"What Does MIDI Do?"

Hi all! I'm VERY new to MIDI and am trying to understand it all: I downloaded about 30 files and read a lot last night... needless to say, I was fascinated. It sounds like something to try.

Some questions first though. Does MIDI only work as a computer imput to computers from keyboards and drum machines? What does the computer/ MIDI board allow you to do with that input, and how or what do you output it to?

I've always considered taking lessons on the piano/keyboard to get into electronic music and learn more about music writing, production, etc and now it has even greater appeal (plus such great "toys").

MIDI started as a way for keyboards (mostly) to talk to each other. I could have two DX-7's (for instance) hooked together, and when I pressed a key down on one, both would respond. It's essentially a way of passing messages like "Middle C is down....now it's up again" from keyboard to keyboard.

Once it caught on, it was clear that not all keyboards had to have keyboards, if you know what I mean. I could get a TX-7 (a DX-7 with no keyboard) and us the keyboard on the DX-7 to drive both the DX and the TX.

Once *that* caught on, the next step was to realize that you could use a computer to "fake a keyboard" - a computer could send MIDI messages to sound modules pretending to be a keyboard - messages like "my Middle C is down..." - even if it didn't have a middle C. Moreover, a computer could play several instruments simultaneously, not being limited to ten fingers.

I encourage you to take lessons - besides the fun in making music, once you start making music on your own, you'll find that listening to other people's music is more fun as well.

I thought of another question(s). BTW, you straightened me out a bit, but I'm pretty new to this and I'll probably bug you some more till I get into the groove a bit more (hope you don't mind too much).

Now, for MIDI is there a "better" as in more cost-effective computer for such a use? I have access to my parents Zenith 286/12 while home on breaks or the occasional visit, but I have a feeling that when I get more involved in this, after getting a keyboard first (and, of course, learning to play BEFORE I buy a keyboard) I'll invest in a computer. I'm quite well versed with MS-DOS and Mac machines, but mostly in Destop Publishing, Games, Telecomm, etc etc. I'm not sure if there are any limitations of any particular machine.

There is no reason why a 286/12 can't be used as a MIDI Computer. You say that you are comfortable with both MS-DOS and Mac computers; either will work fine in terms of MIDI. There is also a lot of non-MIDI software available for both machines, which may be important if you are making an investment of that size. I wouldn't say one is "better" than another. MS-DOS machines are certainly less expensive (competition driving the price down) but you don't get the slick Mac interface. (FWIW, I have an IBM clone myself)

MIDI works in more ways than simply as a computer input from keyboards and drum machines. MIDI signals can be sent from keyboard to keyboard, keyboard to computer, computer to keyboard, etc. Any MIDI device can send MIDI data to any other MIDI device. It depends on what you're using MIDI for.

The computer MIDI interface simply adds MIDI capability to your computer (no computer--except the Atari ST--comes standard with MIDI ports). Once you have a MIDI interface in your computer, MIDI software will know how to handle data going in and out of the interface.

For example, the computer (running the proper software) can accept MIDI data sent by a keyboard as it is played, and store it in memory. Then, that data can be sent back to the keyboard, duplicating the original performance. This is a simple, but common, MIDI application. And it's only the start.

Are you with me so far, and if so, where would you like to go from here?

Well, this may sound silly, but it is quite confusing to me... why the heck would you want two (or more) keyboards doing exactly the same thing? I mean, if you hit (take a random note, since I'm no longer musically literate) say a B-note on your DX-7(?-whatever) and the computer/D/TX-7 mimics it, what can you do with the other, ah, "module?"

In other words, what can be done at the receiving end to make it interested? Other than have a bunch of duets and trios happening?

Good question. The answer is -- for a couple of reasons:

1. MIDI sound modules (such as the TX7 you mentioned) don't have keyboards. The only way to get them to "play" is to send MIDI data into their MIDI in ports from either a MIDI keyboard or a computer. I have a couple of MIDI sound modules which I "play" all the time directly from my keyboard--no computer involved.

2. Say you're a keyboardist in a band. You want to have a lot of different sounds at your disposal and (unless you're Keith Emerson) you don't want to have 20 keyboards on stage and have to dash from one to the other to play the sounds available on each. MIDI allows a player to use 1 or 2 keyboards as "controllers" that play every other keyboard and sound module via MIDI.

3. Say you're looking for a particular sound, and no matter what you do you just can't get the exact sound you're looking for with any one of your synths. MIDI allows you to combine the timbres from two (or more) synths (by playing in sync) to create complex patches that would be very difficult -- or impossible -- to achieve using just one synth. This is called "layering", and is a common use for MIDI. I did this just the other evening when I was playing around with blending different percussion sounds in with a snare drum sound to try and beef up the snare sound a bit.

I don't think there's any question that for most people, the real power of MIDI is when you introduce a computer into the equation. Since MIDI has 16 channels, you can have many *different* parts playing simultaneously (each on a different channel). But your original question asked "Does MIDI only work as a computer input to computers from keyboards and drum machines?", and I was attempting to point out that there are other uses as well. Didn't mean to confuse you at all. :)

Thanks, you've cleared me up a bit. Sounds fascinating (I almost wish I'd taken keyboard lessons a long time ago- or kept up with the guitar or the drums or the trumpet or the... you get the idea ). I had an idea that that might be what it was, but wasn't really sure.

It is quite fascinating. Sometimes when I'm using my set-up, I sometimes just have to sit back and marvel at just what this technology allows me to do. And, of course, I love having MIDI illiterate friends over, playing a sequencer for them, and watching the look of wonder come over their faces.

Imagine that you have one keyboard with a string bass sound and another that has a piano sound. You tell one keyboard to ignore notes below middle C, and the other to ignore notes above middle C. Now, as you play "both" keyboards, you're left hand is playing the bass, and the right hand the piano. This is the general idea, and you can build up from there.