- What is MIDI?
- What is the origin of MIDI?
- About Web MIDI
- What is a MIDI controller?
- Examples of other types of MIDI Controllers
- ATTENTION: MIDI controllers don't make sound
What is MIDI?
MIDI is a communication protocol - similar to Wi-Fi or USB - specifically designed for music-making. It is like a language that allows music-making devices to communicate with each other. That means synthesizers, drum machines, but also music software called DAW (for Digital Audio Workstation) or music apps on your computer, tablet, or smartphone.
old (1981) and new logo (2020) for MIDI
What is the origin of MIDI?
MIDI was born from a discussion between a group of music tech gear companies that wanted to standardize the communication between music devices from different brands. From this group of companies, the MIDI Association was born.
The first MIDI specification was released in 1981, and this version is used in pretty much all devices to this day!
At the origins of MIDI devices, a 5-pin DIN connector and cables were necessary.
the 5-pin DIN connector found in most devices that support MIDI a MIDI cable
Nowadays, MIDI messages can be sent over any type of USB cable and ports, as well as via Bluetooth and WiFi. Our devices Playtron and TouchMe use USB 2.0.
About Web MIDI
The Web MIDI API allows you to connect your MIDI gear directly to your browser. That’s why you can use your device with web-based apps such as our online synth collection. We recommend you use Google Chrome, as it is the only browser that supports Web MIDI API at the moment.
What is a MIDI controller?
MIDI controllers are devices similar to your computer keyboard or mouse, in the way that they send instructions to the computer, except these ones “speak” MIDI. In this case, the instructions are sent to your music software or hardware, and those instructions are then translated into sound. So the controller only tells what to play, the sounds themselves are generated by the software you’re using. (Please note that this “translation” is done by the software, that’s why you can get a huge variety of sounds using a MIDI controller: it depends on what sounds your software generates.)
And that is exactly what is happening when you use Playtron or TouchMe.
Playtron gives the instructions to your host music device (that can be a synthesizer, effects processor, etc.) or your music software (a DAW, a standalone plugin, or an app) saying “play [this note] when I touch [this object]”.
On TouchMe the principle is slightly different. TouchMe sends to the host device or software a message about pitch, saying something like: “play [X note] when I have [Y amount of current passing between TouchMe pads]; play [Z note] when I have [W amount of current passing between TouchMe pads]”.
Examples of other types of MIDI Controllers
MIDI controllers have evolved a lot through time, can take many different shapes, and have various capabilities.
There’s the MIDI keyboards family, ranging from super-small and light keyboards to big workstations.
Then you have MIDI controllers that don’t have a keyboard, but buttons, pads, faders, and knobs instead.
There are also controllers designed to be used on the floor and that help you switch on/off effects, or control parameters in many different ways.
Check out how to use each of this software with Playtronica’s devices here.
ATTENTION: MIDI controllers don't make sound
It is important that you understand that MIDI controllers don’t generate sound or any type of audio by themselves. They generate data that music software and hardware can interpret.
So if you just plug your device into your computer, start interacting with it, but it makes no sounds, that is perfectly normal: it simply means that you are not sending correctly the data to the music software!
A bit like if you are talking by yourself but no one is there to listen...
If you just got your device, and perhaps don’t know much about music software, we suggest you try our online synth collection using this link.
To make music using MIDI controllers, you need two things: the actual controller, which will send the instructions (TouchMe, Playtron, or any other MIDI controller), and a host device able to interpret the data generated (computer, laptop, smartphone, or most of hardware music equipment).
We hope this tutorial helped you understand better what MIDI Controllers are and how they work. Join us on our Facebook group and show us how you do it!