MIDI Explained

Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) has played a role in performance and production since its introduction in the early 1980s. Today, a basic understanding of MIDI is essential if you want to record at home or in the studio, and it's highly useful for many performance applications as well.

What Is MIDI?

MIDI is, at its core, a language used by musical instruments and equipment to communicate with one another. Just as you can't explain the full nuances of a language in one short article, this post won't be a comprehensive overview of everything MIDI can and can't do. Instead, we'll look at the basics of its grammar (how it works) and syntax (what it can do) — and how you can incorporate it into your musical vocabulary. Okay, enough with the metaphor — let's get started!

Working With MIDI

MIDI is an integral component of any digital recording environment and a powerful composition tool. Working in the digital audio workstation (DAW) of your choice, you can use MIDI to compose and edit instrumental tracks using a piano roll or grid-type interface. Then, you can send that information to a hardware or soft synth for playback.

Hardware MIDI controllers, on the other hand, send information about a musical performance — note pitch, volume, length, etc. — to a DAW, sound module, synthesizer or software synth. Most controllers are laid out like a standard keyboard, through electronic drum kits, specialty guitar pickups and wind controllers, among other devices, also transmit MIDI information. Because MIDI is used to automate effects and mixing, many controllers feature additional inputs in the form of knobs, faders and pads for this purpose.

One thing that's important to remember is that MIDI files don't contain any audio. Rather, they're a set of instructions telling a device what to do. As a result, if you're working with out-of-the-box equipment — hardware synthesizers or drum machines, for example — their output must be recorded separately during the mixdown process.

Connecting to MIDI

Historically, MIDI devices have connected with each other using a five-pin, one-directional cable. Most interfaces feature three ports — in, out and thru — for sending, receiving and forwarding messages to and from other devices. However, many manufacturers today are adding USB connectivity to their products, lowering the number of cables and connections required to transmit MIDI messages and making it easier to connect multiple devices at once.

MIDI and You

To recap, here's a quick rundown of a few of the most common ways to use MIDI for the following categories: 

  • Performance: Use MIDI to expand your sonic palette by connecting multiple synthesizers and sound modules, automating effects or triggering loops and samples in a live setting.
  • Composition: Use this language to write and edit new tracks, synchronize tempos between devices and share files with collaborators, among other things.
  • Recording: Use MIDI to work in the box with soft synths, trigger outboard hardware, track, mix, master and practically everything else involved in making a professional-sounding recording.

 Whatever your musical goal or your level of MIDI fluency, Bananas at Large® has products for you. Search our inventory to explore our selection of Roland MIDI controllers, synths, and more.

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