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How do I set up my MIDI keyboard or controller with my virtual instruments in Pro Tools?

There are several considerations when you’re setting up a virtual instrument and MIDI controller in Pro Tools, and this article will take you step-by-step through the process. As there is a vast array of MIDI controllers and virtual instrument software on the market, this article will skip over basic installation and setup of your software and MIDI controller and will just deal with setting up Pro Tools. For specific instructions on installing/setting up your controller or virtual instrument, consult your Owner’s Manual. Also, this article presupposes that you are familiar with the Mix window in Pro Tools. If you are not familiar with the Mix window and its basic elements and controls, please go to www.sweetwater.com/feature/ptresources/getting-started.php and watch the “Mix Window Overview” video.

1) In Pro Tools, open or create a session.

2) For this setup, you will need two tracks: a MIDI track and an Aux Track (or an Instrument Track if you prefer, but either will work).

3) In the Mix window, open one of the inserts on the Aux or Instrument track (click on one of the 5 small buttons in the dark grey section at the top of the channel strip). Go to “multi-channel plug-in,” then go to the “Instrument” category. Select the virtual instrument or ReWire application you would like to use (ie, Hybrid, BFD, Kontakt, Reason, etc…). When the plug-in or ReWire application window opens, load the sound or instrument you would like to use (for information on how to do this, consult the owner’s manual for your virtual instrument or ReWire application).

4) Set the input and output for the Aux or Instrument track using the Input and Output selectors (the rectangular buttons near the middle of the channel strip). For the output, Pro Tools usually uses “Analog 1-2″ or “Out 1-2″ by default. This corresponds to the main stereo outputs on most Digidesign interfaces, so unless you know that you need to use a different output, you can leave this set. For the input, go to “interface,” then choose any active stereo input (“In 1-2″ or “Analog 1-2″ is fine in most cases). Make sure the fader is set to unity gain (Pro Tools sometimes sets the fader all the way down when you create an Aux or Instrument track, so if you don’t bring the fader up you will not hear your virtual instrument’s output).

*NOTE: The input to your Aux or Instrument track has to be active (NOT “no input”) or you may not hear the sound from your virtual instrument or ReWire application.

5) Set the Input for your MIDI track using the Input selector. When you create a MIDI track in Pro Tools, it usually chooses “All” as the default input. This should work in most cases, as Pro Tools will listen to all MIDI input sources and should pick up your MIDI controller. However, you will not see the incoming MIDI data reflected by the MIDI track’s meter until you have chosen an output for the track.

6) Set the Output for your MIDI track using the Output selector. When you open the Output selector, you should see the name of your Virtual Instrument or ReWire application in the list of different output choices. Highlight the name of your virtual instrument or ReWire application by moving your mouse pointer over it; you should get a pop-up submenu that allows you to choose the MIDI channel that will send to your VI or ReWire app. In most cases, you can use channel 1 (unless you know that you need to use a specific MIDI channel other than channel 1).

7) If everything is set up correctly (correct inputs and outputs for your Instrument or Aux track and MIDI track, correct MIDI channels, patch/sound is selected in the VI, etc…), you should now be able to play your MIDI controller and hear sound coming from your virtual instrument or ReWire application. You should also see the meter on the Aux or Instrument track moving to reflect the audio. You will not see the meter on the MIDI track move unless you record-enable the track. Once your MIDI track is record-enabled, you will see the meter move each time you hit a note or key, and you will be able to record the MIDI data onto the track for editing and playback.

Again, if you’re not familiar with Pro Tools’ Mix Window and its basic controls and capabilities, check out the Mix Window Overview video on our Getting Started with Pro Tools page, or click here to download an illustrated tutorial on creating a session and setting up tracks.

If you’d like more information on recording the sound from your ReWire application or virtual instrument to a track in Pro Tools, click here for a PDF document with detailed, illustrated instructions.