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MIDI Basics

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a standard developed some years ago to allow music related hardware made by different companies to work together. MIDI gear is typically used to do a few basic things:

A. Send control signals to change settings on music hardware

B. Send signals to place actual music notes

Volume control is a simple example for the first. A MIDI pedal sends control messages over the MIDI cable that another MIDI hardware unit receives, and then changes the output volume based on pedal position.

Keyboard/synthesizer playback is a good example for the second. You press a key on a MIDI keyboard. It sends out a MIDI note message. A rack mounted synthesizer is connected to the keyboard and then plays the note pressed.

MIDI data goes from one unit to another hardware unit over a MIDI cable, which usually has 5 wires inside. MIDI messages usually are channel based. There are 16 MIDI channels, and like walkie-talkies, both ends have to be on the same channel for things to work.

MIDI information is send/received in the form of messages. While there are many types of MIDI messages, three make up much of what is needed:

A. Program change messages

B. Controller messages

C. Note messages

Program change messages are typically used to change the effect/patch combination on a MIDI unit. Simple examples would be the patch on a keyboard (Piano, organ, strings, horn sounds, etc) or effect combinations for a guitar (reverb, distortion, chorus, delay, etc).

Controller messages are used to change the nature of a given patch. The most common example here is volume, which is usually controller message #7 (usually referred to as CC7). There are over a hundred different controller messages defined which might be used by a MIDI unit. Some common controller definitions are shown at:


Note messages are just commands to play a given note, middle C for example on a piano.

One of the most common uses for MIDI is device control. Guitar players quite often use MIDI hardware to control their guitar tone/settings as they play. Program change messages are used to select a patch. Controller messages are used to control the output

volume and vary aspects of a patch (such as Wah-wah, reverb level, distortion on/off, etc).

Many web sites have additional information about MIDI.

?? http://www.midi.com/ ?? http://www.harmony-central.com/MIDI/ ?? http://www.northwestern.edu/musicschool/links/projects/midi/expmidiindex.html