What is a midi file and how to use it?

MIDI is an abbreviation for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It was invented in the 1980s and is a protocol that allows computers and electronic musical instruments to communicate with each other. When you press a key on your music keyboard, you generate MIDI messages that tell which key was pressed, how much pressure was used for it, etc. All these messages are sent to your computer and recorded as a MIDI file. Programs suitable for working with midi files are often capable of translating a midi file into notes and notes into midi files.

Example: Recording your music keyboard performance to computer and editing the data. Edited data can be played back on the keyboard again. See picture below.

A USB cable has much higher bandwidth than a MIDI cable, which means a single USB cable can support 16 virtual MIDI ports. Many modern MIDI keyboards and controllers now come with a USB-MIDI port as well as traditional MIDI ports. This means that you can now plug your MIDI device directly into your computer with a USB Cable without requiring an interface at all. For many situations, all you need is an inexpensive MIDI controller keyboard (without internal sounds), with a USB connection to the computer.

Buy a keyboard first

Even if you can’t play the piano, we recommend that you buy a music keyboard with midi connection (input output). Why? Because once you’ve got one, your computer setup instantly becomes more musical. With a midi keyboard things instantly start to get more enjoyable.

Midi Channels

MIDI channels are a bit like channels on your TV set. A channel is a separate path over which midi messages travel to their destination. There are 16 channels per MIDI device and each channel plays different instrument and each channel has its independent volume, panning, and other settings.

General MIDI Patches Or Sounds

0   Acoustic Grand32   Acoustic Bass64   Soprano Sax96   FX 1 (rain)
1   Bright Acoustic33   Electric Bass(finger)  65   Alto Sax97   FX 2 (soundtrack)
2   Electric Grand34   Electric Bass(pick)66   Tenor Sax98   FX 3 (crystal)
3   Honky-Tonk35   Fretless Bass67   Baritone Sax99   FX 4 (atmosphere)
4   Electric Piano 136   Slap Bass 168   Oboe100   FX 5 (brightness)
5   Electric Piano 237   Slap Bass 269   English Horn101   FX 6 (goblins)
6   Harpsichord38   Synth Bass 170   Bassoon102   FX 7 (echoes)
7   Clav39   Synth Bass 271   Clarinet103   FX 8 (sci-fi)
8   Celesta40   Violin72   Piccolo104   Sitar
9   Glockenspiel41   Viola73   Flute105   Banjo
10   Music Box42   Cello74   Recorder106   Shamisen
11   Vibraphone43   Contrabass75   Pan Flute107   Koto
12   Marimba44   Tremolo Strings76   Blown Bottle108   Kalimba
13   Xylophone45   Pizzicato Strings77   Shakuhachi109   Bagpipe
14   Tubular Bells46   Orchestral Harp78   Whistle110   Fiddle
15   Dulcimer47   Timpani79   Ocarina111   Shanai
16   Drawbar Organ48   String Ensemble 180   Lead 1 (square)112   Tinkle Bell
17   Percussive Organ49   String Ensemble 281   Lead 2 (sawtooth)113   Agogo
18   Rock Organ50   SynthStrings 182   Lead 3 (calliope)114   Steel Drums
19   Church Organ51   SynthStrings 283   Lead 4 (chiff)115   Woodblock
20   Reed Organ52   Choir Aahs84   Lead 5 (charang)116   Taiko Drum
21   Accordion53   Voice Oohs85   Lead 6 (voice)117   Melodic Tom
22   Harmonica54   Synth Voice86   Lead 7 (fifths)118   Synth Drum
23   Tango Accordion55   Orchestra Hit87   Lead 8 (bass+lead)  119   Reverse Cymbal
24   Acoustic Guitar(nylon)  56   Trumpet88   Pad 1 (new age)120   Guitar Fret Noise
25   Acoustic Guitar(steel)57   Trombone89   Pad 2 (warm)121   Breath Noise
26   Electric Guitar(jazz)58   Tuba90   Pad 3 (polysynth)122   Seashore
27   Electric Guitar(clean)59   Muted Trumpet91   Pad 4 (choir)123   Bird Tweet
28   Electric Guitar(muted)60   French Horn92   Pad 5 (bowed)124   Telephone Ring
29   Overdriven Guitar61   Brass Section93   Pad 6 (metallic)125   Helicopter
30   Distortion Guitar62   SynthBrass 194   Pad 7 (halo)126   Applause
31   Guitar Harmonics63   SynthBrass 295   Pad 8 (sweep)127   Gunshot
MIDI Patches Or Sounds Table

General MIDI (GM)

Standard MIDI Files “SMF” or *.mid files are a popular source of music for the musicians performing live who need a little extra accompaniment. The files contain all the MIDI instructions for notes, volumes and sounds etc. The files are loaded into music keyboard and the final sound is then produced by amplifier that is connected with the keyboard. One reason for the popularity of MIDI files is that, unlike digital audio files (.wav, mp3 etc.) a MIDI file does not store actual sounds. Instead, the MIDI file is just a list of events which describe the specific steps that a soundcard or music keyboard must take to generate certain sounds. MIDI files are very much smaller than digital audio files, and the events are also editable, allowing the music to be rearranged, edited and composed interactively, if desired.  A specific MIDI file can depend on how well it was created, and how accurately your keyboard synthesizer plays the file. Sometimes different synthesizers produce different voice.

A standard was set for 128 patches or sounds which must appear in a specific order, and this standard is called General MIDI (GM). In General MIDI, program sound 1 gives you an “Acoustic Grand Piano” sound on any General MIDI synthesizer.  In the same way in General MIDI, program sound 127 gives you a “Gunshot” sound.

In the beginning, there were not very many tones on a keyboard; you might be lucky to buy a keyboard with 5 – 20 tones. GM (general midi) keyboards came first. In a GM midi 128 melodic tones and a single drum kit were not enough to contain all the different instrument sounds and types of drum sounds in a music keyboard synthesizer. So the manufacturers began looking into ways to extend the GM standard. In particular, Yamaha created an extension of GM that they called XG, and Roland created an extension of their own that they called GS. Obviously, for the compatibility, it is best to have a keyboard that can reliably play back all GM, XG and GS standards midi files.

Standard MIDI Files (SMF)

Standard MIDI Files allow musicians with completely different types of computers or sequencers to exchange MIDI sequences. There are two types of standard midi file formats:

Midi format 0 and Midi format 1

On a midi format 0 all MIDI channels are combined into one track and in midi format 1 each track is kept separate.

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