What is MIDI?
MIDI is an acronym that stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and it is not an object, but rather a universal standard – or common language – which allows lots of different music software programs and devices to talk to one another.
Are you familiar with a pianola? That’s the old-fashioned player piano that plays by itself when you load it up with a pianola roll and work the pedals. The pianola roll tells the pianola which notes to play, how long or short to play them, at which speed and how loud or soft. The pianola roll contains all of this information, so you can put the same pianola roll into a different pianola so that it can play back the same piece of music in the same way. The timbre or sound quality might be slightly different because it’s a different pianola, but the performance of the piece will be the same.
MIDI files are a little like this – the same MIDI file can be “played” by all sorts of different programs: MuseScore, GarageBand, Sonar, Acid, Logic, Protools, Sibelius, Finale or by devices such as digital keyboards, mobile phones and computers, because the information is in the MIDI file itself. This information triggers the software program or keyboard to play sounds – notes which are loud, soft, short, long, fast or slow. As with pianolas, the resulting sound may differ between programs, because each program or device has its own unique output sound. When you take a look at the MIDI information in one of these programs, it even looks like a pianola roll (and if often named the “pianola view” or similar).
Lots of existing MIDI files available for download on the internet. This means that someone has sat at a MIDI keyboard and recorded themselves playing the individual parts of a song – the bass line, the melody, the guitar part and keyboard part – one at a time. All the hard work has been done for you. You can download this MIDI file and simply play it back on your computer using something like iTunes or Windows Media Player.
But the beauty of MIDI files is that you can edit what your hear by opening it up in a program that will read MIDI files. Because each instrumental part has been recorded separately (on individual MIDI “channels”), you can change any or all of the parts to suit your own needs.
So where does MuseScore come in?
MuseScore reads MIDI files which means that you can turn your MIDI file into a score that can be printed for live musicians to play. And you can edit it – change the key, alter the instrumentation, delete or simplify parts – before you press print. It’s not a perfect science – a MIDI file is really intended for playing music back audibly, rather than for printing music – so this means that the MIDI file often does not include information you would see in a score – like slurs or articulations. You may also have missing key signatures or accidentals that are “spelt” incorrectly (ie. A sharp instead of B flat). However, you can view MIDI files as a little shortcut for getting notes into a score quickly, particularly if you are slow with note entry.
Coming soon will be a tutorial outlining the step-by-step process for opening and editing MIDI files in MuseScore. If you’d like to read more about MIDI, you can visit the Wikipedia article or the MIDI Manufacturers Association.