Better Sounding Sequences

It is always best to record the various tracks into your sequence using a velocity sensitive keyboard. Since I am not a keyboardist, I generally enter my scores using the Cakewalk staff and piano roll views. Unfortunately, this can result in perfect note timing and the same note velocity/expression throughout the score. While perfection has its place, when I strum my real guitar, the notes do not all start at the same instant. I also tend to accent the down beat by a more forceful strum. Same is true for any instrument played by a musician; subtle variations are used to add color, feeling and interest. Notes vary with respect to the absolute measure/beat and their relative note to note expressiveness. These qualities are generally lost during manual score entry. The Cakewalk 'scale velocity' function can be used to establish ranges in the score for ff, mf, and crescendo levels, but the overall result is still somewhat stiff and computer generated sounding.

The Pro versions of Cakewalk have a feature where users can write their own programs to perform operations on the track events. It is called the 'Cal' feature and can be found under the Edit menu item. I used two cal routines to help improve the 'human feel' of a sequence. They vary the note event velocity values ( and the note start times ( While they won't magically make sequences sound like real musicians are playing, some careful use can improve things quite a bit. Depending on your Cakewalk version, you may already have them in your Cakewalk directory. Each Cal routine works on the currently selected tracks within the currently specified start/end time range. You can download them using a link further down on this page. adds a random variance to the note velocity values (how hard the notes are struck) based upon a percentage you specify to the cal routine at start up. I find running it twice, once with 12% or 13% and a second time using 9% or 10%, gives pretty good results. adds a random variance to the note start times based on a maximum tick value you specify to the cal routine at start up. For guitar strumming, I find 4 to 6 good. Piano and strings 2 to 3 and horns 1 to 2. For drums, Cakewalk has a "Groove Quantize" function in the Edit menu that works quite well and adjusts both velocity and timing in one operation.

In addition to the above, you should adjust the stereo field left/right panning of your instruments on the "virtual stage" between your ears. Real musicians don't all stand "front and center". Likewise, orchestra musicians all have their assigned places with respect to the conductor. There is also a front to back panning that should be adjusted. Fill and support instruments, like background strings, should be in the background; use more reverb or chorusing and less volume. Lead and principal instruments should be closer or more "in your face"; use less reverb or chorusing and more volume.

The final and most time consuming humanizing effort is to vary the tempo of your sequence. The Cakewalk 'tempo view' can be used to emulate the ebb and flow a real musician uses for added expression to the piece. Most humans don't/can't play at exactly the same speed throughout the whole score.

There was a Cakewalk sponsored cal writing contest a number of years back and the results were made available to all Cakewalk users. There is some pretty fancy stuff and it includes the routines mentioned above. You can download them using this link.

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Copyright © 2000 - 2002 Don Buczynski
San Diego, California
Last Updated: 9/05/02