can gradually speed up the tempo by 1 or 2 bpm (as quite a lot of live orchestras would do naturally) to add some extra excitement to the climax.

  • KristoferAlanParker
    edited January 14

    Sounds like your on the right track. I recommend a DAW like Cubase. Ableton works, but it’s missing a lot of really powerful tools for midi that are native to the platform. It also depends on your style of music - for Spitfire main catalog you’ll find much more use out of Articulation maps etc - so if efficiency is what your after, I would make the jump. I still have ableton and use it all the time, but for writing to picture - it’s probably not your most flexible option. I don’t think you can import/export aaf for example - could be wrong there.

    ps, always work with the grid, even when you play by ear. 90% of your editing is grid dependent and your life will be miserable without conforming to the grid. This means you need to really have a good grasp on time signatures and tempos. Don’t just use BPM for sync , use time signatures and other music theory - ie fermata and breaks can save your bacon. While you can automate a tempo curve I don’t recommend this approach unless you are intending to hear the change in tempo - accelerando for example.

    Also don’t take my comments as gospel, just one opinion. I’d love to hear other folks respond.

  • I have been struggling with the same thing in Reaper as I compose without strictly keeping to the BPM. I think what you are after is "Tempo mapping". I have found it difficult to understand/carry out in Reaper. I really wish there was a piece of software that I could just press to enable it - anyone? Indeed any help at all with this in Reaper would be greatly appreciated.

  • Don't know if this rings true with you or helps, but I know the reason I was initially resistant to keeping to the bpm when composing into a DAW was that I could not stand playing to a metronome (still can't)- one thing that really changed the game for me was turning off the click track and programming in a percussion track (for deletion later) - this could be a complicated thing on a drum machine, a gentle ride cymbal or simply (say you were in 6/8) one low timp (on the tonic) just gently going

    Dum, dee-dum, dum, dum, dum.

    Dum dee-dum, dum, dum, dum. (etc)

    (if you see what I mean)- you'll then at least be in the ball park of the track tempo with everything you put on top of that.

  • Flowte
    edited January 14

    Over in The Cue Tube Discord a guy named Clint gave this answer, which seems great.

    "It helps to begin by "spotting" your film; by that I mean locating the places that will need music. In a feature film, you might have over 60 of these places (cues). Place markers at the start and stop points for each cue.

    The next step is deciding a tempo and time signature for each cue. It's just like writing several different songs that will make up the film's score. However, these songs usually use the same band members for consistency.  Adding all these cue tempos (with time signatures) together collectively make up your tempo map. Some DAW software have a feature that figures out a list of tempo choices between two marker choices. Then, it presents options for your to choose from, so you can start and stop using full bars (measures).  However, there's nothing wrong with using a portion of a measure. If you need 20 bars at 4/4 and 1 bar at 6/4, that's fine too. By setting up your tempo map first, then you are ready to write.  In addition to having a plan of attack for your scoring solution, you can make use of MIDI cleanup in case, like Simon mentioned, your need to create a notated score for players."

    I know how to change tempo in different portions of the score so will do above in the future.

    So, no real answer yet to my original question yet, but good answers for how to do this in the future.


    Yes, Logic and Cubase are better for scoring than Ableton, so I might switch back to Logic, which I have.

  • Thanks for all the help, I think this all answers my questions. Thank you!