How do I record MIDI in AVID Pro Tools?

If you’re a musician or producer using AVID Pro Tools as your main DAW for recording and mixing audio, you may be wondering about the MIDI capabilities within Pro Tools for recording and editing MIDI.

Although Pro Tools started out as an audio recording and audio editing system, there is also a full suite of MIDI tools available so you can record and edit MIDI as well as control multiple virtual instruments with MIDI note information.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the steps for recording MIDI in Pro Tools from a MIDI keyboard. We’ll cover the details of connecting your device to Pro Tools, setting up the right track type, creating a click track to keep you in time and more.

Step 1. Connect your MIDI controller to your computer using a USB cable

Most modern keyboards, synthesizers, digital pianos and MIDI controllers have a USB MIDI connection on them. This means it is easy to connect these to any modern computer on the standard USB port. If your MIDI device has the older style 5-pin DIN MIDI plug then you’ll need a sound card or interface of some sort with a MIDI port on it.

Step 2. Open Pro Tools and create a new session

You can create a blank session or select a session template according to your needs – depending on which type of audio project you’re working on. Open up the new session.

Step 2. Create a new MIDI track

You’ll need to now create a special type of track where MIDI can be recorded – either a dedicated MIDI track or an instrument track – where the midi clip you record will control a virtual instrument. To do this go to the ‘Track’ menu and select ‘New Track’ or you can use the Command + Shift + N keyboard shortcut on a Mac or Ctrl + Shift + N on a PC.

Step 3. Ensure your MIDI device is enabled.

Go to the ‘Setup’ menu and select MIDI > Input Devices.

Now ensure that the MIDI device you are planning to record from is present and enabled. If you don’t see it, you may need to check it is plugged in and turned on and any appropriate device drivers are installed.

Step 4. Select the MIDI channel you want to record on

The first part of this step is to ensure that I/O is displayed in your mix view. Right Click in the top of the mix view and make sure I/O is ticked. This will enable you to select the right input and output channels for the new MIDI or instrument track you created.

Now check the input is enabled for the MIDI channel you plan on recording to. If you want to only record one particular channel from your MIDI device, you can select that, but in most cases, selecting ‘All’ will record all incoming MIDI signal from any enabled devices, which will probably do what you need.

Step 5. Record Enable the track

Click the red ‘record enable button’ on the track to arm it for recording.

Step 6. How do I set up a metronome (click track) in Pro Tools for recording?

Setting up a Metronome enables you to record in time with the ‘clock’ in Pro Tools. This will make editing so much easier, and will enable you to match your recording to the rest of your song.

A metronome is called a ‘Click Track’ in Pro Tools. To create a click track, the easiest way is to go to the ‘Track’ menu and simply select ‘Click Track’ from the menu.

This will create a new audio track in your project with the Click plugin setup as an insert. From the Mix window, you can click on the Click plugin to adjust the sound for notes of the click. The tempo (BPM) will pull from the master tempo of your Pro Tools session.

If you don’t like the sterile nature of a metronome or click track, you could try creating a drum loop with a groove that fits your song and record along to that.

Step 7. Press “Record” and start playing your instrument

There’s something special about pressing the “Record” button and taking the first, tentative steps into creating your masterpiece! Your MIDI data will appear as notes in a ‘step sequencer’ view. If you don’t see the note information, make sure you have set the display type for the track to ‘clips’ or ‘notes’.

How do I use my computer keyboard as a MIDI keyboard in Pro Tools

If you don’t have an external keyboard, digital piano or MIDI controller, you can still record MIDI data in newer versions of Pro Tools from your computer keyboard with the built in ‘MIDI Keyboard’ in Pro Tools. This triggers MIDI notes simply by tapping keys on your computer keyboard.

Go to the ‘Window’ menu and click ‘MIDI Keyboard’ or Shift + K to open up the MIDI Keyboard window.

What is MIDI?

MIDI is a communication protocol for electronic instruments and computers. It stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, and it allows digital devices to “talk” to each other. The MIDI format can be used to control synthesizers, sound modules, soundcards, drum machines, effects processors, and more. MIDI data can be saved into standard midi files (*.mid) or in more modern times the MIDI messages are stored within the DAW’s native session information.

MIDI information is sent and received by MIDI devices, allowing you to play notes and control different elements of your music, such as the velocity (volume) of the note. You can also control elements like pitch bend, sustain, panning, tempo and much more.

Here is a comprehensive list of MIDI control functions.

MIDI has also come to refer to music that has been programmed or sequenced using DAW software such as Logic, Pro Tools, Cubase, Studio One, FL Studio and many others.

With MIDI, musicians can create full arrangements with a variety of virtual instruments without ever having to touch a physical instrument. This makes creating music significantly easier and more efficient for producers, songwriters, and anyone looking to make their own music.

Which controller should I use for recording MIDI in ProTools?

To record MIDI into Pro Tools, you’ll need to connect a MIDI controller to your computer via USB or via a 5-pin MIDI port if your audio interface has one. Most MIDI controllers on the market are keyboard-based and come with a variety of features including velocity-sensitive keys and knobs that can be used for controlling parameters such as volume or pitch. It is possible to control MIDI with some other instruments, such as an electric drum kit with a MIDI or USB output, a guitar using a MIDI pickup like the Roland GK-3, or even digital woodwind instruments like the Akai EWI.

You can also use a tool like Jam Origin which can convert audio note information to MIDI data!

Some of the most popular MIDI keyboard controllers available on the market include the M-Audio Oxygen, the Arturia Keylab 49 and the Novation Launchkey.

Learn more about MIDI controllers in this article

Can I play prerecorded audio while recording MIDI in ProTools?

Yes, you can play prerecorded audio while recording MIDI in ProTools. To do this, create a new audio track and drag the prerecorded audio into it. Playback the audio track as you record your MIDI data. This will allow you to accurately sync up your MIDI data with the prerecorded audio.

Is there any specific latency setting that’s recommended for tracking midi on pro tools ?

Yes, there is a recommended latency setting for tracking MIDI on Pro Tools. Under the ‘Options’ menu, make sure Delay Compensation is turned on. You can also try experimenting with ‘Low Latency Monitoring’ to see if this helps, but this feature is more for audio recording than MIDI.

Also, go to ‘Setup > Preferences’ and select the MIDI menu. In here, you can adjust the MIDI playback offset, which can counteract any latency issues.

Do all MIDI virtual instrument plugins work with Protools?

No, not all virtual instrument plugins work directly with ProTools. Plugins need to be in the AAX format to work in Pro Tools version 10 and higher. Previous versions used RTAS and the TDM format.

It is possible to connect some VST plugins to Pro Tools using the ReWire plugin. This allows you to run another DAW such as Reaper or Ableton Live which supports VST plugins and access those through ReWire.

Another alternative is to use a plugin wrapper such as the ‘Metaplugin Chainer from DDMF’

This plugin allows you to load a VST plugin up inside it and use its features within Pro Tools.

What does quantizing mean and how does it affect my recorded Midi tracks on protools ?

Quantizing is a process used to adjust the timing of recorded MIDI data so that it fits within a desired time grid. This can make your performances sound more consistent and precise, as any notes that are played slightly off-time will be adjusted to fit the grid. When quantizing MIDI in ProTools, you can choose how strict or loose you want the quantizing to be. For instance, you can set the quantize value to “1/4 note” and any notes played off by a 16th note or less will be adjusted to fit this grid. This means that some of your performance’s nuance and feel may be lost, so it is important to adjust the quantize setting accordingly to get the desired effect.

Access the Quantize function in Pro Tools under the Event > Event Operations menu or with the Alt + 0 keyboard shortcut.

Should I mix down, bounce down, or freeze my recorded midis before exporting them from Pro Tools?

Bouncing MIDI data to audio is a great idea as it can help reduce CPU load, by removing the virtual instrument and processing plugins that you may have loaded on a MIDI track.

How can I output MIDI notes to a MIDI sound module from Pro Tools?

In order to output MIDI messages to a MIDI sound module or other MIDI devices from Pro Tools, you will need to set up an output device on your MIDI track.

Select the output source on your selected instrument to send the MIDI notes to your MIDI output device, either on one of your computer sound cards with a MIDI output or a dedicated MIDI interface.

You can see in the example screenshot above, I can select the ‘Yamaha MOTIF6’ as a MIDI output device. You also need to select which MIDI channel this track will send to. There are 16 MIDI channels available.

Now when you play the session in Protools, the MIDI data will be sent out to the selected device and will play the notes on an external instrument instead of playing them on an internal virtual instrument. This can free up processing power, or enable you to access sounds on an external device that you can then record as audio information.

What is the difference between recording audio and recording MIDI?

The main difference between recording audio and recording MIDI is that when you record audio, you are capturing a physical waveform. When you record MIDI data, the information being recorded is not actual sound waves but rather instructions or ‘MIDI events’ on how the sounds should be played.

In order to record MIDI data into Pro Tools you need to set up a virtual instrument, such as a synthesizer or sampler, and configure the correct MIDI inputs and outputs. Once this is done, you can then begin recording your performance using your MIDI controller or another external device.

Does my computer need a special sound card for recording MIDI data?

A special sound card is not usually necessary for recording MIDI data into Pro Tools, as most modern MIDI devices have a USB output on them, enabling you to plug them directly into any modern computer.

In Summary

After following the steps outlined above, you should now be successfully recording MIDI using your MIDI controller and Pro Tools!

You can now utilise an endless range of virtual instruments to create all different kinds of beautiful compositions!

Moving forward, take some time to explore more of what Pro Tools has to offer and experiment with different processing plugins like EQ and compression, and effects like reverb and delay. As always, practice makes perfect so don’t forget to record often and have fun creating your music!

Tim Wells

Hi I’m Tim Wells – an experienced session and live drummer, mixing engineer and all-around lover of music! I’ve been passionate about music from a young age and I’ve had the great privilege of creating and performing music all around the world. I've had the incredible experience of touring as a live drummer through over 10 countries, performing in festivals, clubs, street corners, churches and cafes in front of audiences anywhere between 8 and 8,000! I've also spent time in the recording studio as a session drummer, but also as a recording and mixing engineer.

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