MIDI : Computer Hardware Buyers’ Glossary

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MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is both a way of connecting to digital musical intruments and a way compactly recording music for playback by digital musical istruments or a software sythesiser in a computer.

MIDI came out in 1991. An augmented, upward compatible MIDI-2 came out in 1999. DLS (Down Loadable Sounds) enables sampling, making sounds with a wavetable sound capture rather than mathematicallly. XMF (extensible Music Format) combines MIDI and DLS in one file.

The MIDI stream sent to instruments over the 5-pin DIN (Deutsches Institut für Normung/German Institute for Standardisation) serial connection contains no embedded timing information. The notes are sent the instant they are intended to be played. MIDI files on the other hand need embedded timing information to track when to send the commands.

It allows you to interconnect various MIDI-compatible electronic musical instruments such as keyboard, synthesiser, electronic drum set etc. and to connect them all to your computer. It allows you to play an instrument and have the computer convert your playing to sheet music, or to automatically play electronic MIDI sheet music, much like a player piano. A sound card usually comes with a built-in MIDI compatible synthesiser. It usually is a crummy sounding FM synthesiser, but on higher end sound cards it can be a full wave table synthesiser that can accurately simulate any combination of acoustic instruments. MIDI is very compact way of storing music. You can pick up a whole song off the Internet in a few seconds and start playing it immediately using the Crescendo add-in software to your web browser.



MIDI is a very simple serial interface. It uses only 3 pins of a 5-pin DIN connector. Inexpensive synthesizers are missing the MIDI connector. They use a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port intended to plug into a computer.

MIDI connector MIDI pinouts
male MIDI connector male MIDI pinouts.
1=unused 2=shield 3=unused 4=positive 5=negative
Inexpensive synthesizers are missing the MIDI connector. They use a USB port intended to plug into a computer.
USB2-B mini USB2-A male USB2-A slot
USB2-B connector that
plugs into the
USB2-A connector that
plugs into the
USB2-A slot on the

Trying Out Midi

So long as your browser has a MIDI player installed, just clicking on that link will cause it to play. Try it here:
click to listen Bach click to listen Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring click to listen Maple Leaf Rag click to listen Ain’t Misbehavin
click to listen Ain’t we Got Fun click to listen The living Love catalyst click to listen The Bodyguard click to listen I Can see Clearly Now
click to listen The Impossible Dream click to listen Killing me Softly click to listen Do the Locomotion click to listen Puff The Magic Dragon
click to listen Start Me Up click to listen Take Five click to listen Wind Beneath My Wings click to listen The Pearl Fishers

Advantages and Disadvantage of MIDI

Playing those samples will point out MIDI ’s big disadvantage. It can handle only synthesiser intrumentals, no voice. It can’t do speech or other arbitratry sounds. The big advantage is how quick it is to download compared with the other formats such as MP3. It is much more compact.

If you are a musician, you can modify MIDI files to use different instruments, and feed them into your digital musical instruments. You can also modify the music as you please, to change the tempo or even even the notes and durations.

Basically, MIDI just tells your computer to play middle C for 250 milliseconds sounding as best like a piano or a trumpet as it can. The quality of the sound card hardware and the software synthesiser in the computer playing the MIDI file has a lot to with how lush and realistic the performance sounds. It will sound totally different played on different computers. Only the timing and pitch will match.

There are at least 4 flavours of MIDI : MIDI 0, MIDI 1, RIFF (Resource Interchange File Format) MIDI 0, RIFF MIDI 1.

There are over 60 different downloadable MIDI formats, that are converted to a standard format for timed commands sent to the instruments.

Using MIDI in HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)

To embed a MIDI file on your web page, all you need do is add some HTML like this:
<a href=../sound/bach2.mid>
. You usually want some sort of gif to indicate a playable link. Here is a simple way to embed a MIDI file and have it automatically play:

Using JavaScript, it is also possible to cause a song to start playing automatically as soon as a page is loaded.

Using MIDI in Java 1.1

Java version 1.1 does not officially support MIDI music files, but on some browsers this trick will work:
getAppletContext().showDocument ( new URL ( getCodeBase(), "test.mid" ) );
They would need a Midi player installed. The music must exist in a file accessible via URL (Uniform Resource Locator). You can’t use this trick to play some music you have sitting in a byte array.

MIDI in Java 1.3+

With Java version 1.3, Java supports MIDI in a massive way. javax.media.sound.midi provides interfaces and classes for I/O, sequencing, and synthesis of MIDI. javax.media.sound.midi.spi supplies interfaces for service providers to implement when offering new MIDI devices, MIDI file readers and writers, or sound bank readers.

Creating MIDI files

Normally you use music software to enter a score and arrange it. Hackers might enjoy reading up on the MIDI file spec and creating files programmatically with a hex editor. However Digital Ear : Real-time Audio (.wav ) to MIDI converter ! is a  $130.00 USD is real time utility to convert MIDI to wav format, and astoundingly, wav to MIDI. That utility does much what a human would do listening to music and writing down the equivalent notation. The raw result needs touch up, at least to assign a voice, and requires a monphonic (single voice, no chords or polyphony) source, but it is a way of extracting compact, malleable MIDI from ordinary sound sources. If you use your own voice as input, it can correct pitch but preserve vibrato.
electronic product image recommend electronic⇒Cakewalk Sonar X1 Studioto electronic home
asin B004BDB394
Cakewalk’s midi composition, recording and editing software.
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book cover recommend book⇒Making Music with SONAR Home Studioto book home
by Craig Anderton 978-1-59863-973-5 paperback
publisher Course Technology 978-1-4354-5571-9 eBook
published 2010-03-10 978-1-4354-5571-9 WebBook
  B0044KLPRO kindle
Highly reviewed.
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Cakewalk: MIDI-based music composition
Comparison of the four flavours of Cakewalk Sonar
How to Generate MIDI files
Intelliscore: MP3 to MIDI
JFugue documenation on Java MIDI soundbanks
JMF: streaming audio
MIDI Converter: shareware audio suite
MIDI Standards in Book Form
MIDIRenderer: convert MIDI) or WAV
Piston MIDI to MP3 converter
Rhythm Tutor Student Project
Scala: lets you experiment musical tunings, eg. historical temperaments and non-Western scales
Simple overview of how MIDI works
Timidity: convert MIDI to MP3
Widisoft: Convert MP3 to MIDI

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