Author Topic: PC MIDI BASICS (3 parts) (November 1991, article)  (Read 2835 times)

Offline chrisNova777

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PC MIDI BASICS (3 parts) (November 1991, article)
« on: October 21, 2016, 01:28:50 AM »

by Richard D. Clark (PCC RichC)

The Musical Instrument Digital Interface was introduced in 1983
by a coalition of musical instrument manufacturers as a standard
protocol with which electronic instruments -- specifically
synthesizers -- could interchange data. At that time, its primary
use was to allow one synth's keyboard to control the sounds of
another, in a "master-slave" relationship. Even its inventors
didn't foresee the complex and varied applications for which MIDI
would be utilized within just a few years.

MIDI is "platform independent." That means that any device which
conforms to the MIDI Specification, and is equipped with MIDI
ports, can talk to and be understood by any other; this includes
computers of different types (IBM, Macintosh, Amiga, Atari).

----------MIDI BASICS

Most users don't need to understand the "innards" of MIDI, just
as knowledge of programming isn't necessary to use a word
processor. To use MIDI hardware and software, you just need a
fundamental understanding of the kinds of data being

MIDI can transmit 16 channels of data simultaneously, in a
process analogous to cable TV: there's only one data stream,
carried by one cable; the "receiver" -- the MIDI device -- sorts
the data into the 16 independent MIDI channels.

MIDI devices, in turn, can be set to respond to all, or only one
MIDI channel. In this manner, one channel can contain "piano"
data, which is recognized only by a synth set to that channel,
while another contains only "bass" data.  Whether the synth
*sounds* like a "piano" when it plays that data is dependent on
its own settings and capabilities. If it's set to a "brass"
sound, it will play the "piano" notes using the "brass" sound.

When MIDI data is transmitted, it is usually in "real time" --
with the tempo of the music set by software, or by the person
actually playing the controlling instrument. The exception to
this is "system exclusive" (sysex) data, which is used for
exchanging things like patch banks (sets of sounds) between MIDI

Each channel carries data about the music being played. Some
kinds of data are:

     *Note Data - Note Number, Note On, Note Off. Every note in
the playable musical spectrum has its own unique MIDI note
number. These commands simply transmit information about what key
was pressed and when, and when it was released.

     *Velocity Data - Many (but not all) MIDI keyboards can send
a different "velocity" value depending on how hard the key is
struck. Velocity sensitivity is usually used to control volume;
the harder the key is struck, the louder the note sounds, much
like an analog instrument. Velocity values range from 1 (softest)
to 128 (loudest). Many inexpensive or older MIDI keyboards cannot
generate or respond to velocity data.

     *Program Change - Most synths can produce a variety of
sounds; each sound has its own identity and program number.
(These sounds are often called "patches," a holdover from the
days when synth programming was done by physically patching
cables between electronic modules.) Groups of patches are usually
organized into "banks;" the number of patches per bank varies
from one synth to the next. A MIDI Program Change command tells
the synth which Program Number -- which of its built-in "sounds"
-- to use when playing the note data.     

     *Pitch Bend - Data generated by the wheel or joystick
control on the synth that bends notes up or down.     

     *Controller Data - The MIDI Specification allows for
(potentially) 128 different controllers; some are standardized,
and some are available to be assigned by a manufacturer for a
particular function. Some of the standard controllers are:
Controller #64, Damper Switch (Sustain Pedal);  #7, MIDI Volume
(not velocity, but the "volume knob" function, in 128 steps);
#10, Pan Position (left to right in 128 steps);  #1, Modulation
Wheel; and several others. Not all devices can respond to all
types of controllers.

It's important to remember that it's up to the receiving device
to interpret the MIDI data stream. Sending note data to the MIDI
IN port of a drum machine will produce drum sounds. If the note
data was supposed to be a "piano" part, the results might be very
interesting, but will not sound like a piano. Similarly, a device
that cannot understand velocity data will simply ignore any
that's received.

----------MIDI PORTS

Most MIDI devices have either two or three MIDI jacks. They will
be labeled, and will function, as follows:

     *MIDI IN - Receives data from the MIDI OUT or MIDI THRU of
another MIDI device. Always receives ALL MIDI data present in the
data stream; which data are responded to -- and how -- and which
are ignored, is dependent upon the device's internal settings.
Virtually all MIDI devices have a MIDI IN port.

     *MIDI OUT - MIDI data *generated* by the device is output at
this port. Some devices which can respond to MIDI data, but do
not generate any (certain effects devices, for example), will not
include a MIDI OUT port.

     *MIDI THRU - The MIDI data stream which appears at the
device's MIDI IN is simply "passed through," unaltered, to this
port. This function allows several MIDI devices to be
"daisy-chained like this:

                          MIDI THRU ----> DEVICE 2/MIDI IN
                                            MIDI THRU ----> Etc.

Some older MIDI devices have only two ports, IN and OUT. Some of
these devices allow you to switch the OUT port to function as a
THRU port; others don't, which means they must be connected at
the end of the "daisy-chain."


*MIDI is a communication protocol, designed primarily for
electronic music.
*MIDI is a platform-independent, universal standard.
*There are 16 MIDI channels, combined into a single data stream.
*MIDI data can include note, velocity, program change, controller
and other data.
*MIDI devices are connected via their MIDI IN, OUT and THRU

"PC/MIDI BASICS #2" (MIDI#2.DOC) discusses the hardware interface
between MIDI devices and personal computers (specifically,

The PC/MIDI BASICS files are published irregularly and available
in the Music & Sound Text Library of the AOL Music and Sound

(c)Copyright 1991 by Richard D. Clark/Fundamentally Sound. This
file may be freely distributed only in its original form.
Suggestions/corrections/additions may be e-mailed on America
Online/PCLink to PCC RichC.

Offline chrisNova777

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Re: PC MIDI BASICS (3 part article) (1990?)
« Reply #1 on: July 07, 2017, 02:52:25 PM »
by Richard D. Clark (PCC RichC)
11/19/91 (updated 5/6/92)

A MIDI device is anything with MIDI connectors that can perform an action in response to an incoming MIDI data stream, and/or transmit such data. Common MIDI devices are synthesizers, tone modules, samplers, effects devices, drum machines, stand-alone sequencers, lighting controllers... and computers.

Most computers, especially IBM-compatible PC's, are not equipped with MIDI connectors as standard equipment; they must be added, in the form of a "MIDI Interface." Once equipped with an interface and suitable software, a PC can become the "command center" of a music composition and performance system whose complexity and capabilities are limited only by the needs and resources of the user.

MIDI interfaces produce no sound of their own (although some "music cards," which DO have sound-generating capabilities, include MIDI interfaces). They simply act as interpreters between PC's and external MIDI devices. Audio connections are made between the external devices and a playback system.


*Roland MPU-401 (and Compatibles)
The Roland MPU-401 was the first MIDI interface designed for the IBM-PC and compatibles. It consisted of two parts: the MPU-IPC, an 8-bit Input/Output card installed in an expansion slot of the computer, and the MPU-401 MIDI Interface itself, which was an external box connected to the IPC via a serial cable. The MPU-401 box was also used, with a suitable card, for Apple and Commodore computers.
The MPU-401 is an "intelligent" interface, which takes over the processing of MIDI data, removing that burden from the computer's CPU -- a necessity in the days of the 4.77MHz IBM-PC. It supports one MIDI In and one MIDI Out (it has two Out jacks, but the same data appears at both); includes an internal metronome (software controlled), and FSK (Frequency-Shift Keying) tape
synchronization (more on tape sync below).
The MPU-401 has become the "standard" MIDI interface; virtually all MIDI software for the PC supports it. Thus, it's no surprise that the MPU-401 has been widely cloned.

Some interfaces -- notably those manufactured by Voyetra -- achieve MPU compatibility by using a genuine Roland chipset; most others are "clones." However, very few reports of compatibility problems have arisen from any of the major manufacturers' interfaces.
At this writing, MPU-401-compatible interfaces are available from a number of manufacturers, including: 
     CMS (401-II, $129;  444-II, $249; and 444-EX, $399);
     Music Quest (PC MIDI Card, $129; MQX-16, $199; MQX-16S, $249);
     Roland (MPU-401, Super MPU, list prices unknown);        
     Voyetra (V4000, $139; V-22m, $219; V-24sm, $389).

(Note: all prices in this article are manufacturer's list; discounts are common.)     
These are the most widely-used and supported interfaces; others may be available from other manufacturers as well.     
The differences in prices arise from the presence or absence of "extra" features beyond basic MPU-401 functions (16 channels ofMIDI I/O). These features are discussed below.

*"Music Cards"

The Sound Blaster, Sound Blaster Pro, ProAudio Spectrum and the possibly forthcoming AdLib Gold are among the PC expansion cards that include, among many other features, a MIDI interface (optional on the Sound Blaster). These interfaces support full-duplex (simultaneous MIDI In and Out) operation, but offer few or no other MIDI features. (Note that full-duplex MIDI was added to the Sound Blaster with the recent Version 2.0; earlier versions did
not support simultaneous in/out, severely limiting their usefulness as MIDI interfaces.)

The MIDI interfaces included with these cards are not MPU-401 compatible. Be warned that manufacturers of some "clone" music cards advertise that their interfaces are "MPU compatible," but in small type (if at all) add "in UART mode." The MPU-401 can be run in a mode that bypasses its onboard processor, and this is the mode they're talking about. Software that "requires an MPU-401 or compatible" will probably *not* work with these interfaces (which are the same as the Blaster-type interface).

The utility of these interfaces is somewhat limited by the software available to support them, but this is less true than it was in 1991.  All are bundled with a basic MIDI sequencer (an entry-level version of Voyetra's Sequencer Plus in the case of the SB's and the Spectrum). Support for the SB/MIDI-type interface is growing, especially with the introduction of Multi-media support in Windows 3.1. Any MIDI program designed to work with Win3.1 or later will support these music cards' MIDI interfaces.

Still, many older MIDI programs, and those not designed for Windows -- editor/librarians, sequencers, notation programs, etc. --  do not yet support FM card MIDI interfaces.

These cards can be a very cost-effective entry to the world of PC music and MIDI. Their on-board synthesizers can be used as additional tone modules in a MIDI system; they can provide great sound for games that support them; they include DAC (Digital/Analog Converter) circuitry that provides digital
recording and playback capability (not accessible via MIDI, unfortunately); and some even include joystick ports and SCSI connectors for CD-ROM drives.

*Serial Interfaces

Serial MIDI interfaces connect to the PC's RS-232 serial port, and thus do not require an expansion slot. Such interfaces are the only practical choice for use with portable computers that have no expansion bus. They are not widely supported by MIDI software, although Twelve-Tone Systems' Cakewalk and Cakewalk Professional (character-based sequencers) do support them, making the combination very usable in a portable computing environment.
These interfaces are manufactured by Key Electronics (MS-101 Midiator, $119; MS-103 Midiator, $179; MS-114 Midiator, $229.)

Key has recently introduced multiple-MIDI-port versions of the MIDIator, and a version that works with a parallel port. And one sequencing/notation package, Music Printer Plus, now supports the MIDIator interface.

*Multiple-Port Interfaces 

The MPU-401 standard is limited to one set of 16 MIDI channels. As MIDI systems became more complex, and the use of multi-timbral synthesizers became widespread, 16 channels became an unusably small number for many systems.
Additional channels are implemented by creating "ports;" each port transmits its own set of 16 MIDI channels.
By definition, multi-port interfaces are not MPU-401 compatible. However, they can be made so. Music Quest, for example, sets up their multi-port 444 series interfaces so that one input and one output can function as an MPU-401. Voyetra's V24sm includes an MPU "daughterboard" that can be addressed as an MPU "port" by software.
Also, more than one MIDI interface can co-exist in the same PC; a multi-port interface can be installed along with an MPU; their outputs can then be routed to a MIDI "thru box," which can switch the external MIDI system to accept output from either interface.
Of the interfaces listed above, the CMS 444 series and the Voyetra V-24sm are multiple-port interfaces (which include MPU compatibility). Others are the Music Quest MQX-32M ($349) and the Voyetra V-22 ($129) and V-24s ($299). The new Roland Super MPU offers 32 MPU-compatible MIDI channels plus SMPTE.



All interfaces provide a minimum of one MIDI In and one MIDI Out/Thru connector; many provide two or more outs, which operate in parallel (the same data appearing at each output). This can allow you to connect several MIDI devices to the interface without "daisy-chaining," with the potential for audible time delay that can be introduced by some devices that "hold on" to MIDI data for a split second before passing it to their Thru ports. However, "Thru Boxes" are relatively inexpensive, and can easily be added later as your MIDI system grows.

It's important to remember the distinction between an interface with multiple parallel outs (all being used by one MIDI data stream of 16 channels), and one with multiple ports (each addressed by a separate stream of 16 channels each).

*Tape Synchronization

Tape sync is one of the least-understood and most under-used capabilities of many MIDI interfaces. Tape sync (using FSK) was included in the original Roland MPU-401, but most entry-level compatibles omit this feature.

Tape sync is a very useful thing. In advanced MIDI systems, it can be used in film and video post-production (allowing exact placement of sound-effects and music cues), as well as for the creation of "virtual tracks," controlled by the sequencer, that are synchronized with analog tracks recorded on a multi-track tape deck.

These techniques can be used in a home system too, and if you have access to a four-track "portable studio," I highly recommend that you purchase a MIDI interface with tape sync capabilities.

The technique is simple:

1) Create a sequence that contains the same number of measures and the same tempo changes as the final song;

2) Connect the interface's "tape out" to an input of the multitrack (usually an "outside" track, 1 or 4 on a four-track);

3) Issue the appropriate sequencer commands to generate "sync tone" or "time code," put the deck into record, and while playing the sequence record the sync tone or code on the deck (this is referred to as "striping the tape"). You can also place a "scratch mix" of your sequence on a different track at the same time.

4) Rewind the tape, and connect the line out of the sync track to the "tape in" of the interface. Tell your sequencer to "sync to external time code," and play the tape. The sequencer will read the sync from the tape, start playing, and remain "locked" to the tape through the sequence.

Tape sync comes in different varieties, with different capabilities. The simplest is FSK (Frequency-Shift Keying), wherein the interface generates an audible signal consisting of two frequencies (1.25kHz and 2.5kHz in the case of Roland FSK) alternating at a rate determined by the tempo of the sequence. The primary disadvantage of FSK is that there is no "location"
information (except for "start") in the code, so in order to sync to tape you must always start the tape and the sequence from the beginning.

Time Code avoids this problem by including data marking the progress of time in detail as the code is generated and recorded. SMPTE Time code (a standard developed by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, hence the acronym) is the mostcommonly used; it generates time code divided into hours, minutes, seconds, and frames (the frame rate can vary depending
on the application). When a tape is striped with SMPTE Time Code, a properly-equipped sequencer/interface can read an exact location from any point on the tape, and within a second or two "chase-lock" the sequencer playback to that point on the tape.

Other "smart" sync systems exist, utilizing MIDI Time Code, "Smart FSK" and other systems. However, the cost of MIDI interfaces that can read and generate true SMPTE Time code has dropped in the last year to a point so low that there's little reason to use anything else. Interfaces that offer SMPTE
capabilities include: Voyetra V-24s ($299) and V-24sm ($389 with MPU compatibility); CMS 444-II ($249) and 444EX ($399), both with one MPU-compatible port; Music Quest MQX-16s ($249, with MPU compatibility) and MQX-32m ($349); and Roland's new Super-MPU with 2 MPU-compatible ports (price unavailable).

Tape sync can be used, even with a standard home cassette deck and "dumb" FSK, to effectively double the polyphony and voice capabilities of your MIDI system. Here's how:

1) Create a sequence that includes as many parts as you want. Record the sync tone on the left channel of a cassette, and a mix of the sequence on the right channel.

2) Mute as many tracks in the sequence as necessary to free up synth voices while still having reference tracks to play to.

3) Add new tracks -- new parts, new voices doubling old parts, whatever.

4) Mute all the "old" tracks in the sequence. Connect the right channel output of your tape deck to your mixer or audio amp along with the audio output of your synth(s). Rewind the tape, put your sequencer in external sync mode, and start the tape. You'll hear the original parts, as recorded on the tape, play back in sync with the new parts being played by the sequencer. As long as you don't change the structure of the song, you can even go back and change the original parts (while muting the new ones) and re- record the tape (replacing both audio and stripe).


The original Roland MPU-401 included an internal metronome which "beeped" in time to the tempo generated by the sequencer. Other interfaces can generate this beep through the PC's internal speaker.

With the advent of multi-timbral synths, most musicians stopped using this annoying beep and instead create a metronome track that triggers a sound from a drum machine, which is much easier to play to. Indeed, many sequencers include a metronome function that can be set up to automatically trigger a specific patch, note number, and MIDI channel for use as a metronome. Thus, the metronome function on the MIDI interface has become obsolete. If you avoid interfaces that have it, you'll also avoid the
annoyance of having to turn it off.


"Music Cards" are available at computer hardware and software stores, as well as through most mail-order computer hardware/software vendors.

MPU-compatible interfaces -- as with most MIDI gear -- are sold through electronic music stores. Again, mail-order vendors exist through which MIDI interfaces, devices and software can be ordered. Electronic Musician and Keyboard are two magazines which include lots of ads for hardware and vendors.

Many MIDI interfaces are sold in "bundles" which include a sequencer, usually an entry-level package. Unless you know FOR SURE that the included sequencer is the one you want, it's a good idea to ignore it when making a purchasing decision. The sequencer will be your primary composing tool, and deserves separate consideration.

A basic MPU-401 compatible interface will work with any PC that has an open slot -- even a 4.77MHz PC. With the exception of the newer music cards -- SBPro, AdLib Gold, ProAudio Spectrum -- the cards discussed above are all 8-bit cards, and so will work with any PC.  However, the more advanced functions, like SMPTE sync, multiple ports, etc., will work better with faster computers. Some older Sound Blasters and Thunderboards reportedly have some problems with very fast computers (eg 486/33's), but these are DAC  incompatibilities which don't affect MIDI operation.

Give some thought to the physical setup of your computer when selecting an interface. Some have their MIDI connectors on a box that plugs directly into the card on the back of the CPU; if it's hard to reach the back of your computer, you'll need MIDI extension cables (male to female). Other interfaces include a "connector box" that can be set atop or beside your computer, making cable-swapping easy.

"PC/MIDI BASICS #3" (MIDI#3.DOC) discusses sequencing and notation software
for the PC.

The PC/MIDI BASICS files are published irregularly and available in the Music & Sound Text Library of the AOL Music and Sound Forum.

(c)Copyright 1991/1992 by Richard D. Clark/Fundamentally Sound. This file may be freely distributed only in its original form.

Offline chrisNova777

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Re: PC MIDI BASICS (3 part article) (1990?)
« Reply #2 on: July 07, 2017, 02:52:59 PM »
By Richard D. Clark (PCC RichC)

(Note: A list of many of the programs available in these categories can
be found at the end of this document.)

Well, now that you have a basic understanding of what MIDI does and how
it works (see PC/MIDI #1), and have chosen, purchased and installed a
MIDI interface in your computer (#2), it's time to make some music!

There are two basic types of software applications available for making
MIDI music: the SEQUENCER and the NOTATOR. Some programs combine both
functions, usually sacrificing some power in the process.

SEQUENCERS accept input from an external keyboard (in real- or
step-time) or by file import, and usually also from a mouse or computer
keyboard. They record MIDI data -- notes, controller messages, etc. --
and include means for that data to be edited, modified, saved and played
back. The most powerful MIDI sequencers can manipulate music in just
about any way imaginable. Think of the sequencer as a "music processor,"
analogous to a word-processor. 

NOTATORS accept input from the same sources as sequencers, though import
of sequencer-created files is the most common way to start. Their
primary function is to create printable transcriptions. Since many types
of MIDI data do not readily translate into traditional notation (for
example, it's tough to notate a different key velocity for every note),
notators usually don't try to compete with sequencers as MIDI editors.

INTEGRATED PROGRAMS are becoming more popular, and as they do they are
becoming more capable. The introduction of MIDI support in Microsoft
Windows 3.1 seems to have been an incentive to developers, and several
new integrated programs are due to be introduced in the Spring and
Summer of '92., joining the many DOS-based packages that have been
available for years.

But before you just jump in any buy an integrated program, give some
thought to your goals, skills and expectations. The choice of a
music-making program is not to be taken lightly; this will be your main
tool in creating MIDI music. Many musicians find that, once a program is
learned, it's very hard to switch to a different one. If you are
comfortable with the way your creative mind works, a program that forces
you to change the way you think about music can be very uncomfortable to
work with.

Try to get hands-on time with any program you're considering. Trying it
out in the music store is *not* sufficient, unless the store has a
classroom or studio setup where you can work undisturbed for a couple of
hours, using a PC and keyboard setup similar to your own. Usually, the
best approach is to narrow down your selection list to three programs or
so, and then purchase them (one at a time) from a reputable mail-order
music software dealer. Establish out front that the usual 30-day
money-back guarantee is in force, and return software that you don't
like. You may need to repeat this a few times until you're satisfied
with your choice.

The kind of program you look for will depend heavily on your existing
musical skills and the way you like to make music. For example:

*Keyboard Players who already have decent keyboard skills, and own a
MIDI keyboard, will probably want to work primarily with a sequencer.
With a sequencer you can enter musical data as fast as you can play, and
the nuances of your performance (assuming a velocity-sensitive keyboard)
will be retained. It's easy to correct mistakes, to add tracks with
parts for different instruments, and to perfect even a large, complex

*People who wish to create MIDI files for exchange with others will find
this easier to do with a sequencer. An exception to this might be
someone with sight-reading ability (or who's just copying music from a
printed score) but no MIDI keyboard. Such users could use a notator to
create a MIDI file, but should keep in mind that the result will be a
very rigid-sounding performance. 

*Musicians who need transcriptions of their music will require a
notator. Whether they also need a sequencer will depend on how they
create the music to be transcribed.

Many newcomers to PC music bring with them the misconception that a
screen display of standard notation is a necessity. It's not (unless
you're planning to print a transcription). *All* sequencers utilize some
method to display note data; the most common is the "piano-roll." Found
in the majority of sequencers, (and even in most integrated programs),
the piano roll can display (depending on the program) several measures
and octaves of note data very quickly, and for many musicians -- even
accomplished sight-readers -- is easier to work with than notation.

SEQUENCERS: Features and Choices

I can't possibly cover the entire field here, so I'm just going to touch
on some of the main issues to think about when choosing a sequencer.

*User Interface: 

It looks like Windows sequencers are going to dominate the market before
long, and in a way that's too bad. The best of the DOS-based
character-mode sequencers -- Sequencer Plus Gold and Cakewalk
Professional -- are still state-of-the-art in terms of sequencing power
and richness of features, and run with a snap and sizzle (even on a 286)
that Windows-based sequencers just can't match.  Such sequencers are
still the programs of choice for owners of older, slower machines;
laptop owners can rejoice in the fact that Cakewalk Standard can be run
from a single floppy, and supports the Key Electronics MIDIator
serial-port MIDI interface.

Some sequencers (Cadenza, for example), use a proprietary windowing-type
interface, but the sequencing world is migrating to MS Windows in a big
way. Many of these programs do offer advantages over their non-GUI
cousins: graphical controller editing, side-by-side track editing,
multiple open files, extended memory support for huge sequences,
traditional notation (sometimes), and the somewhat-standardized Windows
interface. The price for all that is, of course, the need for
ever-more-powerful computers. While Windows itself will run on a 286,
most Windows sequencers really need a 386/20 or faster in order to
handle the simultaneous graphics overhead and reatime MIDI data
processing, especially with large, complex music files.

*Hardware Support:

Any sequencer will support all external MIDI devices, and will also
support Roland MPU-401-compatible MIDI interfaces. But not all
sequencers support every other available MIDI interface. Support for the
Sound Blaster MIDI interface (and the basically identical interfaces on
other such music cards) is growing, but by no means universal. More
advanced interfaces from Music Quest, CMS, Voyetra and Roland, which
offer features like multi-port operation and SMPTE time-code
synchronization, can't be expected to work with a particular sequencer
unless its documentation specifically says it does. So check first.

Some sequencers also provide drivers for the built-in FM synthesizer
found on most PC music cards (like the Adlib, Sound Blaster, Pro Audio
Spectrum, etc.). These allow the sequencer to "see" the FM synth as an
additional MIDI port, and the music card's voices can be used in
sequencing in tandem with external synthesizers. 

If you are purchasing both an interface and a sequencer, it's wise to
decide on the features you need (or may want in the future), and make
sure they're supported by both the hardware and software.


Just about any sequencer will perform basic 16-channel MIDI recording
and playback, and offer fundamental editing utilities like cut-and-paste
of measures and tracks. Most can edit notes and MIDI events on an
individual basis. Most offer a sufficient number of tracks (at least
32), and can create large enough files to accomodate long, complex
compositions. Support for the Standard MIDI File Format (.MID) is now
just about universal, although most sequencers default to  a proprietary
file format which supports more types of data than SMF's do. A few
sequencers will also work with .ROL files (designed for Adlib-compatible
music cards' FM synths). 

It's in their more advanced features -- and in the way they provide
access to them -- that sequencers differ.  Here are a few examples:

*Track Management: Maximum tracks (16 to over 2000); Individual track
muting and soloing; track grouping, group muting and soloing.

*System Exclusive Support (ability to send patch data to individual
synths):  Built-in Librarian; Sysex upload/download.

*Controller Editing: Volume and Pan Control (Graphical or Numeric);
Controller Curve Editing (Graphical or Numeric); MIDI Event display
(Event List, MIDI Line, etc.).

*External Synchronization: Support for SMPTE Time Code, MIDI Time Code,
FSK Sync, MIDI SPP (Song Position Pointer).

*Global Editing: Tools for modifying note and/or MIDI data over a
measure, region or track; Edit by measure boundaries or between
user-defined points.

*Record/Playback Tools: Multichannel Recording; Selectable Filters (to
avoid recording unwanted data types); Punch-in/Punch Out;
Step-Recording; Manual Insert;.

*Timing/Quantizing: Maximum Resolution (the higher the better); Quantize
during playback only and/or permanently; minimum quantize value (16th,
32nd, 64th, triplets in any value, etc.); Advanced Quantization features
("human feel," syncopation, etc.); Multiple time signatures in same

...and many, many more. An advanced MIDI sequencer can have a features
list that runs for pages, and to compare available packages on a
feature-by-feature basis would take forever. That's why it's so
important to "try before you buy." Most publishers offer demos of their
programs (either free or at a nominal charge); many demos of commercial
sequencers are available for download on America Online (search for DEMO

NOTATORS: Features and Choices

Notators are definitely a "niche product;" there are fewer available,
and they vary widely in their features and capabilities. The advice to
"try before you buy" goes double here: the notator that works well for
the songwriter creating lead sheets based on a keyboard performance may
be entirely unsuitable for the composer scoring brass charts using mouse

*User Interface

Notators are, by their nature, graphics applications. Some, however, do
actually run under DOS in character mode, using an extended character
set to display notes, rests, staves, etc.  Such programs often do not
support the use of a mouse. 

Again, most of the recent action in this area has been triggered by the
introduction of Windows 3, and this makes sense for the same reason that
using a Windows desktop publishing program makes sense. 

When evaluating a notator, though, it's vital to ascertain that its
feature-set will cover your current and likely future needs -- even more
important than it is with sequencers. With a sequencer, it's usually
possible to work around a missing or poorly-implemented feature. With a
notator, if you need something (like a 128th note) and the program can't
do it, you're out of luck.

*File Support

Most notators can now import Standard MIDI Files; avoid those that
don't. However, some can handle only eight tracks at a time, so you may
need a sequencer to re-create some SMF's to prepare them for notator
import. Some notators can also import the proprietary files of some
sequencers (especially true with brandmates like Passport's Master
Tracks Pro sequencer and Encore notator). All notators save their
transcriptions in proprietary formats; some can also create SMF's from a
score (but these files will usually be very thin on MIDI performance

*Hardware Support

Most notators support only Roland MPU-401 compatible MIDI interfaces.
However, as more sequencers are updated to reflect Windows' new
multimedia capabilities, they will also support interfaces (like the
Sound Blaster's) that work with Windows. Few notators support external
synchronization. Advice here is the same as it is for sequencers: be
sure your hardware and software choices are compatible before committing
your money!

Playback of your transcription via a MIDI synth is just about the best
way to "proof" it before you print it, so make sure you can accomplish
this with your hardware.

*Input Choices

*Music: Besides importing sequence files, most notators allow realtime
or step-time input from an external MIDI keyboard. (But some don't, so
be warned!) Most (but again not all) let you manipulate elements
onscreen via a mouse and/or the computer keyboard. 

*Text: All notators will let you enter lyrics below the staff, though
their facility with this function varies. Most allow placement of text
chord symbols above the staff; some also will create fretboard chord
symbols. The ability to add additional text to the page (annotations and
such) varies.


Check a program's printer support carefully. While acceptable results
can be achieved with a 24-pin dot-matrix printer, laser printers give
better results. Many programs support HP LaserJets and compatibles..
I recommend that you also make sure any notator you buy supports
PostScript, even if you don't own a PostScript printer. Someday, you'll
create a score for which you'll want the highest-possible quality
printing. If your notator can print to a PostScript file (and you have
the Adobe Sonata font, often included with notators), you can take that
file to an image-setting service for publication-quality reproduction..
It's likely that the same will soon apply to TrueType, but as of this
writing I haven't heard of a TrueType notation font.

*Notation Power

I can't cover the dozens of notator features here; but I can give you an
idea of how the programs vary. You'll need to decide what's important to
your applications.

*Keys & Meters: Some notators let you mix key signatures in a
transcription; some don't. If you create music with key changes, this is
pretty important. The same is true of time signatures: if you create
music in 5/4 time that goes to 4/4 in the bridge, make sure your notator
can handle mixed meters.

*Options & Preferences: Some programs don't support alternative
noteheads (like x for percussion); at the other end of the spectrum,
some allow you to create custom symbols with a drawing tool, and save
them as permanently-available symmbols. Many programs are rigid in their
rules about things like beam angle, stem thinkness, dot offset and such,
while others let you customize such aspects of a transcription's
appearance. Often, flexibility in these areas can make the difference
between professional-looking notation and something less.

*Transposition & Part Extraction: If you're creating parts for
individual instrumentalists from a master score, a notator with strong,
easy-to-use extraction capabilities will save you hours of labor.
Examine this capability carefully; some notators can't do it at all!
Similarly, if you need to transpose parts for singers, or wish to
transpose a theme from a major to a minor key, look closely at the
program's transposition modes. Some are limited to chromatic
transposition (eg: A Major to G Major); some can't transpose at all;
others can transpose in multiple, selectable modes.

*Staves & Channels: Make sure your notator can support as many staves as
you might need; one with a 16-staff limit is unsuitable for symphonic
composition. And make sure the program offers the flexibility to assign
more than one MIDI channel to a single staff (so you can combine, say,
vocal harmonies originally sequenced for separate MIDI instruments onto
a single staff).

*Things You Might Forget to Think About:  Cross-Staff Beaming (important
for piano transcriptions; not all programs can do it). Resolution (32nd
notes are probably too coarse; 256th notes may be more than you'd ever
need). Screen-scrolling follows playback (believe it or not, some
don't); Diagonal Beaming (yes, some programs can't!).

"Try before you buy." "Try before you buy." "Try before you buy."
Right? Right! And in the case of a notator, "look before you buy," too.
Ask the publisher to send you samples of scores printed with their
program, and examine them critically -- even compare them to
commercially-published transcriptions of the same music, if possible.
Try to determine how the program compromised in order to handle that
particular music, and whether you could live with those compromises.
Music notation is an art form separate and distinct from performance or
composition. And in many ways it is just as idiosyncratic and organic as
performance or composition. Yet it has far more rules and conventions.
It's tough for a computer program to reconcile these attributes, and
most fail in one way or another. Consider also that the more flexibility
a notator offers (the better it's able to reconcile art with the rules
of notation), the more complex and difficult it's likely to be to learn
and use.


Most of the above concerning sequencers and notators applies to
integrated programs. The all-in-one packages usually started out either
as sequencers or as notators, adding features in later versions, and
their origins show. Those that started out as notators may be very good
ones; usually their sequencing power is the equivalent of an entry-level
sequencer. It's only recently (in the Windows environment) that
sequencers have begun adding notation capabilities, and those
capabilities are distinctly limited compared to the high-end notators.

If your need for one module (eg: notation) is only casual, selecting a
good sequencer with a notator module may make sense, and the reverse may
also be true.

But the killer integrated program that can compete with both the best
sequencers and the best notators has yet to appear. 


The PC/MIDI BASICS files are published irregularly and available in the
Music & Sound Text Library of the AOL Music and Sound Forum.

(c)Copyright 1992 by Richard D. Clark/Fundamentally Sound. This file may
be freely distributed only in its original form.

Suggestions/corrections/additions may be e-mailed on America
Online/PCLink to PCC RichC.


By no means all-inclusive, I've listed here the most prominent of
existing and forthcoming programs. Prices are list. Addresses and phone
numbers follow.

Dan McKee     
WinJammer(formerly MIDIedit)   (Shareware, $50)

Master Tracks Pro         ($395)   
Trax                      ($99)

Big Noise     
Cadenza for Windows       ($300)

Finale                    ($749)

Encore                    ($595)

MIDISoft Studio for Windows      ($249)

MusicTime  (for windows)           ($249)

Cakewalk Pro for Windows         (??? - summer '92)

Big Noise     
Cadenza                ($200)

Dr. T's       
Prism                     ($99)
MIDISoft Studio/Standard         ($140)
MIDISoft Studio/Advanced         ($220)

Triple Forte                  ($249)

Cakewalk Standard          ($150)
Cakewalk Professional         ($249)

Sequencer Plus              ($169)
Sequencer Plus Gold         ($300)

DOS Notators
alla breve     
Musicad                     ($295)

Dr. T's       
Copyist Pro-DTP                  ($299)
Copyist Apprentice          ($99)
Quick Score Deluxe          ($99)

SongWright                       ($99)

Teach Services
Laser Music Processor            ($99)

The Note Processor             ($295)
Showtune                    ($79)

Dynaware       Ballade (for Roland MT-32)       ($195)
Jim Miller     Personal Composer                ($595)
Temporal Acuity     Music Printer Plus          ($595)

alla breve Music Software / 1105 Chicago Ave, Suite 111 / Oak Park, IL / 60302 / (800)833-2397
Big Noise Software / P.O. Box 23740 / Jacksonville, FL / 32241 / (904) 730-0754
Coda Music Software / 1401 E. 79th St. / Bloomington, MN / 55425-1126 / (800)843-2066
Dr. T's Music Software / 100 Crescent Rd., Suite 1B / Needham, MA / 02194 / (617)455-1454
Dynaware USA Inc. / 950 Tower Lane, #1150 / Foster City, CA / 94404 / (415)349-5700
Dan McKee / 69 Rancliffe Road / Oakville, Ontario / Canada / L6H 1B1
Midisoft Corp. / P.O. Box 1000 / Bellevue, WA / 98009 / (800)776-6434
Jim Miller / 3213 W. Wheeler St., Suite 140 / Seattle, WA 98199 / (800)446-8088
Passport / 100 Stone Pine Rd. / Half Moon Bay, CA / 94019 / (415)726-0280
SongWright Software / 7 Loudoun St., SE / Leesburg, VA / 22075 / (800)877-8070
Teach Services / 182 Donivan Rd. / Brushton, NY / 12916 / (518)358-2125
Temporal Acuity Products / 300-120th N.E., Bldg. 1 / Bellevue, WA / 98005 / (800)426-2673
thoughtprocessors / 584 Bergen St. / Brooklyn, NY / 11238 / (718)857-2860
Twelve-Tone Systems / P.O. Box 760 / Watertown, MA / 02272 / (800)234-1171
Voyetra Technologies / 333 Fifth Ave / Pellham, NY / 10803 / (914)738-4500