What Is MIDI?

First of all, MIDI files are NOT audio files that you can pop into your CD player and hit the play button.  You do need a bit more equipment than that for the MIDI files.  

If you are interested in the MP3 files, you can simply download them, import them into iTunes or similar software and make CD’s from there.  Or, simply email them to your students and they will (trust me) be able to put them right on their music player of choice.  MIDI requires different equipment and software, but has many really great advantages over a recording.

So, what is MIDI?  

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a music industry standard language that lets MIDI instruments (digital keyboards) and sequencers (computer programs) talk to each other to play and record music.  Let’s explain this with an analogy: Your computer can send messages to a printer about how you want a page to look.  The printer then converts this information to the actual “ink” on paper.  With MIDI, the synthesizer works much like a “musical printer”:  the computer sends information to it, specifying which notes to play, when, and for how long.  MIDI Lieder has done the work of inputing the information (all the notes, rhythms, tempos, etc.) into the computer and stored it in the MIDI file (called a sequence).  When you play back the MIDI file you will have the freedom to play it back in many different ways that are beneficial to you as a music teacher (as listed at the bottom of the Home page).  So let’s talk about the equipment that you need to use midi files.  

What equipment do I need?

In many cases, a computer is all you need.  You may already have the software you need.  If you have Finale or Sibelius, they will do the job, even though their main purpose for existence is to write music.  I know of several teachers who use these programs to run midi files.  I have found that Finale is really easy to assign midi instruments to each track, but is difficult to adjust the tempo.  Sibelius is exactly the opposite.  If you have a Mac with Garage Band, you’re good to go.  Just make sure your speakers are powerful enough to use in a rehearsal situation.  If you don’t have Finale or Sibelius, there are other (and much less expensive) midi “sequencer” or midi “player” software choices that I’ll tell you about on the next page (MIDI Programs/Equipment).  

Another popular set-up is to have a computer running a midi sequencer/player, and outputting the midi signal through a USB/MIDI cable to a synthesizer, and then out to speakers.  The computer sequencer will allow you to quickly locating start points (measure numbers), select what “instrument” the synthesizer will play for each track, which tracks to play (use mute or solo buttons), and how fast or slow to play, among many other handy things. You can then also augment the rehearsal by playing along as needed on the synth yourself.

I use an iPad and an app called “Sweet Midi Player” in rehearsals all the time. The app can download a midi file from my Dropbox account and be ready to use in less than a minute. I connect the iPad to my synth with an adaptor and USB cable. I can control the volume of each track and access any measure in a song very easily. I can also go without the synth and just connect to a stereo system or Bluetooth speaker.

If you have a digital keyboard with a built-in “sequencer”, you probably don’t need anything else.  If this is you, be sure to read the bit about “Synthesizer Sequencers” on the General Information page.


© Michael Blair 2017