How to configure Macaw in the “noob mode”

I have recently purchased a MIDI keyboard (this particular model, to be exact) to learn playing piano without annoying the neighbours. As I did, however, I had only a vague idea of how to actually synthesize sounds with it. I thought, surely, there must be tons of software that would allow me to just plug-and-play my controller and enjoy. Reality proved me wrong.

First off, when I started looking for such software, I faced the immediate problem: what search words are associated with it? “Software to play a MIDI controller”? Long story short, it took a few hours before I discovered that what I’ve been looking for is called “digital audio workstation“. Using Wikipedia to help me, I have discovered that only a few such tools are available for Windows and most of them are not free to use. In the end of the day, the only free Windows program that remained was Macaw.

So I stuck with Macaw and found that it was perfect for just playing stuff, though getting there was not trivial. The biggest problem I had was that it reacted too well when I didn’t press a key hard enough and played it very quietly.  Now, it’s probably great for experienced pianists who can fine tune the volume of their playing that way but a beginner like me, I want to hear the same sound when I press the key and I want to hear it loud. I wanted to be able to play in what I dubbed “noob mode”, where the software always played the keys in the same loud volume.

It took some tinkering, as I said, but here is what you have to do:

  1. The first thing you’ll notice when you start up Macaw is that while it obviously recognizes keys being pressed on your keyboard (the MIDI input activity indicator square on the top-right turns yellow), it doesn’t play any sounds. This is because you first need to create at least one track.
  2. To create a track, right-click under the “Master Track” label on the left and select “Track -> Insert Track”. Create one track.
  3. Now you need to configure it. To open the track properties, simply click on the “1: Master” label. This part is not trivial, by the way. It took me several days to find.
  4. Set “Name” to “Main” or whatever you want to call it.
  5. Drag Volume (“Vol”) all the way up to 127. This will ensure a nice, loud sound later.
  6. Drag Velocity adjustment (“Vel+”) all the way up to 127, t00. This is the essential part, since it basically forces Macaw to play each note as if the key was hit with full strength every time.
  7. Set “Track Output -> Port” to whatever MIDI driver you prefer (I strongly recommend installing Timidity and a good SoundFont, see my earlier post). This will tell Macaw which sounds to actually play for you.
  8. Optionally, you can also select a different instrument under “Track Output -> Program/Patch”. Tip: If you have SGM-V2.01, choose Overdriven Guitar and play some power chords!
  9. In the end, your track config should look something like this:

    Macaw Noob Mode Config

  10. Now click OK and try playing something on your keyboard.

If you hear those sounds, this how-to was a success. Now go and have fun.

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