The Ultimate Guide: Unraveling the Mysteries of MIDI and Its Fascinating Inner Workings

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) works by transmitting digital information, such as musical notes, control data, and timing signals, between electronic musical instruments and computers. This allows for communication and synchronization between different MIDI-compatible devices, enabling the transfer and manipulation of musical data.

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MIDI, which stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, is a communication protocol that revolutionized the world of electronic music by enabling the exchange of digital information between various musical instruments, synthesizers, computers, and other MIDI-compatible devices. It allows musicians and producers to connect, control, and synchronize different electronic musical instruments and software applications, facilitating the transfer and manipulation of musical data.

One of the key characteristics of MIDI is its ability to transmit data in a highly efficient manner. Rather than sending audio signals directly like a traditional analog connection, MIDI sends a stream of digital messages that represent various musical events. These messages can include note information, control data (such as pitch bend, modulation, or volume changes), and timing signals, which allow for precise synchronization between devices.

MIDI operates using a standardized 5-pin DIN connector, where a MIDI-compatible device can be connected to others through MIDI cables. This connection allows for both input and output of MIDI data, allowing devices to both send and receive information.

A noteworthy aspect of MIDI is its universality. As long as a device is MIDI-compatible, it can communicate with any other MIDI device regardless of the manufacturer or specific model. This interoperability has played a significant role in the widespread adoption of MIDI and its continued relevance in the music industry.

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“Before MIDI, synthesizers from different manufacturers communicated through different proprietary specifications. MIDI standardized everything, because now you could connect all these devices and work on them with a common language.” – Thomas Dolby, English musician, and producer.

Here are some interesting facts about MIDI:

  1. MIDI was first introduced in 1983 as a joint development effort between various musical instrument manufacturers, including Roland, Yamaha, and Korg.
  2. MIDI is not limited to just musical instruments. It has been utilized in a wide range of applications, such as stage lighting control, computer graphics, and even robotics.
  3. MIDI files, which contain musical data in MIDI format, are incredibly lightweight and can be easily shared, making them popular for online music distribution and collaboration.
  4. The MIDI specification has evolved over time, with the introduction of new features and capabilities. The latest version, MIDI 2.0, offers enhanced expression, higher resolution, and improved interconnectivity.
  5. MIDI controllers, such as keyboards or drum pads, allow musicians to directly interact with MIDI devices, triggering notes, adjusting parameters, and adding expressive elements to their performances.


MIDI Messages Description
Note On Initiates the start of a note with parameters such as pitch, velocity, and channel.
Note Off Signals the end of a note with corresponding pitch and channel information.
Control Change Allows for real-time adjustments of various parameters, such as modulation, volume, or expression.
Program Change Switches to a different instrument or preset on a MIDI device.
Pitch Bend Enables smooth changes in pitch by sending data for bending the pitch up or down.
MIDI Time Code Provides timing information for synchronization between devices or software.
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MIDI has played an integral role in the evolution of electronic music, empowering artists, and enabling creative possibilities. Its universal compatibility, efficient data transmission, and vast application have solidified its position as a fundamental technology in the modern music production landscape.

Video answer to your question

The video discusses what MIDI is and how it works, highlighting its role as an interface between musical instruments and computers. It explains that MIDI was created to enable instruments from different manufacturers to communicate with each other and with sequencers. MIDI connections, including MIDI Out, MIDI In, and MIDI Through ports, are explained, as well as the availability of USB and traditional MIDI ports on modern devices. The video also demonstrates how to set up MIDI in a DAW using Ableton Live as an example. It emphasizes the versatility and importance of MIDI in music production, allowing for seamless communication between instruments and computers. The speaker also explores MIDI’s ability to control parameters, synchronize hardware devices, and discusses the development of MIDI 2.0 to modernize existing protocols.

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MIDI does not send the sound wave made by an instrument; instead, it sends information about the music notes, and the receiving device uses its own internal mechanisms to generate the sounds. MIDI sends data only about notes, not the sound of the notes. Think of MIDI as the punched paper sheet music of a player piano.

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Beside above, How does MIDI work on a keyboard? The answer is: A MIDI keyboard is a device that can send commands to a MIDI-equipped device. When you press a key or pad, it creates a MIDI message. The message is sent to the device it’s connected to with the use of either a USB or MIDI cable.

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Besides, How does a MIDI file work?
A MIDI file works the same way – you import it into a software program such as GarageBand, Soundtrap, Mixcraft, Logic, ProTools, Ableton, Sibelius or Finale (the “pianola” equivalent) and it contains information about which instruments will be played, which notes they will play, how long, how loud and so on.

Secondly, How does MIDI make sound?
In reply to that: MIDI itself makes no sound. Instead, the actual note number, note length and note velocity is sent to the MIDI-equipped instrument via a specified MIDI channel. The channel is one that the device sending the MIDI data and the MIDI-equipped instrument receiving the data agree on, i.e. Channel 1.

In this way, How does a MIDI port work?
A MIDI OUT port allows a device to send MIDI data. And a MIDI IN port allows a device to take in MIDI data. There’s also a third type of port on some MIDI devices called MIDI THRU. This port lets a device copy incoming MIDI data and send out a string of identical data.

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