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How to Mix Your MIDI Song on the Keyboard

After you’ve recorded all the parts you want and are happy with the keyboard performances, it’s time to mix your song. Mixing is the act of adjusting the blend of sounds and parts in a song to make them all sound good (volume, panning, and effects), blend together without clashing (EQ), and ensure each part can be heard without overpowering each other (volume).

If you hear nothing but drums (or everything but drums) or your piano left hand, the guitar chords and bass guitar are creating a muddy mess, and that’s no good.

Your sequencer or recorder menu has a page that may be labeled something like Mixer or may just be the main track view page. It has controls for the level of each track, a pan knob, and perhaps some control over effects.

EQ (equalization) may be available as its own set of parameters or may be part of the effects. It’s an important tool in the mixing process, so be sure to find out where it’s available in your keyboard.

To first experiment with mixing, try the following approach:

  1. Pick a single track and note its current volume level.

    Good choices to start with are the drums or the bass if your song has these parts. (If it doesn’t, try a supporting part behind your keyboard sound such as strings or a synth pad part.)

  2. Bring its level all the way down to 0 and notice how that change affects your perception of the whole song.

  3. Bring the level up slowly and listen to the results.

    Don’t look at the value; use your ears.

  4. When it sounds good to you, look at what value you ended up at.

    There are no wrong choices; it’s just personal taste.

  5. Repeat Steps 1 through 4 with other parts, always taking note of the starting level.

You can certainly bring all the volume sliders down to 0 and then try to build up the mix from scratch, but try to only do so only after you’ve gotten used to the sound of a good mix.

There’s no one rule or magic formula for making a song sound good. Here are a few suggestions to help you achieve a good balance in your mix:

  • Don’t allow the melody to get buried or lost within the other instruments. No matter what type of music or instruments you use, the melody of your song is the most important thing.

  • If you’re having trouble getting your melody loud enough, try lowering the levels of the other parts instead.

  • Consider starting by getting the drums’ and bass’s balance right (if your music has those sounds). Bring the drums up first and then add the bass, raising its level until it sounds strong and tightly connected to the drums — especially the bass drum. Then start adding other tracks without overpowering those first two sounds.

  • The main parts of your music (melody, drums, and bass) should be panned center. Other parts can be panned slightly to the left or right to add aural interest to your music. Having everything come from the center or equally from both speakers sounds a little plain.

  • Don’t overdo the reverb levels. If you increase the reverb send for every part, your song will sound sloppy and become a wash of echoes. A safe starting point is to put only medium reverb at most on your drums, use no reverb for your bass, and add reverb to other parts carefully.

    Here’s a good basic concept: Adding reverb to a part makes it sound farther away. You want your important melodic parts to be close, so don’t overdo their reverb. To move back in the mix, you can lower its volume, but you can also add reverb to move it farther away.

  • If you find that parts are getting too thick or muddy sounding, use EQ to help make each track work in the combined mix. Try cutting the levels of some frequencies to help parts sound distinct. Your bass drum and bass are the most important low frequency sounds, so try cutting the lows from other parts to let the bass part stand out clearly.

    Too many high frequencies may fight with your melody, so try cutting them on some other parts if they’re getting in the way. If you want a part to stand out a little bit more, boosting some higher EQ can really help. Pick your parts carefully — you can’t just boost the EQ on everything.

  • You can make some parts more colorful and interesting by adding some specialized effects treatment to them. If you have any available insert effects left unused, experiment with them. You can also consider using the insert effects to put a different type of reverb on a part or two.

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