Author Topic: How to Make Arabic Quarter Tone Microtonal Music on a Digital Audio Workstation  (Read 59 times)


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Hi :) So as promised I'm going to make a post about how to get a complete setup going for making microtonal, quarter tone, arabic, persian, turkish music, etc.

Just using those names as tags so that search engines can find this post for the people looking for this stuff. You can obviously do Indian music or any other music outside of the regular western 12 divisions per octave system. I am going to recommend Kite's program Alt-Tuner as the software you will need to tune software and hardware instruments to notational systems outside of 12 Equal Divisions per Octave not because this post is on his forum, but because it's the only amazing tuning software out there really. You can do your own research and you'll reach the same conclusion. It's the one I personally use myself to tune software instruments and it's absolutely amazing allowing you to do make simple quarter tone music as well as advanced microtonal music.

This is written by a noob for noobs. Seriously haha. The best part about speaking and explaining things in extremely simple ways is that nobody gets left behind. Advanced people already know what's being said and they can just skip ahead whenever they want, and noobs can follow along step by step so they too can understand the concepts.

What you will need:

Digital Audio Workstation: Reaper. That's the only one you need and the only one that can do what you need, which is a microtonal piano roll.
Software: Alt-Tuner by Kite. Visit his website and purchase the Alt-Tuner. You won't regret it if you're serious about music making. It can tune pretty much any hardware or software instrument.
Software: Scala. We'll use this free software as a learning tool to aid us in the setup.
Software: A digital/software instrument. There are many out there, called VSTs as well. Do some research, pick one that you like and that offers sounds that you like, pianos, violins, guitars, whatever it is. This is Kite's list of Software instruments/synthesizers that work with Alt-Tuner:,18.0.html

First Part: Scala

1. Open up Scala.
2. Click Play.
3. Click the list of Notation System.
4. Choose E-24. (I will use E-24 for the rest of this post, but you can pick something else and still follow these instructions. Just substitute whatever you like whenever I say 24. This is the notational system to use if you want to make Arabic music. You can do an insanely high list of maqams with this notational system.) Click the Preset button. Now you have the corresponding piano roll for this E-24 system. Go ahead and play around and familiarize yourself with it. These are the keys and note names you will need to convert the regular piano roll on Reaper. If you count, there are 24 keys. The last C doesn't count because it's the same as the first C but one octave higher, that's all.

Second Part: Tuning software instruments via Alt-Tuner in Reaper Part 1:

1. Open up Reaper.
2. Click Insert.
3. Choose Virtual Instrument on New Track.
4. Pick whichever Instrument you want. Ex: Kontact, Ivor, etc.
5. Click the FX button on the instrument that you just added.
6. In this FX window, click Add at the bottom and Choose Alt-Tuner. Now the track has two softwares on it, the Instrument + Alt-Tuner.
7. In Alt-Tuner, click on the Lattice button, and then the Graph button, and then the Table button. Now you are on the Preferences window.
8. Click the Misc button. This window is to set up Alt-Tuner to be compatible with the Instrument, in terms of hearing sound and in terms of tuning as well.
9. Move this big window aside so you can see the Reaper main window again. Click Insert and then New Midi Item.
10. Double Click the new midi item, white rectangle. The Midi Piano Roll window opens up.
11. Test the sound of the instrument by clicking the piano keys. Make sure that you have an instrument selected if you haven't already from within the software instrument itself. Example: maybe you need to pick a violin or a guitar from the software instrument window itself.
12. Click the piano keys going up from C4 to C5. This is the regular E-12 tuning. Familiarize yourself with its sound because once we tune this instrument it won't sound the same anymore, and you need to be able to detect the new changes in pitch so you can know whether it is in fact being tuned or not.
13. If there's no sound. Then go back to Alt Tuner and in the Misc window so we can try other options. Alt Tuner has 7 tuning methods. The first one selected is the Octave method. If there's no sound then pick the Non-Octave method. If not again or only some keys make a sound or there's a sound, but only every 12th click or something weird like that then Reduce the number of Midi Channels Out to 1. This switches the tuning method to Mono, notice it's highlighted now. Test the sound. The octave, non-octave, or mono methods will definitely work on pretty much all instruments. Most importantly, check your sound setup on Reaper itself too by clicking on Options at the top, Preferences, and then Device on the list on the left. Pick the right playback device. Test them until you have sound. Once you have sound go to the next step.

Third Part: Tuning an instrument via Alt-Tuner Part 2:

1. In Alt-Tuner in the Preferences panel, Click Keyboard.
2. Drag the slide of # of Keys to 24, this will give you a keyboard with 24 keys, just like the one in Scala, for the E-24 notational system.
3. Notice that there may be two notes missing. The B quarter flat or half flat, depending on how you refer to it, and the E quarter flat or half flat.
4. Now drag the EDO notes per octave (1 = reset) slider to 24, this determines that we're using the E-24 notational system tuning. Note: it's important that you change the number of keys slider to the number you need before you change the notes per octave slider to the notational system of your choosing.
5. After you moved the EDO notes per octave slider to 24 a new button showed up beside the Prefs button called EDO TAP. Click it and the two missing keys will be filled in.
6. Go back to the midi piano roll window in Reaper and click C4 to C5 one more time. They should sound completely different if the tuning worked.

Part 4: Setting up a Microtonal Piano Roll

1. Now that your piano roll is tuned differently, you need the keys to have tags on them with the corresponding note name so you know what you're working with.
2. Double RIGHT click any key and now you can rename it.
3. Look at the Scala E-24 keyboard again and follow it to rename the keys accordingly.
4. Or you can download My E-24 Note Names file so you don't have to do the work yourself. I'll attach it in this post. To use it you click File in the Piano Roll window, then Note Names, and then Load Note Names from File. Pick the file and you're set to go. Note: I use | to indicate a quarter sharp, b to indicate a regular flat, and d to indicate half-flat or one quarter flat, which is an inverse b facing the other way. There are other ways to represent quarter tone pitches using other symbols. You can change it to whatever you like.
5. Once you rename the notes to your liking. Click File, Note Names, Save Note Names to File. Now Every time you make a new track and a new midi item, you can just go to File, Note Names, and Load Note Names from File.
6. Look at Kite's post on how to rename the piano roll keys where this exact information is listed as well as how to change its appearance to be more visually appealing using Unicode characters.

Last Part: Test the Sound!

Test those quarter tones. Play the major Rast Scale: C D Ed F G A Bd C. Draw the notes in the midi editor. Play the scale from top to bottom as well to really highlight its character. It's a serious moment of celebration, honestly! Play a Bayati on D: D Ed F G A Bb C D

I hope this helps you save some time because it took me a lot of research to figure out how I can make software music and have a microtonal software music setup. Enjoy.


Tall Kite

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Hey Rami, thanks for writing this. More documentation is always a good thing!

A few things:

Second part, #6: be sure that alt-tuner comes before your synth in the list of effects. Also you will need alt-keyswitcher before alt-tuner if you're using foot pedals or key taps.

#13: Often it's not that simple. Many synths unfortunately require multiple instances. See the manual, chapter 6.10.

Third part, #4: It's actually fine, even advantageous, to set the EDO slider first. Then it will follow the # of keys slider, allowing very quick exploration of various edos. Turn on EDOTAP to avoid silent keys.

Last part: If you're only playing 7-note scales, or even if you only need 12 of the 24 notes in 24-edo at any one time, you can use edotap to quickly select which 12 you want. You use key taps in one of the outer octaves to select notes. It's very fast, it can even be done mid-song, like a q'anun player flicking mandals. The advantage to this approach is that the keyboard retains its familiar layout, octaves are still playable with one hand, etc.
OS: OSX 10.5.4, OS X 10.9.5, Windows 7
DAWs: Reaper, ProTools 7.4 (PT is mac only)
HARDWARE: Yamaha s90 ES, M-Audio Keystation 49e, Line 6 FBV mark II express (footpedal unit)
SOFTSYNTHS: Kontakt 4, SampleTank 3 free, Pianoteq demo, ReaSynth, all Xen-Arts synths


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No problem thanks for double checking what I wrote!

and yea Qanun players are constantly flicking those mandals haha ridiculously skilled.

The EDO tap tip is very helpful thanks again :)