- PART 1 -
by Michael Tyler
Computer Music Products
For the purpose of this article, I will define a “MIDI setup” as a system that includes...
- A computer equipped with music software (i.e., for recording, playback, printing, etc.)
- A MIDI keyboard (for playing/inputting music into the computer software)
- A MIDI sound source (MIDI keyboard with built-in sounds, or a sound card, or a sound module)
- A means of connecting the MIDI keyboard to the computer (MIDI interface hardware and cables)
Notice that I said most will have the MIDI interface capability. It is up to you to verify whether yours has it or not, by checking the documentation that came with your particular sound card. (If there is no mention of this, then you most likely won’t be able to use the sound card for connecting your MIDI keyboard, so you will need to purchase a separate MIDI interface.) Even though your sound card may have the built-in MIDI interface, the manufacturer rarely includes the gameport-to-MIDI adapter cable necessary for actually connecting your computer to your MIDI keyboard instrument! Fortunately, these adapter cables are not costly.
Installation of one of these gameport-to-MIDI adapters is straightforward. Just plug the 15-pin end into the gameport/joystick connector on the back of your sound card, and plug the 5-pin MIDI ends into the back of your MIDI keyboard. (The end labeled MIDI “IN” from the gameport cable plugs into the MIDI “OUT” receptacle of your keyboard. And, as you would expect, the end labeled MIDI “OUT” from the gameport cable plugs into the MIDI “IN” receptacle of your keyboard.)
The final step is to start up your music software, go into its MIDI Setup Menu, and “engage” by selecting your sound card’s MIDI input and output driver so the software knows to use it. (Your music software owner’s manual will guide you through this final step, in case you have no idea what I mean by input/output drivers!). From start to finish, this entire process should take only about 10 or 15 minutes, and you’re in business!
Diagram 2 - MIDI Controller hookup
In the MIDI controller hookup (Diagram 2), the keyboard controller has no sounds of its own -it is totally dependent upon the sound card for producing any sound at all. When your computer is on and your music software is running, playing the MIDI controller keyboard will trigger the sounds contained in your sound card and you hear them via the multimedia speakers connected to the sound card.
One way to upgrade your system is to add a MIDI “sound module”. A sound module is essentially a small box containing hundreds of instrument sounds and numerous drumkits to use in your MIDI recording projects. Most recording musicians will eventually add at least one or two sound modules to their desktop recording setups.
You can easily add a sound module by connecting the MIDI "OUT" from the gameport cable (shown in Diagram 2) to the MIDI "IN" of the module. (In Diagram 2, you see that the MIDI "OUT" cable is available for this purpose, since it is otherwise not being used in a soundcard-only setup.) When you play your keyboard, the sound module receives the MIDI data and triggers the sound module's built-in sounds. Likewise, when you play back a MIDI recording from your computer, the module's sounds are triggered from the gameport cable's output. Of course, you will need to connect a pair of speakers to your sound module in order to hear it when it’s being used for MIDI playback instead of your computer’s soundcard, or you can monitor the sound directly from the module by plugging in a set of headphones into the modules headphone receptacle.
Photo of a MIDI sound module
by Michael Tyler
Computer Music Products
I explained the typical sound card/MIDI setup in Part 1 of the “Getting Your Computer MIDI Ready” article. Both articles are designed to help you as you set up your computer for MIDI music applications. Try to read the articles in order, as I tend to write each article building upon what I assume you learned in the previous one!
Of A Sound Card Gameport-to-MIDI Connection?
There are single-port MIDI interfaces and multiple-port MIDI interfaces available. A common situation is when the musician who has two (or more) MIDI instruments he or she wants to connect to the computer. A special “dual” or “multi” port MIDI interface is required to connect more than one MIDI instrument. Note: Although you can “daisy-chain” 3 or 4 MIDI instruments via “MIDI THRU” ports when using a single-port MIDI interface, you will not have independent control over individual instruments connected in this way. The other problem with a daisy-chain hookup is the invitation for “MIDI log-jam” - -a condition where noticeable timing delays occur in the instruments near the end of the chain. The use of a dual, or multi-port interface will give the user total control over each instrument and virtually eliminate MIDI timing errors in a multiple instrument setup.
External interfaces come as single, dual, and multi port configurations. Advanced features such as SMPTE Time Code synchronization and MIDI routing are available on top-of-the-line models. See below...
INTERNAL MIDI INTERFACES - Most of today’s internal MIDI interfaces are integrated as a feature in the circuitry of certain digital audio cards and consumer soundcards. An internal “MIDI interface-only” device for desktop computer systems is not as common as it once was. For the most part, internal interfaces have been discontinued in favor of external USB interfaces.
INTERNAL - The following diagram shows how an internal interface is connected for a desktop computer/MIDI setup. (Internal MIDI interfaces are a rarity nowadays. Almost all MIDI interfaces are now external USB types.)
(Internal MIDI Interfaces are no longer as commonly available as they once were)
Do you want your interface to be portable between two or more computers, or are you using a laptop computer?For portability and/or laptop computer use, a USB interface is a simple solution. Single, dual, and multi port versions are available. “Dual port” means you have TWO MIDI Inputs and TWO MIDI Outputs. “Multi port” means THREE (or more) MIDI Inputs and THREE (or more) MIDI Outputs
Do you have two MIDI instruments you want to connect to the computer?Choose a dual port or multi port interface. Choose a multi-port interface if you think you will need to add more than two MIDI instruments to your computer music system in the future.
Deciding which MIDI interface to purchase for your system is an important step, so you’ll want to make the right decision. Don’t let the number of choices cloud the issue, however. You can easily zero-in on the interface that is just right for you, simply by considering your personal requirements.