One of the tricks of the trade when it comes to mixing down recordings is synchronizing the delay settings with the beat of the song. It gives your recorded tracks a very smooth and even feel when the delays are hitting on the beat or on divisions of the beat. These days, so many live bands are using sequenced tracks or recorded backing tracks that it’s an essential skill as a live musician to be able to set your delay effects to hit with the beat of the song that you’re playing. With all of the excellent digital delays and digitally controlled analog delays it’s easier than ever to get your delay effect units set to the beat of the song you’re playing.
In the old days of analog delays the best you could do is use your ear to set the delay to the beat of the song. It was a good skill to have and not extremely difficult. The biggest problem that we used to face in a live music setting was changing that delay with every song to match the beat. In the studio it wasn’t so bad as we had time to fiddle with delay settings for each project. With digital delays, it’s so much easier to set a delay on the beat of the song that you’re playing. A lot of the new digital delays have a Tap button that will let you tap on the beat to set the delay in synch with the song you’re playing. But even the Tap button has it’s limitations as it still depends on human input.
There are two simple delay formulas that you can use to calculate delay settings for type of note duration that you’re after. The first thing you need to do is determine the Beats Per Minute of the song. If you have sequenced a song you can simply look at the BPM setting of the sequence and use that for the delay formula. If you are working on a live recording simply count beats for six seconds and multiply the number by ten and you’ll know your BPM. Now, let’s say you want to set up a 1/4 note delay on a song that is 120 Beats Per Minute. For the first formula you simply take the decimal equivalent of the note fraction (1/4 note = .25) and multilpy it by 240,000 then divide by the BPM and that will give you the resulting delay setting in Milliseconds. The formula looks like this:
Note Fraction x 240,000 ÷ BPM = Delay Time (in Milliseconds)
First example for a 1/4 note delay at 120 BPM: (.25 x 240,000 ÷ 120 = 500 ms)
For a 1/8 note delay at 133 BPM: (.125 x 240,000 ÷ 133 = 225 ms)
Remember! To figure your decimal value for the note duration divide the top number by the bottom. For example 1\4 note = 1÷4 = .25
The other way to set a delay up so that it lines up on the beat is to use this formula. This delay formula is a little more complicated but it may make more sense to you:
BPM÷60 = Beats Per Second then divide 1 by BPS (1÷BPS=1/4 note Delay Time)
So first you need to determine your Beats Per Minute. If you have sequenced a song you can simply look at the BPM setting of the sequence and use that for the delay formula. If you are working on a live recording simply count beats for six seconds and multiply the number by ten and you’ll know your BPM. After you have your BPM just divide it by 60 to figure our your Beats Per Second. Once you know your BPS you simply divide BPS by 1 by can then set your delays accordingly. Here are a couple examples:
60 BPM ÷ 60 Seconds = 1 Beat Per Second. [1÷1BPS=1] For a delay that happens on each 1/4 note set your delay to 1 second. For a hit on each 1/8 note set it to 500 milliseconds. For 1/16 note set it to 250ms.
120 BPM ÷ 60 Sec. = 2 BPS. [1÷2BPS=.5] For 1/4 note delay set your delay to 2 seconds. 1/8 note = 1 second delay, 1/16 note = 500ms.
135 BPM ÷ 60 Sec. = 2.25 BPS [1÷2.25=.444] So 1/4 note = 444 ms, 1/8 note = 222 ms, 1/16 note = 111 ms.
So there you have it. I have used both delay formulas to figure out delay settings. For some reason I seem to understand the second one better even though it does seem more complicated. But they’ll both get you the settings that you’re after.
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