Recommend an introduction to MIDI (music interface)

Hi all.

My Dad is a reasonably talented musician but pretty clueless about technology. He has recently asked me to help him out with the “whole MIDI thing”. Unfortunately I’m fairly cool with most modern consumer technology but have never played around with MIDI beyond using a MIDI sequencer and keyboard about 20 years ago in high school.

I’d like to be able to help him out but it’s a case of the blind leading the blind. To add complication, he lives in England so popping around to his place and working my way through what he’s trying to do is not an option. I’m not even exactly sure what he’s trying to do as the last time I talked to him it was over an appalling phone line and I couldn’t understand half of what he was saying.

I thought about buying him a Dummies Guide to MIDI book, if one exists, but then thought that type of information is probably on the internet somewhere.

So, with that background in mind, can anyone recommend a good basic introduction to MIDI that doesn’t assume previous knowledge beyond knowing how to plug a digital piano into a wall? If he can read up a bit before hand then I might be able to help out with any specific problems he comes across. I had a quick read through the Wikipedia page but it is too dry.

Thanks in advance.

What exactly does he want to use midi for? Composing? Recording? Synths? Playback?

I have a MIDI controller that plugs into my computer via USB. When I used to have a Mac, I used it in GarageBand. Then I started writing music in Finale with it.

I’ve got a pretty good handle on MIDI, but it is all gleaned from multiple sources and practical experience. The Wikipedia entry on MIDI gives a good technical overview, but anything more specific depends on the tools/instruments/equipment that he is using/planning to use and his goals.

I’m in the UK and happy to answer questions - PM me for an email address if you think it would help.


I don’t know exactly what he wants to do, I’m not even sure if he knows. I don’t get very many opportunities to talk directly to him due to work commitments and the time difference. I’ll try and get some more specific information out of him.

I looked at the wiki entry but it’s too technical and dry, I’m after a very straight forward introduction to MIDI that he can read through. Then we can work on details together.

Edit: I realise that MIDI is just a set of interface rules and that we can’t really get anywhere without finding out what he’s trying to do.

Edit2: He seems to think I know all about this type of thing because I’ve done a bit of personal music recording, but all of my music activities are pretty simple and involve real instruments, amplifiers, microphones, and mixing/recording desks.

I don’t know of any books, but I’d be happy to share everything I know about the subject. That’s not enough to fill a book, but it’s probably enough to get him started. I can speak to him in the way that a 4 year old can speak to another 4 year old.

MIDI is basically machine code that various musical instruments turn into music. Think of it as more akin to sheet music for a computer than, say, a sound recording.

The extent to which you really need to “know” midi depends on your application. If you want to write music, what you really want to do is teach him how to use a sequencer that supports midi files. That’s straying out of my comfort zone, software sequencers for a PC range from programs such as Finale and Sibelius (if he’s making sheet music and doing more classical style music), fruity loops, audacity, sony’s ACID, or GarageBand if you have a Mac. A lot of these programs are free. MIDI lets you create the music on whatever medium is most comfortable–maybe playing it on a keyboard, or actually meticulously drawing out the notes on a staff in my case–and then getting whatever instrument sound you want to play those pitches.

Hopefully someone can pick up from where I’ve started, because I’m certain that it’s painfully lacking! :slight_smile:

If you’re using MIDI on a PC with a DAW (digital audio workstation) such as cubase or Pro Tools, one of the best sources of information would probably be the help menu of whichever DAW you happen to be using. I use Cubase, and you can search for any topic you like within the help menu, it provides detailed instructions for how to use most MIDI functions.

Thanks for the offers to help everyone. I think it’s obvious that I need to get more info out of him. I’ll update when I know more.

I had a proper talk to him this morning. It sounds like he’s got the MIDI sorted. He’s connected his keyboard to a PC and is playing around with some free recording software. Everything is working properly so it looks like he doesn’t need my help for the time being. He wants to get some nicer sounds for whatever program he’s using and he wants to do multi-track stuff but I’m capable of helping with that side of things. Thanks all for your responses.

Wouldn’t mind figuring that out myself!

Generally involves $$$ I think, or unscrupulous Internet use.

I’m all about a combination of the two! :smiley:

For a free start, try the SFZ vsti (a free soundfont Virtual instrument) and a really good General Midi Soundfont (one that contains all 128 instruments of the GM specification). I like FluidR3, which is about 150 Mb with nice drum banks.

There are some good Piano SoundFonts as well.

I also have WusikStation, a sampler VST that has a really nice set of Piano sounds - not free, but a pretty good price.