MIDI: The Basics

In the meantime I am recording the piano pieces of This Is Living. This happens with the help of MIDI, so today we will take a look at the basics of MIDI. Among other things, MIDI is used for piano, synthesizers and controllers. So what is it and how does it work? Lets take a further look.

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, a digital system where instruments and devices can exchange musical information. This means it is not an actual digital piano, which sends an analog audio signal, like a microphone. MIDI works by means of commands. If I press the C3 key on my MIDI keyboard, the keyboard sends the commando “Start playing C3 key” and when I release the key it will send a “Stop playing C3 key”. This command can then be translated by a synthesizer or computer (Cubase in this case) to a piano sound of the C3 key. Another example of MIDI usage is the Mackie Control Universal. Since MIDI is command based, a press of a button on the controller can send a command to the computer, which in turn executes some action.

Lets take a look at how a piece of MIDI looks like in Cubase.

MIDI Track in Cubase

Here you can see a piece of recorded MIDI in Cubase. HALion Sonic SE is the digital synthesizer of Cubase which can translate MIDI commands to piano sound (or any other sound for that matter!). You can see that there are several bars; short, long and different in height. As you might have spotted as well, this piece of MIDI is repeated. Very useful! You don’t have to record the whole segment, but you can repeat a smaller piece. Lets take a look at this piece in more detail.

MIDI Detail in Cubase
MIDI Detail in Cubase

In this overview you can see everything about this piece of MIDI, including controls for changing, adding and removing MIDI commands. Every horizontal bar represents a key and at the left side you can see the piano keys which indicate what key it represents. The width of a bar represents the lenght of the key. At the bottom of the view are the vertical bars, which represent the volume of the key. This way Cubase also knows the volume that the key needs to be played at. The advantage of MIDI is that we can also ‘draw’ new keys, remove and change them. If you make a mistake while recording, this is fixed easily! Its even possible to write the whole music with drawing notes.

Hopefully you understand MIDI better now. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!


Stay in tune!

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