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MIDI series Part 1: What is MIDI?

MIDI series Part 1: What is MIDI?

When you start out in music production, you will definitely come across the term ‘MIDI’ at some point in your musical careers. The term itself is not self-explanatory but it is a very important part of the music development process and needs to be understood. So, we’re beginning a series of articles to really understand what a MIDI is and how it can be used to create music.

In this first installment, we’ll explain what a MIDI is and the basics of how it works. This will definitely make things a whole lot easier when you’re “talking shop” with other music lovers!

MIDI: What’s it all about?

MIDI is a data protocol that solely contains control signals like information about velocity, pitches and sound types and no audio content (waveforms). The acronym stands for “Musical Instrument Digital Interface” and allows different digital instruments, computers and controllers to connect and communicate with one another. Most synthesizers, effects units and controllers contain a MIDI interface, which can be connected with a 5-pole cable.

The most widely used MIDI instrument is the keyboard (also known as the master keyboard). When a key is pressed on the master keyboard, information about the notes and velocity is transferred to the synthesizer via the MIDI protocol. This utilizes the signal and plays the corresponding note and velocity. Examples of control signals are “Note On” or “Note Off” and both external and virtual synthesizers can be used.

Another widely-used MIDI device is the controller. Notes are not played on this device but rather the controller is used to modify individual parameters via knob controllers and switches. The parameters which can be modified by this include effect parameters or program function such as adjusting the track volume.

Each device will have at least one MIDI IN and MIDI OUT connection which enables several modules to be combined. The MIDI interface (the external hardware) is the interface between a computer and a MIDI-compatible instrument (such as a MIDI software instruments). The interface groups several devices together and then routes and processes incoming signals. Other connection options for MIDI instruments are sound cards with a built-in connection or USB interfaces.

A brief history

The MIDI protocol was introduced in 1983 but really only made its mark many years later. Musicians often feel that the protocol is restricted in its scope as it limits the user to 127 commands, each with 127 values. Yet, no other technology has come forward to replace MIDI which is why MIDI is so important to understand as it a common part of any music studio.

Quick breakdown: the advantages of MIDI?


  •  files require less memory than audio files.
  •  files can be adapted to any tempo (BPM) without affecting the sound.
  •  files can be easily transposed to another pitch allowing the melody to be shifted up or down a number of octaves without the need to record a new melody.
  •  files can be used with different instruments which play the notes according to the sound
    information contained in the MIDI files.

The MIDI actually forms the basis for computer-based music production. Using a virtual MIDI controller to round off your studio can be an affordable alternative to expensive hardware such as analog synthesizers or other studio equipment. And thanks to MIDI, you can actually compose, design and edit professional music in editors like Music Maker Premium without the need for any external instruments. The introduction of MIDI opened a whole new world of creative possibilities in music development – and not to mention opened the door for a lot more people to join in on the action.

Stay tuned for the next installment in our series as we’ll dive down into more detail and cover the right cables and settings you need for your DAW in order to record MIDI. In the meantime, check out Music Maker Premium and discover what creative possibilities are open to you.


Basti is a freshman at MAGIX since 2015 and works in the Social Media team, mostly focussing on french communication. He is studying Music and Media and currently writing his Bachelor thesis on the origins of hip-hop. When he does not navigate the social media world, he loves to play piano and dance.

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