Virtual Drumline 2: Multi-Track Software Tutorial
by Jesse Mattson
revised 12-06-2005

This tutorial is to help you take your sheet music and turn it into a great sounding audio file. Creating music directly from Sibelius or Finale may sound good, but there are ways to add even more realism.

This tutorial assumes you are familiar with notation software and own a multi-track recording program such as Logic, Cubase, or Sonar. Virtual Drumline 2 must be installed as a VST instrument (or DXi, RTAS, or Audio Unit, depending on the software you use) so that it may be opened within the multi-track software. These programs do a better job of playing back many tracks of audio compared to running VDL2 and your notation program. The faster the CPU of your computer and the more RAM you have the better. I recommend 1 GB or more of RAM if you plan on loading a full pit+battery. RAM prices have fallen dramatically and 1GB can be purchased for under $100. If you're wondering if your CPU can handle it, virtually all modern computers will work. If you have a Mac G4/G5, Intel Pentium 4, D or M, or AMD Athlon XP/64 you don't need to worry. With the right tweaking most computers can get the job done, but it is unrealistic to expect even the fastest computers to load up a full ensemble and play 64th note runs. In general, you can get away with using one loaded Marimba for all Marimba parts, and one Vibraphone for all Vibes parts, etc. without anyone noticing the difference.

Here is the audio file we will be creating together: tutorial song
Here is the sheet music created with Sibelius: tutorial notation
Here is the MIDI file you will need: tutorial midi file

VDL 2 with VST Plug-in installed.
Notation Software (Sibelius used in demo)
Multi-track recording software (Cubase SX used in demo)
vdl2-tutorial.mid file.

If you experience drop-outs: Your computer may experience trouble loading many instruments at once depending on the amount of RAM and speed of your CPU. It is best to have no other programs running. If you experience drop-outs during playback and have 1 GB of RAM or less, you may achieve better results by changing your "direct from disk" options. Open Virtual Drumline 2 as a stand-alone program and click on "options." Select a new direct from disk option (sometimes referred to as DFD) such as "small instruments." If you are on a laptop with a slow hard drive, this option may not help much. Close the VDL2 player for changes to take effect.

PART ONE : Hearing the Drumline

Step One: Write Music in Sibelius using VDL2 Template and Key Map from Manual

Note: Even though you are hitting notes on your MIDI keyboard according to your key map, the notation software ensures it will still look correctly as sheet music.

Step Two: Save as MIDI file. A MIDI or .mid file is like digital sheet music. It contains the pitch and volume information for the notes but not any actual "sounds," so it can't be played back on a CD or MP3 player, and will use whatever MIDI instruments are installed on the host computer. For example, playing a MIDI file on a PC with an Audigy sound card with a nice sound bank will sound different than the same exact MIDI file played on a bargain PC with an integrated soundcard. Playing the MIDI file back with quicktime will give another result without altering the original file at all. A multi-track recording program such as Logic, Cubase, Sonar, or Pro-Tools can take that MIDI file and assign it to virtual instruments, called VSTi, DXi, or RTAS depending on which software you use.

Step Three: Open Multi-Track software program. (Cubase SX used for tutorial and is available for both Mac and PC)

Step Four: File > Import > MIDI File

Select vdl2-tutorial1.mid on your hard drive. You will now see all of the instruments listed as MIDI tracks. If you were to play the project now, you would only hear the default MIDI sounds on your computer. Not very impressive and probably triggering some odd sounds like whistles and hand claps.

Step Five: Open VST Instruments menu by pressing F11 or selecting Devices > VST Instruments

Step Six: Click in an empty box that says "no instrument" to open VST options and choose "VirtualDrumline2VST"

Note: It is possible to load multiple instruments into one VDL2 Player, or use one VDL2 player per instrument. We will do a combination of both methods.

Step Seven: Our first VDL2 player will contain all of the battery instruments. Click the "load" button on the VDL2 player and choose SnaresLite, then Tenors Lite, Bassline Lite, and Cymbal Line 20in so that all four instruments are loaded into the same VDL player.

Step Eight: Press F11 again to open your VST Menu again and add another "VirtualDrumline2VST" instrument.

We will use this new player for the mallet instruments. Load Glockenspiel Brass, Xylophone Med Dark Lite, Vibraphone Hard Lite, and Marimba Rosewood Hard Lite.

Step Nine: Press F11 to repeat the process again and this time we will use a new VDL2 player to load Timpani Med Lite and Rack Combo A. You should now see 3 VDL2 players listed under the VST instruments menu.

Step Ten: We are now done loading the samples, but we must now assign them to the tracks. If you were to play the audio you would still only hear the default MIDI sounds. We will now assign each track to the appropriate VDL2 Player, and the MIDI channel will determine which instrument is played. Click on the snare track, then assign the MIDI "out" to the first VirtualDrumlineVST listed. Then change the "chn" MIDI channel to 1. Repeat these steps for Tenors, Bass, and Cymbals, but their MIDI channel "chn" will be set to 2, 3, and 4.

note: if you ever forget which instrument should be assigned to which MIDI channel, press F11 to open the VST menu and then the little "e" icon to open the VDL2 player. The MIDI icon shows you which channel is assigned, and you may change it if you wish.

Step Eleven: We can now hear the full battery play. "Solo" the four battery tracks by pressing the "S" so that we don't hear the default MIDI sounds that are still linked to the pit instruments. Play the file and make sure you can hear all four battery sections playing. The dynamics aren't perfect, but we'll worry about that later.

Step Twelve: We will now link the pit instruments to the VDL2 players. For the mallet instruments, set the "out" to "VirtualDrumline2VST 2" and assign the "chn" as follows: Glockenspiel = chn 1, Xylophone = chn2, Vibraphone 1 and 2 = chn 3, and Marimba 1 and 2 = chn 4. For Timpani and Rack Comba A, assign "out" to VirtualDrumline2VST 3" and set to channels 1 and 2.

Step Thirteen: We can now play back the entire ensemble. Make sure none of the tracks are muted (M) or solo (S) and hit Play. You should now hear all of the instruments, but the balance will be off. If you notice drop-outs or instruments missing completely, refer to the Direct From Disk options mentioned at the beginning of this tutorial. You can now hear a decent playback of the written music. So far all of this could have been accomplished with Sibelius, so now we will use the power of the recording software to create a better mix.

PART 2: Improving the Mix

Step One: We are going to first shift each instrument right or left to create a stereo effect. I prefer to PAN left or right to mimic the placement of the instruments as if I were in the audience. However, panning too far to a side won't sound good in most situations. Open each VDL2 player and alter each instrument's PAN setting.

Step Two: We will now fine-tune the volume of each instrument and have the pit instruments fade out after the battery is done playing. Each recording program has a similar method of adjusting the "velocity" of MIDI notes. For this tutorial we will open the "Key Editor" by double clicking the MIDI track or choosing MIDI > Open Key Editor. If you are using a different program, the terminology may be different but the concept is the same.

Step Three: In the key editor, the note is displayed as a bar that corrosponds to the vertical keyboard on the left. The volume or "velocity" of the note is displayed as a vertical bar below the note. Using the "draw" and "line" tools, the velocity of every note can be fine tuned. Crescendos can be more dramatic, subtle human-like phrasing can be created, or anything you want. For the purpose of this tutorial, open the Marimba 2 and Timpani tracks in the Key Editor and increase the velocity so we can better hear the bass melody. Experiment with the other instruments until you find a balance you like. If an instrument is still too loud or quiet, tweak the volume settings of the VDL2 players.

Step Four: Sometimes you may find the wrong sound is being triggered. For example, the Rack Combo A is not producing the sounds we want. Using the Key Editor again, we can use the "object selection" arrow tool to select a note, then use your keyboard arrow keys to move the note up or down. To jump an octave press shift+arrow up or down. Refer to your keyboard maps in your manual to move the note where you want it.

Step Five: It is now time to export our audio project and create an mp3 we can share on the web. Close the Key Editor and Virtual Drumline 2 windows so that we are looking at the main screen. Every program is different, but in Cubase we need to define the area we want to export. CTRL+click at the beginning of the song, and ALT+click at the end of the song. This area will now be highlighted. Choose File > Export > Audio Mixdown and then select which type of audio file you want to create. A 128 kBit/s Stereo mp3 is good for general purpose. If you plan on burning it to a CD, make a WAV or AIF file instead. You may also add composer name, song title, etc. After a few moments an audio file will be created. Now e-mail the mp3 to your friends and tell them that SCV played your beats!

If you made it this far, congratulations! Apply this lesson to your future projects and you'll have a ton of fun with VDL2!