MIDI—What the heck is it?

 

    Why do you need to know about MIDI? With today’s modern recording equipment, why shouldn’t  we just record the audio from keyboards and other MIDI instruments and not have to worry about another set of cables to set up and so on. The reason is that midi can allow you the maximum amount of flexibility with the minimum amount of hard drive space.

       Exactly what is MIDI? The acronym stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and was developed by Dave Smith in the early 1980’s.For those of you interested, Dave Smith was the owner of Sequential Circuits and also developed the Prophet synthesizer which was the first synthesizer to use a microprocessor. As far as what MIDI is, it is a protocol for storing and playing back what note the instrument played, how long the note was played and how quickly the note was played (this determines how loudly to play the note). It sounds simple and it is but given just that information, you can reproduce a performance exactly.

       So it takes up less space on my hard drive and can reproduce a performance. Where does the flexibility come into play? Because the information is editable, you can delete or change a note that wasn’t played exactly perfectly, change the instrument you used to play it with, change the tempo and meter of the whole piece, etc. Features included in most midi sequencing programs include quantizing—adjusts the timing, and duration of notes so that they fit more closely to the beat of the music, groove quantizing—adjusts the notes played so that they conform to a predetermined groove pattern., and transposition. Some even include MIDI effects like delay, compression, humanizing, and so on.

       Many audio recording and sequencing packages include software synthesizers that allow you to use the CPU of your computer to play back midi sequences. Third party synthesizers and sample playback programs are also available and can product extremely convincing facsimiles of acoustic and electronic instruments. It is possible to just have a keyboard that only produces midi data hooked up to your computer and play the most expensive piano in the world for only a few hundred dollars. The one drawback of midi is that the quality of sound produced is always going to be dependent on the quality of the instrument (hardware or software) playing back the midi information. In this case, you could record an absolutely flawless performance and if the keyboard, software synthesizer or sample player doesn’t have a quality sound, you’re definitely going to be disappointed.

       This article is intended to be an introduction to MIDI. In the coming months, we’ll explore how midi instruments work together, exactly how keyboards, synthesizers, and sample players produce sounds, and how to get the most bang for your buck when purchasing MIDI gear and software.

 

      

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