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An Introduction to MIDI

Take notes please:


The creation of MIDI, the Musical Instrument Digital Interface,  was probably the most profound advancement in electronic music of all time.  I remember vividly the first time it was possible to play a keyboard and have the music automatically turn into written sheet music notation on my computer.  It was a miracle.  For years, we composed all by hand.  MIDI made is possible to hear our work instantly and have access to a wide range of sounds and timbres. 


To Start:  Let me tell you what MIDI is NOT.  People assume that MIDI is some type of sound, or audio that travels through MIDI cables, but it is not.  It is a type of programming language that allows electronic musical instruments and computers to send instructions to each other.  


Why is MIDI Important?


  • You can play on one instrument and control several others at the same time

  • You can layer sounds on top of one another

  • You can capture the MIDI data and use it to program music on a computer.  

  • It is very easy to modify MIDI information to fix timing, wrong pitches, etc.

  • GENERAL MIDI was created so that all synthesizers would use the same data numbers for the same types of sounds, allowing you to play back recorded MIDI files on any machine.


What MIDI will do:


When one MIDI device communicates with another, a set of instructions is sent telling the other device what to do.  Kind of like my wife.  When you press a note on a keyboard controller it will send information to another device via a MIDI cable.  The device will recognize how hard the key was struck (Velocity) , how long it was held, and when it was released.  




Taking notes?





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file to mixed in key to rekordbox trimmed

file to mixed in key to rekordbox trimmed

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History of MIDI

History of MIDI

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General MIDI

General MIDI

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MIDI Editing pt.1

MIDI Editing pt.1

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Any device that controls another is refeered to as a MIDI CONTROLLER.  There are a wide range of MIDI controller and control surfaces availalbe for musicians to use.


Keyboard controllers come in all sizes made by many manufacturers.

I personally prefer a controller that has built in faders and knobs that I can program to alter FX and levels.


A steel-stringed guitar with a MIDI pickup can produce a wide variety of new sounds, expanding the tonal palatte of the performer.

Wind Controller

There are many other types of controllers available.  The wind controller is a great tool for the saxophonist, clarinetist, or flutist.   

Electronic drum sets offer a natural playing experience and can give the drummer a huge set of sounds to use.  Drum controller can be great practice tools as well.  Drum controllers do come in different configurations as well.  Pictured above is the Trapkat.  Mallet instruments can also serve as controllers too.

Can you find other types of controllers?

Remember, research deeper.  I am just providing you with a path.


When using a controller with a computer, musicians will often record their MIDI output into a MIDI Sequencer.  All the performance data is captured into a track.  Musicians can input MIDI information in a variety of ways.


  • Play the controller

  • Use a "Pencil" tool to draw in the MIDI information

  • Program note by note by Step Sequencing  


Once the data has been entered into the computer sequencer, it can be manipulated and edited.  The sound that is created by the data is determined by whatever "Virtual Synthesizer" you assign it to.    Remember the MIDI data does not contain sound, you choose the sound before or after the MIDI data has been recorded.


You can view the MIDI events in a variety of ways:





Find these in Logic?  

The MIDI File


Each song's MIDI data is stored as a file known as a MIDI file!           file.mid


A format was created that would allow MIDI files to be shared easily between devices.  The format is known as the STANDARD MIDI FILE or SMF format.  While the MIDI file format contains a great deal of information, it may not contain all the performance data one would like. Regardless, it has served to allow all devices to understand the format and replicate the music data.  It is important to note that there are two types of SMF files.


  • TYPE 0 - One track that holds recorded performances for up to 16 sounds

  • Type 1-  Multiple tracks, each with its' own sound.


Type 1 will be the most useful for your purposes. 


MIDI is a type of binary code represented in 8 bit messages and is transmitted over a total of 16 possible channels.




In order for the MIDI file to trigger the correct sound, it was important that a universal numbering system for MIDI sounds be created.

General MIDI devices contain the same set of 128 standeard sounds and drum kits sounds, stored in a specific order.  Each device may sound slightly better or worse, but the goal was to have them all sound similar engou when playing back General MIDI data.


If you click the link below, you will hear an unedited MIDI file.  You should notice the raw nature of the file.

I did a quick Google search, downloaded the MIDI file and opened it in Logic.












Why would I want to use a MIDI file?


  • When in the Logic software, using MIDI allows you to program music for the amazing virtual synths.  You will use them by default when programming music for your synths.

  • MIDI files that you download can be handy if you like a particular melody or riff.  Put the file into your sequencer then make it sound good.

  • The quality of digital sampling is getting so great that many composers write soundtracks using only MIDI.  



We will explore more about MIDI files soon


There is a great deal more that can be learned about MIDI.  If you are on schedule and have the time now, consider researching a bit more on this topic. See the list below.


Additional Research Topics:


  • MIDI Cables and Connections

  • MIDI Channels

  • MIDI Ports In, Out, Thru

  • MIDI Messages

  • Program Change

  • Control Change

  • Banks


What I have shared thus far, should get you going using Logic MIDI files and synths.  In the next assignment I will outline MIDI and its use inside LOGIC






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