Want to learn MIDI?

There seem to be a new surge of MIDI enthusiasts on the forum again, so I thought I’d revive some MIDI concepts, in short form. I’ve used MIDI for a long time, so I likely take much of it for granted and I’m only human. I apologize in advance for anything FUBAR (I’ll update this post as needed).

MIDI Device
A physical machine (e.g. a hardware synthesizer) or virtual (e.g. a VST plugin or a host) application capable of MIDI communication.

A physical or virtual connector on a device. There are three types: In, Out or Thru.

A device uses a MIDI Out to transmit data and a MIDI In to receive data. A MIDI Thru is used to relay data received on MIDI In to another device. (see diagram below)

MIDI Interface
An interface can have any combination of ports. E.g. a hardware synthesizer typically have an in, out and often a thru port. Such a device is considered to have a MIDI Interface.

There are also more advanced MIDI interfaces, e.g. Steinberg Midex 8 (a USB MIDI interface) has eight ports in and eight ports out. A good interface if you have many hardware devices.

MIDI Cable
A physical (typically a 5-pin DIN cable) or virtual communications pipeline between two interfaces. Many recent devices talk MIDI over USB.

MIDI Chain
A series of devices connected with a chain of MIDI cables. (see diagram below)

MIDI Channel
A cable is subdivided into sixteen virtual pipes, called channels.

The concept of channels is what enable synthesizers to be multi-timbral (e.g. HALion 4 or a typical rack synthesizer).

MIDI Event
An event, or message, containing MIDI performance data or other MIDI information. E.g. Note On, Note Off, Modulation Wheel, Pitch Bend, etc.

Messages are transmitted from a device via its out port. The messages will be received by devices connected to the chain (via their in ports) and listening to the channel associated with the messages.

I.e. pressing a key on a keyboard is an event, generating a Note On message transmitted over MIDI to other devices. Recipients can then emulate the event, using the same key and velocity.

There are also certain events not associated with MIDI channels.

Shows how three MIDI devices typically are connected with Cubase, using a simple in/out interface on the computer.

You play the master keyboard and the currently selected track dictates which device will receive the MIDI data from you playing. When devices are chained, like the three shown above, MIDI channels are an important consideration.

In order to gather more viewers, I will incorporate your writings into our forum knowledgebase, which is a sticky in the Welcome to Steinberg. If you have any objections or edits, please feel free to PM me. Nevertheless you will be properly credited for you work.

Actually, I’d love to learn midi…this primer helps. But I have a few things like little free time and age working against me BUT I never give up so bring it on.

So is a midi equipped device some.thing that can be part of the chain or individual connections. The devices I refer to are things like a few Fender amps, Peavy midi controlled effect s processor and my GR33. What role might midi play in these devices, I know they are not sound related or modules.

So remember the old Modulation Wheel or the Pitch Bend? Well, let’s use the MW as an example. The message it produce is called, in terms of the MIDI protocol, a CC or continuous controller message. There are many CC messages (1 through 127) available, all of which can be used the same way as the WM message, which happens to be CC #1. When the wheel is in the original position or minimum, its data value is at 0, and when pushing the wheel to the maximum position, it’s at 127. When the wheel is moved it continuously (hence the name of the message type) generates MIDI messages. Since the CC message sent when moving the wheel is really just a stream of numbers, it can be used for anything. What I mean is that if a recipient does not utilize an actual MW, it can still respond to the numbers coming across, if programmed to do so.

The point is that MIDI is not just for Notes on or off, which a synthesizer use, but also for controlling other aspects of a MIDI performance. I am not familiar with the GR 33 per se, but considering it’s a guitar synthesizer one could imagine being able to change aspects of the sound it generates, say the filter q or maybe influence some parameter of an effect, maybe the size of the room, or the width of the chorus, etc. This could easily be done with CC messages, if the device has that sort of MIDI capability. I wouldn’t be surprised if it can respond to the WM CC out of the box. Anyways, knowing Roland’s excellent MIDI support generally, in their devices, I am sure it can be programmed to do just this type of stuff.

Another interesting application for MIDI, speaking of non-synthesizers and to get some perspective on what it can be used for, is a light synthesizer. You could have a device that responds to MIDI and that in turn controls stage lights. For example, you send a note on C2 and a particular light comes on, you let go of the key and the light goes off. You send a CC message (e.g. #1, MW) and depending on the data value received (0-127) it turns the lights softer or brighter.

Also, as an FYI, you see me referring to the range 0-127 a lot. That’s the range of a byte (as in computer byte) value within the realm of the MIDI protocol.

Thank you for taking the time to explain that… I finally got the idea. So as the midi track is recording, you can input the CC changes to take place at particular places along the track? The amps have a form of modeling so I would think that the sounds coming from the amp are changed as the playback reaches the change. Not to sound dumb. But, how are these numbers (1-127) defined…is it by the user or is there is there a defined standard somewhere?

scroll down to table 3

Oh. That is nice information, thanks for that. I scan thru lightly this morning so this information may be in there but, are the UN-defined values able to be be defined as something the device being controlled would understand. Or is that left undefined for some other reason.

Thinking about it, the device would need to have been setup to understand the value it would be sent. M still confusing but I do understand more of the potentials of midi

Yes, and you can also insert/delete MIDI events after recording.

So most MIDI devices come with already defined messages that it understand. E.g. dumping a program (sound) or a whole bank of programs.

Many devices talk SysEx (System Exclusive, if you are looking in the MIDI standard) which is a way to send large amounts of data via MIDI.

(*Steve: I think that sometimes there might be a need but any capabilities to satisfy this need are unknown.)

Mostly the reason why a CC message exists, is because of the way the MIDI protocol was originally designed. MIDI messages have a “status” byte (or 8 bits) which also contain the MIDI channel (when applicable). Including the channel number which has the range of 0-15 (half a byte or four bits, or a nibble :laughing: ) in the core status byte, leaves only another 4 bits left to identify the message in question. Since a nibble can only represent a number from 0 to 16, only so many message types can be accommodated.

Why such confined and nit-picking composition? Well, certainly because they wanted to make messages as small as possible. Back then it was cool just to be able to play on keyboard A and device B produced the sound. We have come some way since then, in our need for electronic control. :wink:

So looking in the MIDI protocol standard (link above by filterfreak) you can see that the most common messages, e.g. Note On and Note Off, are “core” (as in each occupying an entire status byte) messages, whereas another common messages, like CC, requires that extra data byte, just to identify what controller number a particular CC event is referring to. This is where the CC the range of 0-127 comes into play. That is the limit of the number of CC’s that can be accommodated.

CC’s were not standardized much (there were some) but has been puzzled together a bit since early days. This makes CC a little bit more difficult to understand, but it really isn’t that hard.

There is also a SysEx (System Exclusive) message which is often involved when dumping entire programs or banks of programs. Steve, you might want to look into this in the manuals for your devices.

In my case, I am looking simply to enhance my current level of recordings. I am tracking a bunch of jazz standards and a few guitar tracks all instrumental. With my keyboard, and I can play it clean at least, I can add a few bass lines and piano parts. I would like to add some drums but that is probably some way off as I find how the best way to go about it will be.

Thru midi, I have been able to add these instruments by usng the keyboard data and change the sounds it produces thru Halion. What areas of midi might I best concentrate on to get a bit further than I am now. That is basically recording the midi notes in a midi track, I know that is very basic stuff.

Thanks Elektrobolt for taking the time to run this thread like this. Like having a class :smiley:


OK Steve,

Fill me in… THIS is what I am pretty sure I need also. I have ONLY cover that I play and record for my own enjoyment ALTHOUGH, I did loop a few things together and then added my own audio guitar lead and fills to those looped tracks. Frankly, they came out pretty good as those loops keep good time :slight_smile:

When I need a drum pattern that I can play my self, I can get it to do exactly what I want. So are you using one of those electronic drum pad kits? I saw a few under $750.00 that look pretty good but I had’nt planned on buying any as I still was not sure this is how to go about it. I’m no Ginger Baker but I can keep a reasonable rythym going …surely enough for my recordings

I would probably treat this as a on-a-need basis.

But in order to understand what MIDI can provide, maybe concentrate on CC #1 (Modulation Wheel). If you understand it, you get the point of CC’s, which makes it easier to understand some of the “extended” CC’s later on if needed. Knowing how to use CC’s also puts you on the path of understanding Note Expression.

Also, SysEx (System Exclusive) can be interesting if you like to dump sounds via MIDI for recollection later. I USED to do this (back when synthesizers were made of wood) a lot, but have since abandoned this idea because of the slowness of MIDI. SysEx messages can be very big (MIDI transmission speaking) depending on how advanced (or convoluted) the sound structure of a synth is.

Absolutely my pleasure, Al.

Wow Steve,

Very nice to see this. I was looking at the second picture as something I can use here without overrunning two rooms in the basement. It is finished and there is space but I am trying to confine my guitars and recording stuff as well as my computer desk into one area. The room is a good size but now that the keyboard sits in the middle open space, it east the room available for other bigger items like a drum kit…

Here’s a question for you…are you able to run each drum or cymbal into it’s own MIDI track for complete isolation ? AND if so, how might you set this up?

I’m guessing that the feel of the drum heads is good enough? I saw a few off brand kits around $350 or so and then a few well known lower end kits for about $750. I have no experience with these as my only owned drum kit was a set of Gretsch drums with zildjian cymbals, hi-hat and ride cymbals. Had a chrome snare drum if I remember but sold it all in 1992 or so after having it here for over twenty years.

Played drums in high school marching band and that section got yelled at any time anything was off. Since I had graduated in the early 70’s, they fell by the wayside. I am really quite interested in this option. We had mentioned this before but the titles of drum Beats like techno or electro stuff will NEVER work for the stuff I play. And just the sounds of a wire brush on a cymbal at times could be perfect. That thumping disco sounding techno thing makes me …well, I don’t care for it. I’m ready to run a red light when a car pulls behind my and my pickup is starting to bounce.

With the option of playing some classic rock styles or easy jazz on my own, I know it will enhance my tracks quite a bit. The midi bass from the keyboard has gone a long way to improve the fullness of the tracks. The drums I saw were Simmons and Yamaha. Both under 600


Steve, after reading your excellent posting, I found this online and you covered it all. I wish we lived closer I’d take every weekend for the next month and pick your brain. I believe we share the same musical ideas and plans. I am relating your explanation to the same adjustments to playing the GR33 in order to get the most sonic reproduction of the instruments you are trying to emulate.

BTW…you enlightened me to some things I never realized and I will need to look at the options for these less expensive kits. I can’t spend more than 750.00 on this. If it were a guitar that I can really enjoy and play…no problem, heck, I’m a guitar player. I saw some of these ekit drums for over $5000. I enjoy playing drums but I’m not a drummer and to add a few extras to my recording it would be great

My problem is not knowing about the future flexibility of a device that I would run out get tomorrow and then finding out what you had just explained, I’d be po’ed.

for the exact reason you describe, I see the rubber pads regardless. As you also said, we have unlimited sounds at our disposal. So if tapping on my desktop can produce a full array of drum sounds except it is a rubber pad, so much the better. There is no way I want to spend over $750. The reason I said $750, was the Yamaha 450 at about $675. I did not think about a used set but I will look over at a few sites and see what I might find. This is not a primary function for me so something that will produce a few of my own rhythms will be great.

So my guess is with all of the pads you use, you are able to use different sound modules and just keep connecting them? Additionally, they all show up in just ONE midi track?

There is no way I wish to abandon the idea of using a full drum set and play on a table top. I was thinking that if I had to take two sticks and tap on the desk and it would work, I could do that too. Having had this Gretsch drum kit in the house so long, I enjoy playing drums even if I am not a trained or practicing drummer. I do need to get an electronic drum kit. I kinda forgot that you can plug in a headset and play all night and not annoy anyone. When the kids were little, I couldn’t even bump into it accidentally.

These links offer a bit of reading so I will start tomorrow and get some information together. So, when are you coming over?

as per your advice, I did find several sets on eBay. I am watching them and will be making a move shortly. I can say this, they are all under $300 and would have retailed for $700 or $800. They all claim to be in excellent condition so we will find out. I can probably play an acoustic guitar in the basement studio without it being heard upstairs. So that will be an interesting test. I do have a Peavey amplifier with two cabinets that while it is 15 years old works fine. Of course that would be for the days when no one is home.

I’ve seen that Roland kit for sale and it looks quite impressive. There are several out there that would be nice to have but I believe that these that I am looking at will be ideal. When you say interfacing to the DAW, are you referring to direct input into my audio interface? My intent would be to go to the midi interface which is connected via USB to the computer. Currently I am only using one input on the midi interface.