What Is MIDI?

This beginner’s guide will answer what is MIDI in music, how it is used, the different types of MIDI, and explain MIDI controllers.

What is MIDI in Music Production
What is MIDI in Music Production

What is MIDI in Music Production?

MIDI is a protocol through which musical instruments can communicate with each other. It is done through a cabled connection and a language that enables each to understand the other. 

The only thing that is required is an instrument that is equipped with MIDI ports.

MIDI Explained for Beginners

It is important to note that MIDI data is different from audio recording as it doesn’t contain any sound as such. 

Instead of that, it is limited to the performance information, which includes information about the various performance characteristics such as:

  • What note is played and when
  • Whether the keypresses change after the initial press
  • Whether the pitch change while a key is played
  • How hard someone presses the key

Using this information allows MIDI musicians to create performances that are rich in texture and sound.

MIDI controllers can be used to play virtual instruments like synthesizers and pianos. 

Related: 10 Best MIDI Keyboard Controllers


What is MIDI Used For?

The purpose of MIDI is to connect instrument devices with each other and to control one device using another device.

Previously to record any song or audio many things were required. For example, if any song was to be recorded then to add music to that song instruments such as guitar, violin, flute, etc were needed. 

What Is MIDI? How It Works and Why It’s Useful

So the availability of all such instruments in the studio was important along with the artists who would play those instruments. 

But nowadays because of MIDI, these things have become very easy. There are also MIDI keyboards available that look almost like Casio. 

Using these MIDI instruments you can play the sound of many virtual instruments. In this, there are also many different modes through which the sound of the instruments can be changed.

In short, because of MIDI, editing and producing sound and music has become much easy nowadays.

Related: Free Online MIDI Editors & MIDI Players


What Are the Different Types of MIDI?

Here are some of the different types of MIDI devices and their role:

MIDI Device:Role:
ControllersA MIDI device sends out MIDI messages.
RespondersA MIDI device that receives MIDI data and sends out audio signals.
SequencersA tool used to compose, record, and edit notes.
InterfacesPart of the MIDI hardware.
Virtual DeviceA virtual device in the computer.

What Are MIDI Controllers?

In simple words, a MIDI controller is a device that controls another MIDI device. It is any hardware or software that helps generate and transmit MIDI data to MIDI-enabled devices.

It is important to note that musical sounds are generally not produced or created by the MIDI controllers themselves. 

Instead, they have a certain type of interface that the performer presses, touches, strikes, or blows. This action then generates the MIDI data which is then transmitted to a MIDI-compatible sound module or synthesizer using a MIDI cable.

The sound module or the synthesizer produces the sound that is amplified by a loudspeaker.

For instance, the most commonly used MIDI controller is the electronic musical keyboard MIDI controller. So when the key is played, the MIDI controller sends MIDI data regarding how hard the note was played, its pitch, and its duration.

Uses Of MIDI Controllers

  • It is used to trigger musical sounds and play musical instruments. 
  • To control other MIDI-compatible devices.

How Does MIDI Work?

Data is transmitted over a cable, most commonly a MIDI cable, from one device to another. 

The cable connects to MIDI ports on each device, and the MIDI ports are of three types as follows:

  • In port: It receives incoming messages
  • Outport: sends the messages
  • Thru port: It is used in sending messages that one device receives directly into the in-port of another instrument.

It is also important to remember that MIDI signals travel in One Direction only

The data flows out from the outport of a device to an in-port of another device. (However, not the other way around)

Remember that messages are sent in the form of binary digits, and each instrument can understand and respond to these messages.

To understand how MIDI works and the message flow occurs, let’s say that there is a keyboard synthesizer and you are interested in recording a sequence using the sounds that are in the synthesizer.

Now you connect your computer and your synthesizer so that they can start communicating using the MIDI protocol and start recording.

Whenever you play any notes on the synthesizer, all your physical actions that do on the instrument are transmitted to the computer sequencing software as MIDI messages which ultimately record the messages.

MIDI messages are brief numeric descriptions of action. So the keys you press, the knobs you turn, and all other such actions are encoded as MIDI messages. 


What Are MIDI Files?

Files that have .MID or .MIDI file extensions are called MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) Files.

Note that MIDI files are compact than digital audio files. Generally, MIDI files can be 200 to 1,000 times smaller than CD-quality digital audio files.

MIDI files are smaller in size because, like the MP3 and WAVs, they don’t contain the actual audio data. Rather they contain information like what notes are played, when they are played, etc.

Since MIDI files are small, they have embedded web pages that load and play more quickly than their digital equivalents.

You can completely edit the MIDI data, even right down to the level of an individual note. 

Related: 10 Best Websites for Free MIDI Files


Is MIDI Still Used Today?

MIDI is still used today all the time.

Before MIDI existed, the communication between the electronic musical instruments was proprietary to each manufacturer.

But after MIDI came, it allowed more flexibility to music professionals by providing a common interface.

MIDI was primarily made to connect different hardware pieces together. In those early days, MIDI was usually used to connect two or three keyboards and the drum machine with the sequencer. Since it was a standard, it worked well with all brand names.

Nowadays, also MIDI is used, and some of the reasons are because MIDI files are small in size, MIDI is flexible, MIDI can play sound fonts.


Summary of MIDI

Musical Instrument Digital Interface is what MIDI stands for. The protocol enables computers, electronic instruments, and other musical instruments to communicate. Musicians use it as a digital interface for their musical equipment instead of a musical instrument.


We hope you found this information on MIDI helpful, and hopefully, we answered what is MIDI in music production.

If we missed anything, please share it in the comments.

Mark V. at Hip Hop Makers

Written By Mark V.

Hip Hop Makers is a music production website that launched in 2008 to teach music lovers how to make music, sell beats, and make money from music.

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