Thoroughly Modern Midi

…background information on practising with midi files for parents and pupils.

Practising a group part at home can seem like a meaningless and discouraging activity. The idea behind uploading midi files of group pieces is that pupils can practise in a virtual ensemble. There are many advantages to midi:

  • files can be created easily from most score writing software
  • it is relatively easy to create multiple versions of a piece at a variety of speeds
  • the files are very small and do not take up much disc space when saved to your hard drive
  • they can be played on any media player
  • processed in iTunes, they can be converted into audio CD tracks

However, there are limitations and it is worth noting these to avoid unnecessary disppointment. Midi files are essentially numbers and are not a sound source. These numbers are converted into sound by your computer and the emerging sound depends on: 

  • the sound card
  • the speakers/headphones

Given the variety in these components, certain aspects of music are best omitted – notably increases and decreases in volume as these can result in the sound soaring to an unacceptalbe level or dropping to an inaudible one. Therefore, I have set the volume at a constant for the duration of evey piece in the interest of clarity. Changes in volume will still take place in rehearsals and performances.

Midi files are more about information than entertainment and this is at its most apparent when it comes to phrasing. In speech, certain words in any given sentence are stressed and others subdued. This is also true of notes in music, but it is impossible to convey this in a midi file. In this respect they can seem very inexpressive. However, when pupils are comfortable with timing etc. they will be more able to think about expression when playing in rehearsals and performances.

Midi files allow the author to spread the various parts along the stereo spectrum. This allows pupils to pinpoint their part more easily. Most arrangements are in three or four parts and the audio layout is as follows:

Three parts:   3    1   2

Four parts:    2   4   1   3

The idea behind this spread is to keep parts which are close together in pitch away from one another.

My recommendation for practising with midi files would be:

  • listen to the piece while following the music but without playing – taking note of repeats and jumps in the music
  • begin playing along with the slowest version (the one with the lowest number in the title) e.g. Troika 80
  • progress through the files until you reach the final performance speed

2 thoughts on “Thoroughly Modern Midi”

  1. That was nice man. I’ve never thought of using midis as a “skeleton” for instructional purposes. It does however as you where saying make the recognition easier. Very comprehensive article, keep up the good work.

    Mike Koenig

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