How to Create Grace Notes Primary Posts

    This is a (rambling) flow-chart for my own use as a memory aid, but thought it might be useful for anybody looking to write a similar blog.  

    Keep in mind, my primary goal is to write posts with my own arrangements of songs I enjoy, played on piano (or on my Hammer 88 keyboard, which is a reasonable substitute). Along with some extras for people to download. All the other blog posts are either progress reports, how-to pages for my own use, and to share what I’ve learned with others (like this post). Or they’re memories of things that drove my love for gospel/folk music, for playing the piano, or that made me who I am. I try to keep it relevant to the Grace Notes theme, but might drift here and there.

    With that said, my primary pages share certain elements. There will be:

    A video of myself playing the song on piano

    A video showing the song being played on Midiano, first in real-time, followed by a half-speed version.

    A downloadable Midi file of the same song.

    A downloadable pdf file of sheet music.

    The post text, possibly but not necessarily including a history of the song, my thoughts about the song, and how it relates in my life, or someone else’s.

    The actual video playing the song on piano takes the most effort. Technically, if I can hum a song, I can usually play it ‘off the cuff’. Not really an “arrangement”, more like hearing the melody in my mind, and my hands follow. On a practical basis, I’m limited by how much of a song I can remember at any given moment. As a young man, it was easy enough to learn a tune after hearing it a couple of times. Now, I tend to remember short phrases but forget the rest of the song. It takes a lot of time and effort to remember a complete melody and get my hands to do the whole song without losing where I am and which part I was supposed to play next.

    My last two songs took just a bit over 3 months each. Since general blogging advice is to write new blog posts at least a couple of times a week, this means I have to write “filler” posts. I hate that phrase, because it implies the posts are wasted space. I try to make each post meaningful, but hate that it takes so long to perfect new songs.

    Anyway, give or take, it’s about three months to create and memorize a new arrangement, even if I already can play a ‘plain’ version. It seems important to do more than just ‘hum’ the song.

    When the I’m finally ready, “Recording Day” usually starts in the morning. I’ve been using my cell phone to record the video, but something’s not right with the new phone. Still trying to figure how to make it work better, or what alternate video recorder to use. For now, I can work around it.

    If I’m truly lucky, it might only take a half dozen attempts to get a good recording. Last time, with “Meeting In The Air”, it was a rough day and took more than 4 hours. That final attempt was acceptable. There was one mistake that bugged me, but after four hours straight it was obviously not going to get better. The trick for me is to understand my personal limits, and learn to accept when I’ve done the best I can. Still working on that.

    Ableton came free with the keyboard (M-Audio's Hammer 88). For me, at least, Ableton is finicky and complicated. All I wanted was to play the keyboard like a piano, while recording the music, and outputting a Midi file. Ableton does far more than that, but not in an intuitive fashion. Out of self defense, I’ve only learned just barely enough to achieve my goals. If you have a great understanding of Ableton, you’ll probably be able to improve on my process.

    Also, Ableton doesn’t play well with other software, at least not on my desktop. The only solution that worked permanently (fingers crossed) was to get a dedicated laptop expressly for running Ableton. It’s a whole extra process to transfer all the finished Ableton files from the laptop to my desktop. Tried using Google Drive, but that meant running a browser on the laptop. A thumb drive is the simplest workable option. Running ANYTHING but Ableton makes the laptop drag. I also had to get an external audio driver, in order to get good quality sound output.  Otherwise, it sounded more like a kid's toy piano.

    With each attempt to play the song, I start a new recording session in Ableton. If the effort’s not good enough, stop Ableton, clear the memory, and start (another) new recording. Once the video is saved, I also stop Ableton and save the full project. It’s not necessary to stop the video recorder each time, because it’s easy to edit video.

    After saving an Ableton Live Set, export the song as a .WAV file, and as a MIDI file.

    Next up, open the video editor of your choice. My favorite is Hit Film Express. It’s free, and for my purpose, very easy to use.

    Import the video into Hit Film. Then import the Wav file.

    Drag the video into your timeline. Cut any unneeded video from the beginning and end of the clip. Using visual timeline cues, and listening to both audio tracks, line up the original audio (from the video) with the imported Wav audio. Once they’re synced, turn off the original audio track, so that the only audio is the imported Wav file. Export the edited video in a YouTube compatible format. I like to use a repeatable file naming pattern, like “Song Name Southern Gospel on Piano.”

    The result is a crisp, clean audio track that perfectly matches my hands as the video plays. Any dogs barking, phones ringing, doorbells chiming, etc., are only on the original audio track, and no longer part of the finished video. It’s a lot like recording in a private studio, for a perfect sound. The video is then uploaded to YouTube. Once the video is “in the can”, the rest might be time-consuming, but it’s procedural, not creative. The final steps might take a few hours, but can usually be finished in a single day.

    Now the Midi file. First, open Notation Musician 4. It’s fine if you have other software you prefer, but the paid version of Musician 4 is the only software I can find that properly recognizes the sustain pedal. It also understands my “southern gospel style” of playing better than most midi players do.  It was expensive by my standards, I had to wait a few months to get it... but totally worthwhile.  Literally the only software I found that did exactly what I needed.

    Load the Midi file. When I save Midi from Ableton, it saves as a single track, with no separation for left hand and right hand. Musician 4 will tell you the track looks like piano music, and asks if you’d like to divide the right and left hands into treble and bass clef.

    It isn’t perfect, but makes a pretty good guess at where to divide each hand. Also, splitting into treble and bass makes the notation look nicer. It’s not necessary, but it does look cleaner. “Export as Midi” the divided Midi file (different file name to protect the original file).

    Still in Musician 4, go to the Format menu, and uncheck “Show instrument names.” There’s no practical reason, I just think it looks better when generating the sheet music. Under the File menu, Export as PDF. It will save a pdf file of the sheet music (notation). If you want to add a watermark, and lock the pdf so it can’t be edited, use a third party print driver like BullZip. I’ve used it for many years. (Just don’t lose your own password...)

    Next up, I go to, and upload my midi file. Play the song once at full speed, and a second time at half speed. Record video using a screen video recorder. Be sure to define which part of the screen to record, or you’ll be sharing your full browser window on YouTube. I like Bandicam, but whatever works for you is fine. Upload the video to Youtube, title it the same as the song, but lead with “How to Play…”

    At this point, I’d like to mention (again) how brilliant Midiano is. If you have a Midi file (like mine) of a song you wish to learn, Midiano can play it as slow or fast as you want to, while showing you the musical notation. There are many settings to customize the experience. It’s a fabulous way of learning a song, if you can read sheet music.

    Since I’m using Google Blogger, images and videos are easy to include in posts, but Midi and PDF files take some extra work. Blogger can’t inherently store or display them, so they’re stored in Google Drive. I have a decent amount of storage, since I’m on the $12/mo Google Office plan. Once stored, I follow the instructions on Google Drive DirectLink Generator. It simplifies downloading files that Blogger doesn’t natively support.

    Last mildly creative bit – write the blog. If I can discover the history of the song, I’ll write about that, especially mentioning if it’s public domain. Write a bit about why I chose this song, and anything related that might be of interest. I define “of interest” very loosely. Since memory loss is a huge concern to me, much of my writing (like this guide, for instance) is for my own sake, to help me remember. If it helps someone, I’m thrilled, but doing the writing, learning and playing music, this entire blog, is an effort to maintain and maybe improve my memory. Or at least provide a record to help me remember later.

    When assembling the post, I like to put the text in first… sometimes if I lead with graphics or videos, the text will format strangely and I can’t fix it without starting over.

    Once the post is published, I update the menu tabs so people can find the articles by subject/alpha. Then I jump back to both YouTube videos, and in the description text, add a link to the blog post, leading with a sentence along the lines of ‘get the free midi file and sheet music on my blog:’

    That’s all the main steps. Over time I might add more detail, but for now that’s probably enough to trigger my memory as needed.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Recent Posts