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MIDI: What can it do for you?

MIDI actually is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It started out as a means to control electronic musical devices automatically, but since then the possibilities have become endless. You can control anything that has an electronic interface to it. Many people have come up with MIDI water fountains (the ones that shoot water 30 feet into the air), light shows, and much much more. On this page we will be mainly looking at what MIDI can do for the organist and musician.

Through computers, one of the most basic things MIDI can do is control electronic keyboards. Most newer keyboards have a plug in that says "MIDI IN" or "MIDI OUT". You simply plug in the In/Out to the appropriate connectors on a cable you can buy for around $15. The cable hooks into the Joystick port on your computer, which is just about always on your soundcard. 99% of all computers have this port (hook up). When you view or open MIDI files, such as in webpages or certain programs, the computer sends signals through your MIDI cable out to your keyboard/synthesizer/MIDI device and gives the device different commands, such as:

  • which instrument sounds to use
  • what time to turn the note on, based on a clock
  • what time to turn the note off, again, based on a clock
  • what velocity the note is played at (some keyboards are velocity sensitive)
  • volume
  • and others

    You can also buy programs for your computer that will be able to edit all of the different commands, and create MIDI files. With software like Cakewalk (which I have), you can play your keyboard and the notes that you play will be recorded onto the MIDI file on your computer.

    MIDI gives each command a number. (Ex.:Volume up could be 65398) Since it records numbers and not the sounds themselves, MIDI are very compact, and are great for using on the Internet or sending over e-mail.

    MIDI can control church organs, too. Since most church electric and pipe organs are already controlled by electricity, they can be adapted to be MIDI compatible and controlled by a computer device. Controlling the instrument by a computer is just the beginning though.

    Since these devices with MIDI send out universal signals (universal for each key, anyway; rhythms, etc. are different), an instrument, such as an organ, can be connected to a sound module to provide a wider array of sounds. On new Rodgers organs all you have to do is plug in the synthesizer to the IN/OUT ports and you can instantly use the sounds from the sound module and place them on a preset. One example of using an external musical device through MIDI is the Sound Canvas Pipe Organ Project, or SCPOP. They also have some nice pipe organ music using their program on the 'Samples of our Stops' page. The people there have created a computer program that helps users of the Roland Sound Canvas (around $400) create sounds that closely resemble that of a pipe organ. Take a look at their page- -they describe that part of MIDI much better than I can.

    There is another type of MIDI, widely used, called General MIDI. All of the sounds on General MIDI keyboards are the same. That means if number 19 is a Pipe Organ on one General MIDI synth, every keyboard or synthesizer with General MIDI will have the Pipe Organ setting under number 19. This is useful because if you just have plain old MIDI, on one keyboard Pipe Organ might be on setting number 14, and on another keyboard, the same setting might be a car horn.
    Example: If you play an organ at Point A, the presets and stop names will not usually be the same as the preset stop combinations and stop name on an organ at Point B. If you have a General MIDI keyboard, and you find a MIDI file that was recorded in General MIDI, (most likely it is) the sounds or settings that the artist wanted to be in the MIDI file will be there.

    Right now I have two MIDI keyboards and a pedal board. I have General MIDI and the GS Sounds (GM/GS) bank on my synthesizer. I use the synth with the SCPOP software, visit my SCPOP page here.

    If you are still confused, or were left confused about MIDI, please e-mail me at, or try searching for MIDI help on the internet.

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