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What is MIDI

In a nutshell, MIDI (Musical Information Digital Interface) is a standard method of communicating between musical instruments and musical control devices through a digital connection. Now, sometimes the instrument or controller is actually a computer! If you have a sound card or integrated sound, then when you play MIDI sequences (such as the background music on some web pages), your computer itself is acting as a musical instrument. A sound card is an add-on to your PC's motherboard, whereas integrated sound is built into it already. If you're curious as to which you have, you can always (carefully) open up your system unit and take a look. Either way is fine -- you get a microphone, line-in, and speaker connections (1/8-inch ports) and, on older sound cards, a MIDI/joystick port. Generally speaking, however, sound cards provide superior sound reproduction than integrated.

Most sounds cards can also be connected to a more traditional instrument (most often a keyboard such as Roland, Kurzweil, Yamaha, Casio, etc) and send and receive MIDI data. For example, I can play music on a musical keyboard, and all the data about what and how I am playing (notes, sustain pedal, etc) can be sent to my computer and captured as MIDI data. Connecting from the instrument to the computer requires a MIDI interface cable that connects to either (1) a MIDI/joystick port, or (2) via a USB port. In newer computers, the second method is probably your only choice. Shop around; prices vary. At the minimum, you want one that provides one MIDI-IN and one MIDI-out. Some of them combine the interface cable with the 5-pin DIN style MIDI cables that connect to the IN/OUT of your instrument. Others require that you separately purchase the MIDI cables. See below for the brand I use.

I can edit this on my computer using sequencing software (which in my case actually shows the notes on the screen as they are coming in), and then send the data back to the keyboard (as initially played or as edited) for it to play back (like a player-piano). This alone enables you to use MIDI with a computer as a "tapeless recording studio".

As you learn to create MIDI sequences with multiple tracks (piano, strings, percussion, bass, etc), you can develop full arrangements which can be put on the web, used as background tracks to take into a regular recording studio, etc. The possibilities are mind-boggling! But even if you're just a songwriter looking for an easier way to create lead sheets, you will find MIDI to be a great time-saver.

MIDI Projects

Hear some of my MIDI sequences at
Larry's Songs of Praise and Worship. One of the projects is a complete children's musical (entitled "God Cares For You") in which the entire intrumental background was prepared as MIDI sequences (with every note clicked into the sequencing software, by the way). You'll find musical scores prepared with MakeMusic's Finale® and screen-captured to provide .gif files for web display. There are also many collaborative songs that have been sequenced with PGMusic's Band-In-A-Box by my friends, Elton Smith and Steve Israel. MakeMusic also has less expensive alternatives for music notation, including the free version of Finale Notepad® (which is also able to open files prepared with the full version of Finale®).

My MIDI Setup

System:Windows XP Home on Pentium IV
Sound cardSoundBlaster Live 24-bit
MIDI SoftwareMidisoft sequencing software
PGMusic PowerTracks Pro Audio (multitracking, midi and audio)
MakeMusic Finale® 2006

SoundBlaster and Multi-Tracking: I have found that multitracking on a SoundBlaster requires recording at 48,000 instead of 44,100, or else simultaneous recording and playback go out of sync (noticeable about 40 seconds into a track). When ready to burn to CD, it is then necessary to convert the finished project to 44,100. I did not have this problem with my prior PC, which used a Turtle Beach sound card; it appears to be unique to SoundBlaster, and I had to search around to finally determine the workaround.

MIDI Cables: I got a pair of high-quality 15-foot cables, since the 3 or 4-foot ones that sometimes come bundled with other stuff are really too short when you want to connect an instrument to your PC. Here's the brand:

Horizon Performers MIDI Cable
Horizon Music, Inc.
230 N. Spring
Cape Girardeau, MO 63701

Some Useful MIDI Links

MIDI Manufacturers Association: a lot of helpful info, particularly about how copyright is handled for MIDI, including how to go about registering copyrights of your sequences with the Copyright Office.

The Classical Music Archives: absolutely huge collection of classical MIDI sequences, plus some MP3 as well. Even if you are not generally a classical music nut, you owe it to yourself to visit and be amazed at the sheer volume of material found here. Free registration allows up to 5 free downloads per day. Maybe find the Hallelujia Chorus of Handel's Messiah and crank it up.

Thanks for stopping by!


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