The whole subject of what is MIDI can be very confusing when you are setting up your first home recording studio. Here are 11 really common questions we get asked.
- What is the difference between MIDI and Audio recording?
- What does MIDI stand for? Where did it come from?
- What does MIDI actually do?
- What are MIDI notes, events and MIDI channels? And what is MIDI thru?
- What is a MIDI sequencer?
- My MIDI keyboard doesn’t make a sound … so how does it work?
- How can I connect my digital piano to my computer and use it as a MIDI controller?
- My keyboard is connected, now what can I do with it?
- What is a MIDI file?
- I play a guitar can I use MIDI? What other instruments can you use?
- My MIDI keyboard doesn’t seem to be working how can I test it?
Sound familiar? Hopefully we can answer all these questions for you. And get to the bottom of just what is MIDI. Then you can get on with playing, recording and making the most of your home recording studio. But let’s start with a video …
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1. What IS MIDI vs Audio recording? What is the difference?
In short, MIDI does NOT transmit an actual audio signal. It is not the sound of anything. MIDI is just a string of data. It’s a set of instructions that machines use to speak with eachother. And as you saw in the above video, this means you can manipulate the data in all kinds of ways.
2. MIDI – A brief definition
MIDI was first developed in the early 80s to standardise communication between music hardware. The reason it has survived so long is because it was adopted by every major manufacturer. They worked together to create, modify and perfect MIDI. So MIDI has been around a long time. It has its limitations due to how long it has been going. But, it is a universal language.
3. What does MIDI actually do?
- record an entire sequence in a DAW (as shown in the video above) which can then be edited and tidied up
- use one controller to play another MIDI-enabled instrument, or any virtual instrument. The controller does not necessarily have to be a keyboard. There are many control surfaces, breath controllers, you can even get your guitar to transmit MIDI information.
- program drum tracks, or set up drum machines
- MIDI can even be used to control other devices, for example effects boxes. This makes real time control of effects possible. You can also control lighting at live events and co-ordinate music with graphics.
4. What are MIDI notes, events and channels? And what is MIDI thru?
Other channel messages include aftertouch, and control change messages such as pitch bend, and program change, sustain pedal and expression.
What you are seeing in the piano roll view in a sequencer is a graphical representation of all these messages. The graphical view makes it easy for you to edit all the data after. So you can correct mistakes (like wrong notes).
So all these messages are the heart of what MIDI is. And every MIDI-enable instrument understands these messages, because they are standardised. It’s actually a beautifully simple system.
MIDI THRU duplicates the data coming to the MIDI IN port. This allows you to connect multiple devices without needing multiple ports on your sequencer or MIDI interface.
MIDI THRU allows you to connect all your gear together with one central sequencer. This is called “Daisy Chaining.”
5. What is a MIDI Sequencer?
In addition to the traditional graphical MIDI sequencers, notation software is also something that has been enabled by MIDI. All the MIDI note-on and note-off messages can be displayed as a traditional score.
Nowadays, you generally expect software to be able to combine MIDI sequences with Audio. So this is the full-featured Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW). And most DAWs also have a notation view as well. Through your DAW you have access to numerous ‘virtual instruments’. These are software instruments and samples that can be ‘played’ via your MIDI information. So from a humble computer you can make absolutely any sound, and “play” any instrument you want!
6. My MIDI keyboard doesn’t make a sound … so how does it work?
The principle of being able to play virtual instruments is governed by another industry-standard protocol. That of the VST (or Virtual Studio Technology). This is what makes MIDI so cool. And so flexible.
7. How can I connect my digital piano to my computer and use it as a MIDI controller?
Every keyboard is slightly different, but there will be a section in the manual to explain how to connect your keyboard. Or, read this post, where the process of making a MIDI connection is explained in more detail.
Some keyboards do not have USB, but instead have standard MIDI ports. All you need in this instance is a MIDI-USB interface and you can achieve the same thing.
8. My keyboard is connected, now what can I do with it?
You can play one hand at a time, and put the two tracks together. If you play by ear, you can play to your heart’s content, and then share your playing as a notate score with other people. even if you can’t read music very well (if at all).
And there is so much clever software that can do all kinds of things for you. As an example, take Band In A Box, which can interpret the chords from your playing, and generate accompaniments.
Finally, you can create as many tracks as you like, and gradually build up a complete song. Record all the tracks then sing along on top. Refer to our post on music making software for examples of easy-to-use software that will enable you to do just that.
These are just a few examples … once you have a MIDI controller (or your keyboard) connected then there are no limits to your musical possibilities.
9. What is a MIDI file?
10. I play a guitar can I use MIDI? What other instruments can you use?
11. My MIDI keyboard doesn’t seem to be working how can I test it?
MIDI Magic …
And this is the great thing about MIDI. It is a universal protocol which is brand independent. The benefits of being able to link all kinds of different equipment together, and share the results in MIDI files which will play back on any MIDI device cannot be underestimated. The amazing range of educational packages now available is a direct result of the MIDI protocol, and the far-sighted group of manufacturers who developed it way way back in time.
Want More Detail on MIDI?
You can also find hundreds of books on MIDI at Amazon. Everything from basic guides to advanced MIDI programming.
Common MIDI Questions Answered
And as mentioned before, if you are a guitarist then it is possible to use your guitar as a MIDI controller. So with MIDI extend your guitar playing into a new direction.
Learn More … With These Best-Selling Guides to Music, MIDI and Home Studio Production
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Last updated on 2019-11-11 / Affiliate links / Images via Amazon Product Advertising API