MSP MIDI Tutorial 2: MIDI Synthesizer
Click here to open the tutorial patch: Media:02iMIDISynthesizer.maxpat
In this tutorial we show how to create and work with a simple 4-voice MIDI-controllable synthesizer. Along the way, we discuss simple methods of polyphonic routing as well as using a variety of common MIDI messages to control synthesis parameters.
- To use the tutorial patchers in this section of the tutorial, make sure
you have a correctly configured MIDI controller connected to your computer. The tutorials in this section use a variety of MIDI messages as example input; if your controller lacks any of these features, you can simulate their input with user interface objects in the tutorial.
Playing our synthesizer
- Take a look at the tutorial patcher. Notice that it contains a fair bit
of patcher logic involving four different categories of MIDI input objects
sending messages and signals to four copies of an abstraction called
synthvoice~. Turn on audio by clicking the ezdac~,
turn up the gain~ slider, and play some notes on your MIDI keyboard.
The kslider object should animate in response to your actions.
While holding a note, adjust the pitch bend wheel on your keyboard.
Adjust the modulation wheel or another controller that can send CC#1.
Listen to the different changes to the sound.
Our tutorial patcher deals with MIDI through a number of methods. Let's look through these one at a time.
- Play notes on your keyboard one at a time and look at the area of
the tutorial patcher labeled
1. Notice what the poly object
does to the values. Try playing a note and holding it, then adding
another while the first key is still down.
Our tutorial patcher is capable of playing four sounds at the same time, due
to there being four different copies of the
synthvoice~ abstraction in
our patch. In order to take advantage of the polyphony however, we need to
figure out how to route our MIDI values to the different voices so
that the appropriate copy of the
synthvoice~ abstraction receives
each message. The poly object takes MIDI pitch and velocity and
performs voice assignment on the values based on the arguments to
the object. The first note the object receives will be given voice
1, the second note voice
2, and so on. Once we
exceed the polyphony the object is programmed for (in our case,
the object will roll around and start again at voice
1. Note-off events
will map to the same voice as their corresponding note-on events, guaranteeing
that the message to stop a MIDI event goes to the same destination as the one
that started it.
- Using your MIDI keyboard, play a four-note chord. Now, without releasing any
of the keys, press a fifth note. Notice what happens.
The second argument to poly (
1) tells it to steal voices
if the polyphony is exceeded. If we attempt to sound more notes than the poly object
allows for, the oldest note will be dropped and its voice will be recycled.
- Take a look at tutorial area
2. Move the pitch bend wheel on your
keyboard controller. Notice that, unlike most controllers, its resting
point is at the middle of the range at
63. See what the patcher
logic below does to scale the values between
To create our pitch bend value, we take the MIDI pitch bend wheel
and split its range to two different scale objects. The
left-hand scale object takes the lower half of the MIDI range and
scales it from
0.; the right-hand object scales the
upper range between
2. This guarantees that the center
value in the range (
63) maps to a value of
0. in all cases.
- Take a look at the tutorial area labeled
3. Move the continuous
controller and look how it's scaled. Look at the tutorial area labeled
If you have a MIDI controller with real-time transport capabilities (i.e. it
can send MIDI beat clock), set it up to transmit at any tempo you like and start
the transport on the controller. If you like, you could also use an inter-application
MIDI routing utility and a software sequencer on your computer to do this. If not,
click in the number box labeled
tick speed and enter the value
Change the continuous controller and play some notes. Listen to the result.
tick speed to something faster (like
10.). Notice what happens.
The MIDI CC# and the real-time messages are sent in by the ctlin
and rtin objects, respectively, to work together controlling a low-frequency
oscillator (LFO). The real-time messages that define the beat clock
control the rate of the LFO; the controller messages change the depth.
MIDI beat clock typically runs at 96 PPQ; the timer object measures the intervals
between ticks, which are then scaled to derive the rate of the LFO so that it lasts
one measure. MIDI real-time message
250 (the 'start' message on a sequencer)
resets the phase of the cycle~ object so that the LFO will re-synch with a
sequence if it starts on a barline.
Note how the output of the LFO is scaled so that even with the depth sending a
0., the signal sent into the
synthvoice~ abstraction is
guaranteed to be centered around
1. Let's take a look at what's in that
- Double-click any of the abstractions named
at the patcher logic inside.
synthvoice~ abstraction has three inLet's. The first inlet
takes lists of pitch and velocity values from our MIDI keyboard input.
The pitch value is sent to drive a constant signal (sig~)
which has the signal from inlet #2 added to it (+~). This value
is then interpreted as a MIDI number and converted to a frequency in the
signal domain by an object called mtof~, which behaves just like
the mtof object but operates on continuous MSP signals instead of
Max numbers. This frequency value then feeds two band-limited oscillators:
a square wave (rect~) and a sawtooth wave (saw) which are mixed
together. The frequency of the rect~ object is multiplied by
the LFO signal coming in inlet #3 so that a rich, chorused tone can be acheived
when the depth of the LFO is increased.
Standard synthesizer envelopes: adsr~
Meanwhile, the velocity output of the MIDI notes is scaled
1. and sent to an object called adsr~. The
object stands for Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release, and generates
signal ramps in a standard configuration borrowed from analog synthesizer
A standard ADSR curve.
The arguments to adsr~ are interpreted as an attack time, a decay time, a sustain level, and a release time. The sustain level is a multiplier of the overall amplitude which the object outputs during a sustaining note.
The adsr~ object takes a value and interprets it as an envelope
trigger of a certain amplitude. Any number higher than
the attack, decay, and sustain phases, scaled to match the amplitude of the
trigger (e.g. an input value of
0.5 will trigger a softer envelope
than a trigger of
0.8). The object then stays at the sustain phase,
putting out a constant value until it receives a
0. It then continues
to the release phase of the envelope and ramps to
- Now that we understand how the synthesizer elements work, return to the
main patcher and see if the controllable parameters make sense. Try exploring the full range of the MIDI control to see how expressive it is.
Within a patcher, MIDI note events can be routed polyphonically to different copies of the same abstraction using a poly object. Objects such as bendin and ctlin can be scaled to match different synthesizer parameter ranges, and real-time MIDI commands can be used to derive tempo data for LFOs and sequencers within Max. The adsr~ object generates envelope ramps based on triggers for a note-on and a note-off, making it ideal for use with MIDI note-based systems.
poly - Allocate notes to different voices
mtof~ - Convert a MIDI note number to frequency at signal rate
adsr~ - ADSR envelope generator