How to Record Multitrack MIDI on the Keyboard

If you want to record more than one sound via MIDI, you need to use the full sequencer of your keyboard. Perhaps you want to record your keyboard playing along with an accompanying drum groove or record all the backing parts from the auto-accompaniment features of your digital piano or arranger.

You may want to add more parts to your solo piano performance to make a full production from it. All these situations require you to create different parts, one for each distinct sound or part that is playing.

Setting up your session

The most confusing part of setting up for recording in a sequencer has to do with assigning the effects used for each sound. When you play a sound by itself in single sound or multisound mode, that sound has already been programmed to use specific effects.

When you first call up a sound on a track in a sequencer, though, it likely doesn’t have any of these effects assigned, so it sounds very different and very plain. You must reassign, or reconfigure, the effects yourself with those exact settings to get the sound back to the way it is in the sound mode. So, you need to understand the structure of your keyboard’s effects system.

Some effects are commonly global, meaning every sound in the sequencer or song can share the same effect. These overarching effects are called master effects or system effects; they may be limited to certain choices, or you may be able to freely choose what effects go in these master locations.

Each track or sound has a send amount parameter to run it into each master effect, so you can decide on a sound-by-sound basis how much effect to give. If your model always pre-assigns the master effects, the parameter may even say Reverb Amount and Chorus Amount.

Other effects are configured on a per-track or per-part basis. This design is called an insert effect or insertion effect because you place it in-line with a given track or part such that it’s not available to all parts. This configuration usually applies to the more special, colorful types of effects such as deeper modulation effects, distortion, and rotary speaker.

It doesn’t have a send amount because you choose how much of the effect to hear with a wet/dry or mix parameter within the effect itself. (Dry is the unaffected sound; wet is the sound with effect added in.) Note: Each product is different, but keyboards usually have a limited number of these insert effects, so every track/sound can’t have its own effect.

Recording the first track

You’ve picked the sound you want to record first and you’ve copied back the effects it uses so it sounds good when you play the keyboard. Just follow these steps to record:

  1. Press Record or Rec.

    For some keyboards, this function gives you a count-in of four clicks, and then you’re recording. For other keyboards, you need to press Play or Start while in this record-ready mode to start actual recording.

    You’re working with MIDI recording, so the tempo doesn’t matter; you can always change it later.

  2. Press Stop when you’re finished playing.

  3. Relocate to the beginning of the recording.

  4. Press Play to listen to your recording.

    Repeat Steps 1 through 3 to record over it if you don’t like what you hear.

Adding more tracks

Your first track/part sounds great; time to move on to the next. Here’s how to record subsequent tracks:

  1. On the interface for your sequencer, find how to select Track 2.

    You didn’t have to think about track selection to record the first track, but now you need to change to a different track so you don’t record over your first part and lose that perfect performance!

  2. Choose a sound for this second part.

    Remember that it will probably sound dry at first. Don’t use one of the copy commands related to effects at this time. If you do, you’ll likely change the effects that your first track uses.

  3. Go to Track 2’s send parameters and dial in a little reverb and/or the other master effect to suit your needs.

    Remember that you can always add to and improve this mix later. Just get the sound close enough so you feel comfortable playing it.

  4. If needed, reassign or copy the desired insert effect (which may be called Insert or DSP effect) for Track 2.

    If you want more than just the master effects, determine whether you can reassign an insert effect or copy only that effect from the program you selected to your second sound. Some products have up to five or six insert effects. Your sequencer likely has 16 tracks, but with multiple insert effects, you can decide which tracks really need the extra sonic help.

    Play the keyboard; you’ll hear this second sound and can judge whether you have the effects set up the way you want. As with the master effects, don’t worry about getting the sound perfect at this stage. You’ll be able to tweak these settings again later when you have all your parts recorded.

    With your sound parameters set, practice your new part before recording it by pressing Play and playing along with the previous track(s). You don’t need to record until you’re comfortable and ready to go.

  5. Record the part.

  6. Relocate to the beginning and press Play to listen to your two parts playing together.

    If you like what you hear, great. If you like your playing but not the sound you chose, keep the track and change the sound later through the wonders of MIDI. If you hate the whole thing, rerecord the second part until you’re happy.

Repeat the preceding steps, selecting a new track each time you want to record a new part. Pick your sound, adjust the effects as needed, and record!

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