Common Misconceptions: Progressions

From user feedback and support questions we learned that there seem to be a few fundamentally wrong assumptions regarding what progressions are and how they work. Especially LE users seem to get confused by the built-in voice leading and its effect on pitch distribution (voicing) of chords.


In this post, I will identify these pitfalls and explain the background. 

Progressions are abstract

Background: Users reported they were unable to achieve a particular sequence of MIDI notes with the progression editor, concerning pitch, inversion and voicing (narrow/wide). 

Progressions do not contain notes. They are abstract and function as a "global track" that guides all the individual instruments with respect to harmony. You can think of them as a set of rules. The blocks labeled with chord names stand for a harmonic context that doesn't know anything about pitch, velocity, inversion or voicing. 

It is the sole responsibility of the instrument, its playing ranges and the interpretation settings to render physical MIDI notes in the light of the given progression (Obviously, if you have multiple instruments, you certainly do not want them all to play the same notes).

Hint: If you want a chord to be pitched higher (or lower), you need to either transpose the figure, or assign the figure to another playing range (low, middle, high), or shift the typical pitch of the range altogether. The progression has nothing to do with it.

Hint: In chords-only mode (e.g. HN2 LE), you will need to adjust the playing ranges of the global "Chords" instrument, found in the Audio & MIDI Setup window. Alternatively you can add hints to cords in the progression by pressing the SHIFT+UP/DOWN arrow keys. This will alter the typical pitch temporarily for that chord only.

Progressions can not be empty or have gaps

Background: Users reported they were unable to create a sequence of rhythmic chords, or regions without any chords (rests) with the progression editor. 

The progression governs all instruments spanning the entire timeline. There can be no empty regions, nor can there be gaps. There is no place in a composition that is not ruled by a harmonic context. 

Hint: If you want an instrument to play rhythmic chords, you must edit the figure for that instrument accordingly. The progression can not do that. 

Hint: In HN2 LE, you can only render sustained chords. Use these chords to trigger an arpeggiator or step sequencer like Catanya in your DAW to create a rhythmic phrase from the chords. In HN2 Advanced Edition, you can work with phrases in the song editor directly and export a complete multi-track performance to your DAW.

Generated output is dynamic

Background: Users expressed confusion about minor progression edits having a major impact on the final MIDI output of a chords-only progression.

Rendered chords-only notes depend on the sequence of chords in the progression, the instrument's playing ranges and the interpretation settings. You can not rely on the notes to be static and final (which also is why there is no piano roll editor). The output will change as soon as you edit or move at least one chord in the progression, or replace the instrument's sound (which will result in different playing ranges in most cases), or change the interpretation settings.

This video shows how typical pitch affects rendered MIDI:


Concerning the Auto-Chords feature, the built-in voice leading service attempts to make the generated chords flow as smoothly as possible. For example, it avoids minor seconds and sudden pitch leaps where possible. It also tries to arrange the pitches close to the desired typical pitch of the instrument.

Hint: The best way to tweak auto-generated chords with respect to pitch is to change the typical pitch of the instrument. Even minor modifications to the typical pitch can result in a totally different voice leading. You might also need to adjust the typical pitch, in order to suit a particular progression.

One progression has many, many possible MIDI outputs

There is no single way to render a progression to MIDI. Hundreds, if not thousands of different renderings exist for the same progression, depending on the circumstances explained above. The auto-chords feature only covers a subset of them, namely the narrow voicings (pitches closely placed together).

You should always keep in mind that Music Prototyping is all about quickly and easily drafting new compositions. All MIDI output is automatically derived from abstract concepts (progressions, phrases, containers, parameters) that you can change at any time to play around with different ideas comfortably. This powerful flexibility comes at the price of losing a certain amount of control at the note level. That is what you'll do in your DAW after your composition has settled.

Imagine we added a piano roll editor that would allow you to tweak your progression's MIDI output. Everytime you modify the progression, or switch to another instrument, you would loose all your detail work and would have to restart from the beginning.

Hint: If your composition is ready for production, you move it to a DAW and make the final MIDI adjustments there. Until then, it is best to just the details and focus on the big picture while you play around with the overall concept.

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