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History Of Midi

History of MIDI

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a code that was developed in the 1980’s and it allows an electronic instrument to be able to communicate with digital musical tools on your DAW (Ghassaei, 2012).

MIDI was first developed to standardize message between music hardware. Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi planned the idea of a standard instrument language to the other major manufacturers, including Oberheim, Dave Smith Instruments and Moog, in 1981 (2012).

MIDI doesn’t make sound itself because it is just a series of messages like note on and note off, and many more messages (2012).

These messages are then taken by a MIDI instrument to produce a sound. A MIDI instrument can be seen in the form of hardware such as an electronic keyboard or synthesizer, it can also be part of a software environment like Ableton or GarageBand. The most common tool used to generate MIDI messages is an electronic keyboard. When you press a key on the keyboard it sends a note on message and when a key is released the keyboard sends another MIDI message and this is a note off message (2012).

There is also another term known as Aftertouch and this can be defined as the force that you use to press down a key after it has been primarily been hit. You can consider this as the pressure sensitivity. Similar to velocity, aftertouch ranges from 0 to 127. Aftertouch may also be interpreted by a MIDI instrument in various way as it may affect the volume, timbre and vibrato. You will need to experiment with your own setup to get a feel for what expression you can achieve with aftertouch.

The greatest mechanism about recording in MIDI is that it is incredibly easy to edit what you have recorded after the fact. You have the capabilities to drag on the beginning and end of a MIDI notes to make then longer or even to shorten the duration of the note. You can also change the feel of the MIDI recorded by changing the MIDI instrument you’re using to play it back.

The establishment of MIDI was huge in its era because it came at a time where musicians wanted to play more than one keyboard at a time and then there was no way on connecting more than one keyboard together electronically. The creation of MIDI was a revolution in the way you could produce music and recording it as well. The first instrument with MIDI capability was a synthesizer called the Prophet-600 – designed by Dave Smith – which rolled off the production line in December 1982 (Gibson, 2012). MIDI evolved as a standard to allow the communication between more compact and affordable synthesizers that were available in the early 1980s, considering that in this era large analogue synthesizers were being used and they were expensive. MIDIs main objective was to allow someone to control multiple synthesizers from a single keyboard and this is how most of the core sounds in popular music was made. Earlier, such connections between instruments were not standardized, so it was a very common thing to experience inconsistencies. The MIDI standard was accomplished in 1983 by a group of musical equipment manufacturers including Korg, Oberheim, Roland, Sequential Circuits, and Yamaha (Gibson, 2012). Products were then manufactured to feature the standard, such as the popular Yamaha DX7, were on the market soon after.

Before long, software for your personal computers could benefit from the MIDI communications protocol. This would then allow users to record, store, and edit music, as well as manage large collections of synthesizer sounds (2012). Decades on and MIDI is still going strong as it remains as one of the core components of professional recording and music production. Many individuals could possibly take MIDI for granted but if you are a digital musician then you can’t live without it. MIDI can be found inside musical instruments, computers, tablets, smart phones, stage lighting, audio mixers, and many other products (Seydel, 2016). With the inevitable advances in computing power making, digital software based instruments sound ever more realistic than ever. This can be heard on the music you hear on TV, in radio adverts and in movies. DJ gear has MIDI incorporated into it, there has been a histrionic rise in unique DJ MIDI controllers and they are being used by DJs all over the world (2016).

MIDI equipment has been in existent for more than 30 years. It was known in the form of a distinctive 5-Pin DIN connector on the back of a keyboard that is used to connect to another keyboard or to a computer. 5-pin DIN connections are still being used for making connections between standalone hardware digital instruments but over the years’ computer technology had developed and advanced so has MIDI. People who own smartphones probably know that there are hundreds of apps that are available for you to make music on the go, without you even needing the external hardware to create the music. MIDI is not just for keyboards as there are other MIDI-equipped musical instruments include digital drums, guitars, wind instruments, and more. With the rise of technology we see new kinds of digital musical instruments and controllers being developed all the time, which all incorporate flawlessly with current instruments and devices because of MIDI.

A simple setup is the most common today where you find keyboards with a USB port that allow for direct connection to a computer, bypassing the MIDI interface. The keyboard in the picture below has both USB and traditional MIDI ports.

Present day software now has the capabilities of performing the sound-making function that were previously available only in external hardware-based synthesizers. This is why you are more likely to just see the keyboard connected to a computer, though the MIDI keyboard alone does not make sound at all. The purpose of the software is simply to prompt and control, via MIDI messages, the sounds made by the computer. The sound-making part of the computer software still links with the sequencing part using the MIDI protocol (Gibson, 2012).

You can of course still find an adequate setups of MIDI that work in the conventional way, where you find the computer just recording and playing MIDI and the sound is then created by an external synthesizer. We see these in live setups and they useful in this sense because you find that they are more reliable and they have a faster response. This is where hardware synthesizers have a distinct improvement. In order for this setup to function you would have to use MIDI cables to connect the synthesizer to a MIDI interface, which you would at that point connect to the computer with the same sort of USB cable that’s is used to connect to a printer. Bearing in mind that MIDI cables are unidirectional, you would need two MIDI cables. USB cables are bidirectional, therefore the sound made by the synthesizer goes to a mixer, which then feeds an amplifier and speakers (Seydel, 2012).

Synthesizers and samplers have a great number of sounds that are accessible to you to use and these are called patches. Seydel (2016) tells us that the patches appear in banks of 128 or fewer, and your computer software selects the patches by number. Types of sounds include pianos, guitars, violins and they are assigned to numbers in a way that is not compatible between different synthesizers. That means that a sequence recorded using one type of synthesizer will not sound remotely the same when played using a different type of synthesizer.

To resolve this problem, the MIDI standard includes specifications to solve this problem. The most important part of this is a standard assignment of instrument types to patch numbers. For example, the violins on two different keyboards will not sound exactly the same, but at least they will sound like violins.

A similar difficulty also affects drum kit patches, when the duty of individual drum sounds to keys on the keyboard is not guaranteed to be compatible between different synthesizers.

The true power of MIDI can be seen in the fact that it allows for you to continue to edit both the sounds and performance without any need to re-perform the part.

If you don’t identify with the piano sound you have selected, you can easily produce a new one. If you change your mind about the chord progression you can also easily edit the MIDI sequence and re-trigger the sound. These are just a couple of the ways MIDI benefits the way you produce.

In fact, you can even take the simplest MIDI loop, expand it and simply edit the sequence to suit your liking in no time. Put simply, MIDI helps to make your performances better and in less time.

MIDI gives you the power to edit your production and it is a great tool to increase your work ethic.

Reference List

The Music Association (2013). Article: Midi 30th anniversary. Retrieved from https://www.midi.org/articles/midi-30th-anniversary-articles-from-around-the-world

The Music Association (2013). Article: Why MIDI Matters. Retrieved from https://www.midi.org/articles/why-midi-matters

Ghassaei, A. (2012). What Is MIDI. Retrieved from http://www.instructables.com/id/What-is-MIDI/

Gibson, J. (2012). Introduction to MIDI and Computer Music. Retrieved from http://www.indiana.edu/~emusic/361/midi.htm

Seydel, R. (2016). What Is MIDI: 11 Things You Need to Know About Music’s Most Powerful Tool. Retrieved from https://blog.landr.com/what-is-midi/