6 Ways to Humanize Beats and MIDI Regions in Logic Pro X

For all the wonderful production tools available in Logic Pro X, it's easy for music to sound too rigid, too robotic. In this tutorial Darren Burgos shows how to give your beats a real, human feel.  

Sometimes quantizing to 1/16 notes can sound boring and sterile. Whether you’re a beat maker or a composer/producer, limiting yourself to only 16 (or 12, 8, 24, etc.) positions in a bar/measure can seem too mechanical. As a beat maker you soon realize that creating variation on your hats is a vital part of keeping a groove interesting, and as a player it’s all about this… the subtle movements are important, but you still want the part locked down for a tighter feel. Read on for methods to vibe-up your MIDI and quantized audio parts, without requiring a “geek badge of honor.”

1. Adding Swing to Quantized MIDI  

Swing allows you to move “even” position notes forward or backward in time. Say you’re looking at a single bar with 16 divisions; note positions, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16 will all shift, leaving the odd notes perfectly untouched. This “Swing/Shuffle” feel creates a jazzy/funky vibe that is common in (not surprisingly) Swing music, but also in all forms of House music. When beat making or MIDI editing, use Logic’s Swing slider in the Piano Roll. Select the notes you’ll be applying the swing to, then raise the slider up. The value ranges from 0 (no swing) to 99 (full swing).

Pic 1

It’s common for swing values to move notes forward in time, so much so that the Piano roll swing control only allow for this. You might also want to go backward in time. The Region Parameter’s Quantize section is best used for this. Click the region you’ll be adding swing to and add a quantization to it like 1/16 note. The Q-Swing value below it can be set to a negative value to move notes backward in time (earlier) with values of 49% to 1%, with 50% being no swing, and positive values of 51% to 100%, to move notes forward in time.

Pic 2

2. Loosen up a Quantized MIDI Part

If you play keys, it’s common to quantize your MIDI recordings to 1/16 notes. Often (but not always) this will steal the life right out from under the performance. Wouldn’t it be great if you could somehow control how much quantization was applied to your original un-quantized recording? You can! Click the region first, and from Region Parameters, make sure a quantization value is selected. Then click the “More” menu at the bottom. Click and hold into the Q-Strength value (even if there’s no value there) and pull down. A value of 100 is perfect 1/16 note quantization (if that’s what you have chosen), a value of zero equal no quantization at all, and everything in-between is a morph between the two!

Pic3: Q-Strength

3. Nudging MIDI and Regions

Depending on a sound’s envelope, sometimes it might not hit in time perfectly, sound rushed, or late. Being able to easily move notes or drums backward or forward slightly is a crucial step toward perfecting a good groove/feel. Right-click onto a note in the Piano Roll, and from the “Set Nudge Value to” menu choose “10 ticks.” Now when you use Option-Left/Right Arrow Keys you can easily move notes ever so slightly back for forward in time. A value of 10 ticks is usually a good amount when used in mid-paced music, but for slower tempos you might want to leave it set to its default single tick value. Not only can this be done in the Piano Roll, but it works the same way on regions in the Workspace/Arrange. Try it! Often you might need to quickly switch between these values, and if so, you can use key commands to do this. The 10 ticks value is not set by default so try setting it to Control-Option-X. The key command to return to “Tick” is Control-Option-T.

Pic 4: Set Nudge Value to 10 ticks

4. Delaying Regions

When you “Nudge” a region like in item 3 above, you physically move the region. This can be difficult to maintain in the Arrange/Workspace because by doing this, the regions will “hang over” a bar or beat position. For example, when repeating sections, moving arrange markers, or even when using the Marquee Tool to cut and copy areas of the song. The Region Parameter’s “Delay” function allows you to “virtually” move a region forward or backward in time. Click the Region you wan’t to delay (nudge), then click and hold in the empty area directly to the right of the parameter name “Delay.” While holding, move the mouse up and down to virtually nudge the region with +/- tick values. If you click the tiny up/down arrow to the right, you can even choose musical values like 1/8 and 1/4 notes. The beautiful thing about this is that the region stays perfectly in place, but is played later or earlier (depending on your value) internally.

Pic 5: Region Parameter’s “Delay”

5. Randomly Alter MIDI

You can easily “humanize” a crafted beat, or MIDI recording in the Piano Roll. First select the notes you want to humanize, then click the Piano Roll’s local Functions menu. From the Function menu’s MIDI Transform menu, select “Humanize.” Three things will be randomized with its default setting: position, velocity, and note length. By clicking the Operate Only button, and your selected notes will be randomized by 10 ticks. By choosing “Select and Operate” all the notes in the region will be processed. If you don’t want to process a particular event like note length, simply choose “Thru” from the event’s column.

Pic 6: Humanize 

6. Use the Feel From Other MIDI Regions

Spent a lot of time perfecting a groove in the Piano Roll? Recorded an amazing Piano part or bass part? Why not use these great sounding/feeling parts to apply quantizations to other regions/parts of your song? First, choose the source region (with the good timing) and name the region “Groove Source.” Click Region Parameter’s Quantization value, and from the bottom of the list, choose “Make Groove Template.” This will add to the already long list of quantizations you can easily apply to any other region. Simply find another region you want to quantize, select it, and choose the groove quantization you made. You’ll see it in the list as the name of the region it originated from. Don’t worry if the source wasn’t as complex as the part you’re applying it to, or the other way around. It retains the original part, and only moves similarly positioned notes.

Pic 7: Make Groove Template

This can also be done globally across an entire track. Right-click on the track name you’ll be using as the quantization source and choose “Show Groove Track” from the “Track Header Components” menu. Hover over the source track’s track number and you’ll be given the option of putting a star. Now hover the track number on any tracks you want to apply the source quantization to and put a check in the box that appears. Note positions on the source (star) track will now dictate the positions on the ones with checks.

Hope this article helped you add some life to your MIDI! Thanks for reading.

Learn more production tips and tricks for Logic Pro X in The Academy HERE.

Darren started making music on computers when he was a teenager in 1987. His first computer was an Amiga, and when he realized the power of computer-based production, his addiction for making electronic music began. Darren switched to Mac in 1994 and started using Logic Pro. He's been involved in many music projects over the years incl... Read More


Dave DeLizza
There are only 6 here, and there's no mention of the quantize range here which would probably be pretty beneficial.
Thanks for the response Dave. When Ask Audio were naming my article, I think they were considering the 6th step as two which makes sense. Glad they changed it to 6 though! :). I intentionally left out Q-Range since my intention was to write a clear and simple article on humanizing techniques. Q-Range is a bit baffling to some, so I didn't want to muddy-up the article with it.
Hi Dave. Thanks. Indeed there are 6. #7 should be the quantise range... but there's time in another article to bring that into play. Thanks.
Dave DeLizza
Cool. Would love to see something clear and concise on q-range. I always fumble and get good results but i feel like i'm re-learning it freshly every time. Thanks guys.

Want to join the discussion?

Create an account or login to get started!