Recording with MIDI in 7 Steps

MIDI RecordingSequencers (software based-) synthesizers and other electronic instruments have unlimited possibilities.

I can only advise you to purchase a MIDI keyboard so that you can control all these goodies.

And sometimes you want to control several different synthesizers or amazing sound modules within your sequencer.

MIDI is the way to achieve this.

But what exactly is MIDI? What does it stand for? Where do you need it for? And what can you do with it?

1. Definition 2. What to Do with It 3. Computer 4. VST 5. Sequencing 6. Editing 7. Quantization 8. Controlling 9. Signal and Connectivity

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface.

It’s not only used for musical instruments, but we can also find it within for example daw controllers and in some computer software.

It’s main use is to let electronic instruments communicate with each other, this is done by the midi protocol.

Keep in mind MIDI isn’t audio, you cannot hear a midi signal. It is nothing more than a series of musical commands.


So don’t try to connect a midi cable on an audio output, that wouldn’t make sense… don’t you think.

To playback midi and hear it, you first need to make audio. This can be done by assigning an instrument to play the midi notes.

To answer the question if the midi sounds good, is dependent on the audio software that is used.

If you have equipment which can send and receive midi-signals, you can control other software or gear with it. So you can control every midi-aspect of that piece of equipment you have connected.

A 5 pin Din cable and connector is what you need to connect the different equipment and software with each other.

Nowadays we can also use USB which can send the same software protocol language and every modern computer has the necessary drivers in place.

What to do with midi?

There is so much you can do with it, it’s too much to write down. The main thing is: you can play music on a midi instrument, record the signal with software and you can also use it as a controller.

A lot of electronic music instruments have the midi-connection. There are keyboards that produce their own sound that have the connection, but there are also keyboards which don’t produce sound that have the connection as well.

This protocol can influence certain aspects of an electronic instrument like: sensitivity, channel, volume and much more.

Step 1. Connect your midi controller to your computer

To connect your controller to your computer you will have to use the “5 pin din cable” or a USB cable.

Usually computers don’t have the 5 pin din connection, so if you want to use that you will need an Audio Interface.

After you have installed every necessary protocol you can begin using your instrument on your computer.

Step 2. No sound? Use a VST

Midi on it’s own has no sound or audio. So we will have to use an instrument to playback the midi notes. If you have a Virtual Instrument installed on your computer you will have to configure the midi settings.

Set the correct midi-inputs to control the VST, you can often configure these settings at the software preferences.

The same goes for Digital Audio Workstations. In that case you will have to load the plugin into the DAW.

In order to hear the sound you will have to activate the plugin on the channel as well as the “listen” option.

Step 3. Sequencing

Most DAWS have sequence capability and thus the ability to record midi.

If you create a midi track with an instrument and you have selected the right input, you can play the instrument while recording the notes.

When you playback the sequence you will hear the VST playing the notes you have recorded.

Step 4. Editing

This editing process gives use the ability to edit the recorded notes afterwards. Changing the length, position and note is nothing you can’t accomplish with this.

Another function is the “draw” option, which enables you to draw another note within the sequence. This draw function can also edit the velocity or any other VST specific midi-function.

A lot of DAWS have the function to convert recorded music into a score. Which musicians then can play on their instrument.

Step 5: Quantization and Timing

In a DAW there is often the option to quantize your recording. This means that the note that has been recorded will move to the closest count unit. This will influence the timing making it tighter and be on count.

A lot of sequencers use their own “Clock” to determine the tempo of the sequence. This Clock will determine the position of the recorded notes which you can playback.

If your project has the tempo set to 120BPM but you are playing in at 100BPM then your notes won’t be placed on the correct position. So before recording make sure your project is set to the right tempo.

This will make editing stuff like quantization much easier at a later stage.

Step 6: Controlling VST’s and Software

If you want to control with midi your software should have this function. Many plugins can be controlled by this protocol and even DAW’s can be controlled as well. To use this function you will need to setup the right configuration.

The software must also know which button on the controller, will get which function. To set these functions is called “mapping” of the controller for the software.

Sometimes the program or daw you are using has a function called “learn”. This “learn” will interconnect automatically and assign a specific function to a specific button, slider or rotary knob.

Step 7: The Signal and Connectivity

Midi has 16 channels on which a signal with different types of messages with the same protocol can be sent:

• Note-0n, which note is being pressed with Velocity-Sensitivity, the speed with which the note is being played (Touch Sensitivity)
• Note-Off, which note is being released
• Program Change, changes of program (sound, bank) this can vary between 0 and 127
• Pitch Bend, 14bit messages which can have 16.384 different values
• Control Change (CC), Two parameters, both with a value between 0-127 the first controller will have the number 1 value and the second controller number 2.
• Aftertouch, a message that is sent when a key is played harder or softer (if the keyboard has this function).
• Poly-Aftertouch, it’s the same as Aftertouch but it includes which note is being played
• Global messages: these are independent from the 16 channels. These signals are usually designed for specific equipment functions. System Real-Time, info about start, stop en speed (clock).

With a free program like Midi Ox you can check which messages are sent with midi. This can be very handy if you are experiencing problem with certain functions and you want to resolve them. With ease you can see which signal is coming in and which signal is going out.

Here is an example of checking out such a signal:

Everything comes on (port3) in this case Midi Yoke NT:3, on which a midi device in connected. This will be playing on channel 1.
The note B3 is being (data1, note) played (status, event) with a speed of 51 (data2).
The program has been changed (status, event) to 55 (data1)
The pitchblende is being moves (status, data, event) to value 64 (data2) and again to 65 and back to 64.
The last one will be a SysEX (status, event) that has been sent.

(This is a little example of what you can expect from the midi language)

Usually a midi input can only be used by one device at a time. But with virtual midi ins & outs you could connect different computers with each other if you would like to.

Connecting it all can cause a lot of headache sometimes, especially when your configuration isn’t working properly. But when all of this is done correctly it’s a great thing to have for a musician or studio owner.

It gives you much flexibility when your recording, because you can easily manipulate your recording.