Composition CPD GCSE General Key Stage 3

Using a Piano Roll

This entry is part 8 of 9 in the series Sound Advice for Soundtrap

If you have ever created music using a DAW, then you will have used a piano roll. However it might be that using a piano roll is a new concept and one that slightly worries you. This Sound Advice for Soundtrap blog is going to focus on using a piano roll with the aim of making you confident. The great thing is that once you feel confident, your students will too. So let’s look at the piano roll within Soundtrap.

What is a Piano Roll?

Lets start by looking at a screenshot of the piano roll within Soundtrap

Using a piano roll in Soundtrap

You may look at this and feel daunted – stay with me, you will be okay. Or, you may look at it and see some familiar things that put you at ease. As you can see there are two key parts to a piano roll. There is a keyboard on the left and then a load of little rectangular boxes in a grid on the right. The piano roll is made up of lines that effectively lead out of the notes on the keyboard. The white rows link the white notes and the greyed out rows stem from the black notes. Hopefully you are still with me. A piano roll is another say of representing notes – pitch and length. The screenshot below shows a C Major scale where each note is a crotchet. Hopefully this will help you start to understand how the piano roll works.

C Major scale on piano roll in Soundtrap

The image above shows lines on the piano roll which corresponds to notes on the keyboard. This is what a C Major scale looks like and you enter this scale by clicking on the small squares on the grid. You can lengthen the notes, or make them shorter by simply dragging the little rectangular notes.

Just have a go

Now I must admit this is something that you really do need to try, because sometimes explaining something like this is harder if you haven’t tried it. So I would advise you to open up Soundtrap, add a piano and then click on to the piano roll. You will then need to give the piano a region and then you can start to add notes. Try making them shorter or longer and remember that whilst potentially complicated at first, using the piano roll gets easier. All you have to do is click on a little segment in the roll and a note will be added. If you don’t like it, you can delete it. If you want it to last longer, then click on the righthand edge and drag it out. The editing process is simple, so just have a go. Here is a screenshot of a 4 bar melody in the soundtrap piano roll. The longer lines are crotchets and the shorted lines are quavers.

A four bar melody in C Major in the Soundtrap Piano Roll

Zoom in and out

It sounds obviously, but zooming in to the piano roll makes it a lot easier to see what is going on. But also, zooming out makes it easier to take in a whole melody. In this screenshot I have zoomed out and you can see that the C Major scale is taking up two bars. The piano roll at the bottom is condensed into the small purple region towards the top – in the sequencer area of Soundtrap.

If you need to make small changes to the length of a note then you might want to zoom in, especially as your piece starts to fill up. You zoom in and out using the plus & minus magnifying glasses in the bottom right hand corner. The image below shows these and it also shows a zoomed in version of the melody mentioned in the previous section. As you zoom in the notes on the piano roll get “bigger” or “longer” and this makes it easier to edit.

Making changes

Once you have some notes in the piano roll you may wish to make changes. If a note is in the wrong place then you can simply click on it and drag it to the correct note. You do this by looking at the keyboard to see where the note is and just click and drag. If you want to delete a note then click on it and press delete. You can also highlight a whole section by switching to the mouse arrow and dragging it over a section of music or group of notes. Towards the right hand side you will see that you can switch between a mouse arrow selector or the note input

The V option is for velocity and this is all to do with how hard the note is struck – but that is for another blog. With the trash can selected you can click on a note and it will be deleted – but you can also use the delete button on your computer keyboard. You need the pencil selected to input notes to the piano roll.

Using a piano roll

Using a piano roll isn’t too complicated and it is an alternative to playing in musical ideas using a MIDI keyboard. If all you have is a mouse, then you can quickly create music. Editing is simple and the interface is easy to use once you get your head round how it works. Using it is the key and the more time spent on a piano roll, the more efficiently you will add your music. This blog has hopefully given you a bit of an insight into how it works and I guess it is over you to start clicking in notes. And of course you can also create chords by stacking up those little purples blocks in the piano roll – but that is for another blog. I hope you enjoy using a piano roll as much as I do, it is a great way to quickly to create music straight away within Soundtrap.

And if you still need support, then here is a great video tutorial from Soundtrap

Using a piano roll – Soundtrap tutorial video

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