Quantizing In Logic: The Essentials

Learn everything you need to know about quantizing MIDI in Logic Pro with this quick and easy guide from Logic expert, Joe Albano.  

Logic has a number of options for quantizing MIDI (and audio) performances. Quantization can be done from the Region Inspector on the left of the main window, and also within the Piano Roll Editor. Additionally there are menu commands that relate to Quantization, and a completely independent display-only Quantization feature in the Score Editor. The most comprehensive options are available in the Region Inspector, so I’ll focus on that, and briefly touch on the other Quantization options as space permits.

Quantization Basics

I’d assume that most musicians and producers knows what Quantization is, but for the sake of anyone who’s completely new to MIDI and DAWs, here’s a quick explanation. Quantization automatically corrects the timing of notes in a performance, by moving notes that are played a little out of time—referenced to the note values of the musical grid—to the nearest gridline. The gridline value used as the reference is chosen by the user, depending on the fastest notes in the performance. So if a performance includes 16th-notes, then a 16th-note Quantization grid would be the obvious choice. When Quantization is applied, it will move all notes that don’t fall exactly on a 16th-note gridline to the nearest gridline, creating a perfectly-timed performance.

If the Quantization grid is set to too large a note value, notes will be improperly moved, so it’s important to determine the most appropriate Quantization grid before applying Quantization. Fortunately, all the Quantization features in Logic are non-destructive—changes are applied to MIDI notes (or Flexed audio) on playback, but simply switching Quantization off reverts to the timing of the original performance. This allows for experimentation, which may be needed to find the most effective Quantization settings—when desired, Quantization can be applied permanently, as we’ll see.

Quantization Issues

There are two longstanding issues with Quantization. One is that by creating a perfectly-timed musical performance, Quantization can rob that performance of its musical “feel”—the small subtle timing variations that contribute to—and are sometimes critical to—musical expression. To avoid this, Logic includes options for making the Quantization less mathematically-perfect, preserving some of the timing variations that create musical feel.

The other issue with Quantization is that it can’t always fix every performance. To be able to move imperfectly-timed notes to the nearest correct gridline, the notes can’t be closer to the wrong gridlines than they are to the correct gridlines—if they are, the Quantization will move them to the wrong gridlines, often making more of a mess than the slightly sloppy timing they were meant to correct for. This is an inherent limitation of Quantization, and sometimes a little manual tweaking/fixing may be required with problem recordings—either before or after applying Quantization—to get the desired results.

Quantization In The Region Inspector

The most basic way to Quantize in Logic is via the Quantization options in the Region Inspector. The Region Inspector includes many settings that are applied to individual Regions in the Tracks area—adjustments can be made to multiple Regions at once by first selecting them all by rubber-banding or with the Shift key.

The Quantization options in the Logic’s Region Inspector

The Quantization options in the Logic’s Region Inspector

Quantization can be applied both to MIDI, and also to audio on tracks that have Flex activated. Most of the options are the same—I’ll focus on quantizing MIDI, but mention any differences that would apply if quantizing audio. Quantization options in the Region Inspector are found in two places: near the top you’ll see the main Quantization control. Here you turn Quantization on or off for the selected Region(s), and select the appropriate reference grid to quantize to.

In the popup menu, you’ll see all the usual notes values, like 1/4-note, 8th-note, 16th-note, etc—16th-note is the most common starting point. You’ll also see a number of grid options that allow Quantization to swing, triplet, and other tuplet values, and what Logic calls “mixed quantization” values (i.e. 1/16 & 1/8 Triplet), that are designed to allow Quantization to both straight notes and tuplet notes. But be aware that the closer together the possible gridlines are, the more accurate the initial performance must be to avoid the problem I described above—the Quantization moving notes to the wrong gridlines—so don’t necessarily expect miracles in all these cases.

Advanced Quantization Parameters

Besides the basic grid selection, there are a number of other Quantization parameters.  Right below the main Quantization menu, there’s another menu for selecting a Swing value. Musical “swing” delays every other note, and Quantizing with a Swing value enabled can take a straight rhythm and add a little swing to it by quantizing every other note by the chosen swing percentage.

If you open the More tab, you’ll see several additional Quantization options at the bottom of the extended Region Inspector panel. To me, Q-Strength is the most useful and effective of these. Q-Strength allows for partial Quantization—instead of moving notes all the way to the nearest gridline, the notes are moved only part of the way to the nearest gridline, based on the chosen percentage. 100% is full Quantization—perfect timing—while lower values will preserve more of the subtle timing variations that may contribute to musical feel.

For example, at 50% notes will be moved only half the way to the nearest gridlines, and since it’s percentage-based, sloppier notes will be corrected more aggressively than notes that are closer to gridlines. The result is a tightening up of the performance, without losing the musical feel. The best setting is a matter of trial and error, based on the timing of the specific performance, but Q-Strength can be very effective for musical styles where “perfect” timing is not the goal.

Q-Range is a little more difficult to implement effectively. The goal is to only quantize notes that fall a certain distance from the gridlines—based on the Q-Range setting—leaving more accurately-timed notes alone. However, its effectiveness is highly dependent on the performance—it can be worth a try, though you may need to experiment quite a bit to get useful results.

Q-Velocity, Q-Length, and Q-Flam apply only to MIDI Quantization. Q-Velocity and Q-Length quantize the MIDI Velocities and durations of notes, using timing and other performance aspects of a reference MIDI recording as the guide—a Groove Template. I don’t have the space here to get into creating and using Groove Templates, other than to mention that they can be a good way to match a suitable musical performance—usually a drum/rhythmic pattern—to a MIDI performance that has the desired timing, feel, and dynamics.

Q-Flam takes simultaneous MIDI notes and spreads them out, creating what drummers call a Flam—two rapidly-played accent notes. The idea is that if Quantization moves the notes of a flam to the same gridline, destroying it, enabling Q-Flam may be able to preserve the flam. In practice, I generally find that Smart Quantize (see below) does a better job of preserving flams.

Smart Quantize

Hidden just to the left of the word Quantize is another popup menu that lets you choose between regular Classic Quantization and Logic’s newer Smart Quantize option.

The Smart Quantize option

The Smart Quantize option

Classic Quantization works as I’ve described; Smart Quantize applies an intelligent formula that factors in musical aspects of the performance (like flams and related CC data) and proportionally moves notes—the results are much like using a partial Quantization strength setting, but it tends to be more successful at preserving subtle musical variations. When you want to preserve as much of the performance’s musical feel as possible, Smart Quantize is definitely worth a try—I’ve gotten surprisingly good results from it with live-played finger-drum performances that felt ok musically but needed a little tightening up.

Input Quantization

Input Quantization is sometimes mistakenly assumed to be a feature that audibly corrects timing on-the-fly, as the performance is being played/recorded. But of course this isn’t possible since late notes can’t be corrected in real time—instead what Input Quantization does is immediately quantize the performance as soon as the recording stops, using a pre-selected grid and parameters. This can save time when recording a lot of takes, as opposed to applying the Quantization by hand after every take.

Logic implements this via the Region Inspector. Even with no Regions selected, you can still enable and make Quantization settings—those settings will be applied to all subsequent recordings. This is done non-destructively—the newly-recorded Region will take on the Quantization settings that were active when the recording was made, but the actual unquantized performance is still recorded, and just as with Quantization applied after-the-fact, disabling Quantization for that Region will revert to the original performance, as actually played.

Quantization In The Piano Roll Editor

The Piano Roll Editor has its own Inspector panel, which also includes Quantization options—if you don’t see it, it can be displayed from the local View menu. You can select the grid value, and apply Q-Strength and Swing settings here. Sometimes this can be a little confusing, since these settings duplicate the Region-based Quantization options in the Region Inspector. Either can affect notes in the selected Region, but Region-based Quantization affects all notes in a selected Region, even if no individual notes are selected in the Piano Roll display, while Piano Roll Quantization affects only selected notes. 

Quantization options in the Piano Roll Editor

Quantization options in the Piano Roll Editor

A little experimentation will show that both can be active at the same time—you can quantize an entire Region, and then go in and quantize just certain selected notes in the Region to a different quantization value within the Piano Roll. And since both are non-destructive, you can always restore the original un-quantized performance at any time.

Flattening Quantization

As I said, all Quantization in Logic is non-destructive, and can be undone at any time. But if the time comes you do want to make the Quantization permanent—“flatten” it—this is easy to do. From the Functions menu, the command “Functions > MIDI Region Parameters > Apply Quantization Permanently” will make any Quantization settings permanent, altering the MIDI data in the selected Region(s). This command can also be accessed via a right-click on a Region, and it can be used if the current Quantization settings are deemed perfect, or if the MIDI data is being exported to share with, say, a musical collaborator with a different DAW.

Flattening Quantization settings

Flattening Quantization settings

Score Editor Display Quantization

I’m just about out of space, but I want to briefly mention the display-only Quantization options in the Score Editor. Music notation is stylized—to get appropriate notation display from a MIDI performance, the notes usually need to be tightly quantized, to avoid a lot of inappropriate ties and syncopated notes that would normally be written as straight note values, leaving the performance interpretation—the syncopation—to the player.

That degree of Quantization would likely ruin the feel of the MIDI playback, so Logic provides display-only Quantization options in the Score Editor.

The settings made here affect only the visual display of the notes on the staves—the MIDI data triggering the sounds is played back using the settings made in the other Quantization options (Region Inspector, Piano Roll Editor), preserving the desired timing nuances of the playback.

Wrap Up

And that’s all I have space for. Of course there’s a lot more that could be said, but hopefully this brief rundown will be helpful to those just getting used to working with Quantization in Logic.

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Joe is a musician, engineer, and producer in NYC. Over the years, as a small studio operator and freelance engineer, he's made recordings of all types from music & album production to v/o & post. He's also taught all aspects of recording and music technology at several NY audio schools, and has been writing articles for Recording magaz... Read More


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