The hidden tweaks of MIDI


A mysterious part of the music production, MIDI is very easy to grasp but hard to master if you never encountered it’s concepts before. Nevertheless, it is extremely important if someone needs to produce music that involves software instruments, mainly because your workflow will become much faster and the results more professional.

MIDI or Musical Instrument Digital Interface, is a technology implemented in the early 80s and used since then by all DAW manufacturers on the market because a common language was needed for devices and programs to talk to each other.

The best way to understand MIDI is to open your favorite DAW and load a basic instrument(piano). Then go into the sequencer, where, in most cases, you can already see a virtual keyboard displayed vertically. Running horizontally along the keyboard should be lines of rigid blocks.

Using a pencil tool, click on any of the blocks displayed and you should see how it would automatically fill up with color: that is your very own MIDI note.

By pressing play your instrument should be able to playback that note on any tempo you choose.

As you might have guessed, MIDI programming is much more complex than some simple instructions for a virtual instrument to play a note.

The most used aspect of it is the velocity feature, which measures the force with which a player hits the keyboard but can also be a dynamic way of controlling the sound: your instrument can be automated to trigger certain effects, depending on the velocity value, which is usually measured from 0 to 127. This method can be used to bring variation and life into a musical piece.

Besides the velocity, the attack, sustain, decay and release settings can also be customized depending on how you want the instrument to behave. Some software even lets you adjust the fine pitch of the MIDI notes, adding a natural touch to a composition.

Quantisation is another important aspect which may prove very useful, since perfect timing is not precise when manually recording with a controller. By quantizing on specific time frames, every note is automatically locked to it’s closest fragment in the grid. A robotic playback can result from this process but if applied moderately everything should sound more in sync.

MIDI can help the music composition process enormously, mostly because you can construct elaborate chords and layered effects with various automation, allowing you to experiment wildly and be more creative.

Each DAW treats MIDI programming differently so play with a few and see which one brings more advantages to your work. Master it well and your work will become more efficient.

We’ll be exploring the features in a more detailed fashion in the following articles so stay tuned for more.


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