Introduction to MIDI

Introduction to MIDI

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What is MIDI? Check out our introduction to MIDI for beginner producers.

MIDI is a hugely important part of electronic music, and a cornerstone of making and recording music for producers of all levels in home and professional recording studios.

It’s also yet another intimidating-sounding music production acronym for beginner producers. But don’t panic. MIDI is a vast subject, so let’s break it down to the basics, scratch the surface and give you an introduction to MIDI.

What is MIDI?

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. The technology was developed by musical equipment companies in the 1980s with the idea of allowing control over several synthesizers from one keyboard.

MIDI data doesn’t contain sound. It’s information about the actions of a performance – such as what note is played, and when it’s played; how hard the key is pressed; what knobs are turned; if the pressure changes after the key is pressed.

How does MIDI work?

MIDI passes messages between devices. It lets instruments and computers communicate, and instruments communicate with each other.

Binary digits are sent via a MIDI cable between instruments and devices. When a recorded sequence is played back, your computer sends MIDI messages back to the device, which then creates audio.

What is MIDI used for?

MIDI is what you’re playing with when you use an instrument track or software instrument in a sequencer – your DAW. DAWs, by the way, are Digital Audio Workstations – software for recording and creating music, like GarageBand or FL Studio.

A MIDI keyboard makes things simple, with an interface inside it that means you can plug it straight in with USB and get going recording music to your DAW. You can get MIDI controllers like the Ableton Push and MIDI wind controllers like MIDI saxophones.

What can you do with MIDI?

You can manipulate MIDI, easily edit and arrange notes, and duplicate tracks to make an orchestra of sounds in an instant.

Working with MIDI means that you don’t have to stick with what you’ve recorded with your MIDI controller. You don’t have to worry about making mistakes in recording and you don’t have to make decisions beforehand about key, timing and instrumentation, because you can move notes around.

The beauty of MIDI is that you can try out any instrument on the track until you find a sound you like, as it’s not audio you’ve recorded but data. So even though you might have recorded on a keyboard you can turn that sound into a guitar or a harp by simply dragging and dropping digital instruments onto the MIDI track, making the sound change without altering the notes or chords.

You don’t need external hardware to use MIDI – it works within the DAW software. You can input notes one at a time – step-time sequencing – if you don’t play piano or don’t have access to a keyboard or controller. DAWs usually have a piano roll when you can click in notes on a virtual keyboard, and drum sequencers where you can click in notes to make drum patterns.

That’s a simplified explanation of how MIDI applies to most producers making music in their home studios. Hopefully things are now a little clearer. The best way to explore MIDI is to open up your DAW and start playing around in the piano roll.

Eager for music production advice? Check out some more tips here:

How to improve your music production skills

So you’ve mastered MIDI, and also finished mastering your song. Why not release it into the world? With RouteNote distribution you can get your track on Spotify, Apple Music and all the other major streaming services – for free. Find out more here.

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