Introduction to MIDI
“What MIDI did is it allowed the first home studios to be born”
- Dave Smith
Maybe it goes without saying, but electronic musicians’ lives would be radically different without MIDI. Alongside synthesizers and digital audio, MIDI is the technology that has had the greatest impact on how we create electronic music. Its influence on the instruments we play and the software and peripherals we use can’t be overstated.
It’s 36 years since the development of technology that allowed synthesizers and drum machines to be connected to computers — and since then MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) has revolutionized the world of music recording.
Since then, it has given us sophisticated, affordable tools essential to modern music production and performance. MIDI makes software possible that every component in an integrated system can understand on its own level. It is the bridge between musical instruments and computers.
“The computers were fast enough to be able to sequence notes, control the number of keyboards and drum machines at the same time… it kind of opened up a whole new industry.”
- Dave Smith
These are exciting times in the world of MIDI. Its influence on music, creativity and commerce is greater than ever. We have more opportunity than ever to be an active part of that growth.
Whether you are a musician who uses a DAW during their live performances or a producer inclined towards programming music using virtual instruments, a crucial piece of equipment that you need to make your workflow as efficient and smooth as possible is your MIDI controller. A MIDI controller is basically a device that is used to control the DAW that you’re running on your computer.
Today, an iPhone with a dedicated app can be used as such a controller.
Nowadays, a large majority of the music that you hear is programmed and the significance of the MIDI controller is indispensable. With new technology and elaborate, yet intuitive controls, you can now produce music that sounds like it was made in an expensive studio, while seated in the comfort of your living room. MIDI controllers make good quality production available to both enthusiasts and professionals unrestricted by their financial limitations.
Three decades on, and MIDI is still going strong — remaining one of the core components of professional recording and music production.
A MIDI signal contains a ton of information about its sounds, but the most important parameters it defines are:
- The pitch of each sound, or how high or low we perceive it
- The duration of each note, or how long it lasts before the note is released
- The velocity, or the volume of each sound
The higher the velocity of a sound, the louder it seems. If you have access to a piano keyboard, strike one of the keys slowly, then strike the same key fast. What happens?
A MIDI signal can provide information about multiple ‘instruments’, each with their own pitch, rhythm and velocity. These instruments are referred to as channels. Generally one MIDI connection has enough capacity for up to 16 individual channels.
Sequencers play back MIDI data using sound banks, which are libraries of synthetic sounds. Some of these sounds are designed to mimic instruments of an orchestra, while others are modeled after electronic instruments. Some sound banks even feature sound effects like cats meowing, dogs barking and natural sounds like thunderclaps. Devices called samplers can record sounds, then map them to a MIDI instrument. Those sounds can then be played back on a sequencer.
Unlike samplers, synthesizers do not work on samples. They “create” sounds, but they can also be played by the sequencer.
For live performances, in addition to the MIDI keyboard, you can also use MIDI pedals. You can control MIDI music in a surprisingly simple way and without using your hands.
This is an introduction, the history of MIDI.
The next step is to learn more about the theoretical basics of MIDI, because armed with this knowledge you will know how to combine all instruments together.
At this point, we will discuss how it works, various tricks, novelties, and everyday use.
It’s all amazing.