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 veer off track 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.

Learning the song is the hardest part.  Technically, if I can hum a song, I can usually play it.  In my youth, a simple version was easy right away, coming up with a more complex arrangement might take a week or two.  At this point, I can listen to a single bar of music, and before putting hands to keys, already forget what it sounded like.  Getting a melody to stay in my head, coming up with and memorizing an arrangement (something better than just 'humming the melody'), averages 3 months.  That's why it takes so long to post new songs.

    The last three songs took longer than 3 months each. Since general blogging advice is to write new blog posts at least a couple of times a week, this means writing "filler posts", or not writing very often. I hate the word "filler", because it implies the posts are wasted space. I try to make each post meaningful, but it can be difficult when the only pertinent news tends to be "Still learning the song."

    When it's 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. “Meeting In The Air”, 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.  "Glory Glory Dixieland" took the longest to learn, bout only a couple of hours to get an decent recording.  Not perfect, there were three errors, but none of them were noticeable to a casual listener.  Again, just aiming for "personal best."

    Ableton Live Light 10 came free with the keyboard (M-Audio's Hammer 88). For me, Ableton is finicky and complicated. All I wanted was to play the keyboard like a piano, while recording the music, and outputting a Midi and a Wav file. Ableton does far more than that, but not in an intuitive fashion. Out of self defense, I’ve 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 own process.

    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.  Every time Windows gets an update, there's a risk that something quits working and can take weeks to figure out. Best solution: disconnect the laptop from the internet.  No more updates, now the only problem is when any of the hardware breaks down.
I also had to get an external audio driver, in order to get high quality sound output.  Otherwise, it sounded like a kid's toy piano.

 Most practice sessions, it's live, with nothing saved.  If I make significant progress, I make a "status" recording as an Ableton project.  Major progress gets a number, smaller steps get a letter.  On one day, I'll learn a new element, and play it for an hour or more, only to not remember it the next day.  Having these step by step saves makes it easier to remember and play back the parts I forget.  Glory Glory had 21 main progress saves, and many lesser saves.  It really helped, because certain parts of the song wouldn't stay in my head, and needed to be re-learned every morning.

   With each attempt to play the song, I start a new recording session in Ableton. Make a mistake, stop everything and start over.  Once an acceptable video is saved, 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.
    In a first ever for me, Glory Glory took extra steps to blend the audio from my playing, with the audio from the Redcoats playing.  (Playing with others is not in my zone, I never learned proper timing.)

    Next up, open the video editor. 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 imported Wav file with the audio in the recorded video. 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.  Export the video, but manually adjust the start/stop times before processing. 

    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.

    Next is 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.  It was expensive, 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. Not necessary, but it does look cleaner. “Export as Midi” the divided Midi file (different file name to protect the original file).
    I haven't had a need for it, but as a neat feature, Notation Musician 4 also can transpose your sheet music to an entirely different key.

    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...)

 Before Midiano, there was a need for recording a "How To" video.  Midiano does such a great job, for free, I've decided to forego creating a how-to.  Anybody that wants to learn, can download my midi file, load it into Midiano, and have a huge list of learning options.
   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…”

    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, 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 title/downloads. Then jump back to the YouTube video, 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.

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