I would love to like MIDI...

but I hate it!!!

I have actually bought books on MIDI implimentation and use, but I still cannot make heads or tails of the subject. I regularly write music and would love to use decent samples of instruments to hear my work, but alas, I am stuck with the crap GM samples.

Can someone point me to a easily understood web site or book that will tell me how to load better samples into my SB Live cards or even better, how to access those samples of instruments in programs like Finale???

If someone could finally teach me how to use MIDI the way I need to use it, I would give them a nice guitar completely setup perfectly. I really do not want to die a MIDI idiot. :(

AH…one mistake I see is that you are mistaking MIDI for the sound. MIDI is not the sound. Don’t blame the messenger for the message. You are far from being a Midiot…you are asking the right question by wanting to use better sounds.

No, I don’t have a good suggestion. In the “old days” we’d just use a different synth if we wanted a better sound. Things have changed.

So where do we start? I always need a new guitar. :;):

Fisrt thing to understand… and reapet to yourself in the mirror 1000 times a day if you have to until it is firmly beaten into your head… “MIDI is only a means of triggering things” often, but not always, in relation to time. That is it. A standardize method of triggering things accepted by many devices and softwares, but still only a trigger mechanism. MIDI can put your garage door up and down, it could turn the lights in your house on and off. MIDI has nothign to do with music… really. However, it was desiogned for music. Huh? You say. Right, MIDI was designed to be used with music, but it is no different than a script that gets kicked off every five minutes on a computer. A scheduler (or sequencer in MIDI speak) has a list of the things it is going to do and when it does it. In Windows, the Task Scheduler kicks off a task… but it has no knowledge of what the task is. It simply tells script or program X to do Y at such and such a time. Or maybe you hit the a key on your keybaord. The computer could use it for 100 things. Actually typing A in a word processor, making Megaman jump, Accepting the license agreement on your new software etc. So let’s say it again, MIDI is simply a trigger mechanism.

Okay, so we have that under our belt. The most common use of MIDI is to trigger a sound in a sound module or sampler. However, MIDI can also trigger effects to change in an effects processor for example. The key thing to understand is that MIDI recording (sequencing) is relative to time. Not time like Windows Task Scheduler that makes a backup happen every day at midnight. It is relative time. So I “tell” MIDI I am going to make something at 120 bpm. In MIDI speak that means if I program quarter notes into a sequencer, the relation between those notes is 120 quarters play every minute… or trigger one event every .5 seconds from the point I press play. Changing the tempo in a MIDI sequence is just changing the base on which everything is built from a time perspective.

Okay, now we talk about ticks. You can create just about whatever scale you want in MIDI. Maybe I want that .5 second space to have a precision of 1/60th of a quarter note… which in our example of 120 bpm would mean dividing that .5 seconds into 60 0.0083s pieces. This is what we call a tick. A tick is that space between the main note divisions in MIDI that determin eour precision. It is hard to swing or have much expression when locked to hard cold metronomic quarter notes. By dividing the notes into ticks, you have more precision to do stuff like 1/8s, 1/16ths, 1/8 triplets slightly behind the beat, etc. HOwever, the more precise, the tougher manual editiing of time can be.

Does this make sense so far? To me a key thing in MIDI is understanding the time and the concept of an event (that is something triggering something on this time line we are creating). If you understand this, we’ll move on. :)

DrGuitar, keep your guitar, I have as many as I can handle. :D

But, where is it precisely you’re having a problem?

Phoo and Bubbagump have explained the basics, so to summarize, MIDI is just like a music score, you give it to an instrument, and it plays it, but I think you know that already.

In fact if you use Cubase in Score mode, then you can edit or write your music as you would any other sheet music.

but I think your problem is playing it and obtaining a good sound.

With your SBlive you can play soundfonts. A soundfont is a collection of samples; for example, every key on a piano sampled at several different velocities which make up an instrument.

The soundfont that comes with the SBlive contains over a hundred instruments, all contained in 8MB, so as you point out, crap. A Sblive can handle a maximum of a 32 Mb soundfont, so if you obtain a 32 MB soundfont that contains only one instrument, then the quality is much much better, but then you have to render it down to audio before loading a different soundfont.

There are software soundfont players that don’t have that size limitation.

there are many free soundfonts of varying quality, KVR and Hammersound are good sources.

But the way to go is with a software sampler; Kontact, Halion, Sampletank, etc.

Kontact comes with 16 Gb of samples, so very very high quality.

Or Steinberg Hypersonic, a limited sampler, a synth, a grand piano, a Tonewheel organ, all in one.

And there are dedicated VSTi’s that are specially designed for one instrument or type of instrument. Saxlab plays a sax, but emulates a real human. Synful orchestra plays strings but anticipates changes in notes just like a real player would.

Those software are not cheap, but “evaluation” copies are easily available to let you try them out.

But let us know what area is really confusing you. PM me if you don’t want to hog the forum, but as Bubbagump seems to be doing great in his tutorial then probably just best to wait for his next installment. :)


EDIT: I seem to recall that the SBLive has 2 synths, synth A and synth B, so you can load a 32 MB soundfont into each of them.

Hmmm… This is beginning to take on the feel of one of Socrates dialogues. The Socratic method works for me. Pretty good company to keep. So lead on Bubba. There’s one more student at the Lyceum.


The Lyceum was Aristotle. Socrates simply hung out in the town square or marketplace - the Agora.


Back to midi!

Well, Bubba’s gonna hang out at the forum.
Yeah back to midi…

Quote (TomS @ May 22 2006,21:35)
The Lyceum was Aristotle. Socrates simply hung out in the town square or marketplace - the Agora.


Back to midi!

Me? I just hang around in the TUB! :D :D :D

Sorry... back to MIDI... which ROCKS BTW...

D -- MIDI newbie too.

Here ya go…

Click Me.

There’s even pictures!


I haven’t been on a MIDI revival in probably 2 years. Feels about right to start another one. Anywho, digest the above, come back with questions, and we shall move on. I don’t mean to be cocky, but I think I know my way around MIDI pretty durn well and I am thrilled to get more converts.

Quote (Gizmo @ May 22 2006,20:44)
EDIT: I seem to recall that the SBLive has 2 synths, synth A and synth B, so you can load a 32 MB soundfont into each of them.

Backup and don’t confuse the boy… You can only play back 32MB of SF sample info at a time… you are NOT limited to 32MB for the total size of a SF. We’ll get to that on page 400 or so… and what is way better than SFs and why, how, where… :)

Hey all… thanks bunches. Bubba, I understand the idea that MIDI is really just a way to trigger commands like play this sound so long or turn on or off this effect for this amount of time. My need for MIDI is pretty simple. I just want to access better sounds for use in orchestration programs like Finale. I’m sure that sounds ridiculously simple, but I just can’t seem to get that together. Compound that with a recent post about Garritan Personal Orchestra sound samples and I am feeling really frustrated about not being able to use such great sounds.


Sometimes I wish I played just 8 more instruments really well… :(


You can only play back 32MB of SF sample info at a time… you are NOT limited to 32MB for the total size of a SF

I am fully aware that there is no need to load the whole soundfont at once, and I know that the limitation is a driver issue, not a hardware one and can be worked around, but I didn’t want to add further complication to the issue. But I don’t make any claims to be an expert so I’ll just sit back and learn.

Dr. Guitar,

I’m not understanding your dilema…are you looking for samples to replace soundfonts or are you not understanding the differences between soundfonts and samples such as Giga etc…or just how each one is used within N-track or another sequencer?

I took your question to mean that you were having questions regarding loading soundfonts into your sblive to replace sounds that were already there.

So I guess I don’t understand what exactly you are asking.


Kingfish, you are a kind and patient man (but I am not sure what kind of patient man… :p )

The answer to your questions is … yes, I don’t get any of it.

I don’t understand how to sequence…
I don’t understand how to get better sounds out of my sblive…

The sick part is that I have actually read a few books on the subject and although I understand the technical aspect of MIDI, I really do not get any of the day to day “how to” of it.

For example;

I have a Casio VZ10M that can make and store sounds on to memory cards for use with my PG380 digital guitar. But I am clueless how to create those sounds. And when I read the manual, the technical jargon that is in my MIDI books is only occasionally referenced in the CASIO manual… my guess is that MIDI is so all encompassing that there is not a specific language that crosses over all MIDI implementation.

Another example;

I am trying to get better sounds out of my SBlive. I use the Microsoft drivers for the card cause the SBlive drivers play havoc with my system and software. The problem is that I do not have a way to change the soundfonts… in fact, I am clueless as to where I would even start!?!

So the fact that you are confused about what answers I am looking for makes complete sense since I am confused about the questions. I am MIDI challanged or as phoo very eloquently stated, a Midiot.

Okay, so you don’t understand how to sequence? You understand that sequencing is just recording the event in order, right? Assuming you understand this, it seems like you may just be having a hard time getting your head around getting the MIDI into your machine perhaps?

Let’s try an extrodinarily simple example just to see if we can’t get some sound coming out of of your machine. We are going to sequence a few note manually and then play it back through a VSTi. Baby steps now and I promise you’ll be running in no time.

First thing, go get SFZ. SFZ is a VSTi and you install it just like any VST… copy the DLL into your VST folder. However, it comes with an installer, so be sure it chooses the right VST folder during installation.

Next, go get this Rhodes. Put the .SF2 file somewhere that you will know where it is.

Okay, so what do we have… We have SFZ which is a SOundFont Player… you essentially load sounds into it. Then we got a Rhodes SoundFont which is a piano sound in SoundFont format.

Now, open N-track. Now click Track > Insert Balck Track > MIDI. When it pops up the options box just hit close. We’ll mess with that later. This will create a blank MIDI track in your time line. Right click on this track and choose Piano Roll. We are going to now use the piano roll to manually enter some events in this MIDI track. (Also known as SEQUENCING! :) ) In the upper left of the piano roll you will see three icons in a line… a cursor (used for selecting thngs) an 1/8th note (used for placing events) and what is supposed to look like a pencil eraser (for erasing events.) Click the 1/8th note to put your cursor in “write” mode. Now, in the paino roll below you should see a keybaord to the left. Find middle C which is C4. (You may need to adjust your zoom level to see the note names on the piano keyboard). Now, you will also notice there is a grid. This grid represents quarter notes. Let’s enter some quarter notes at C4 to look like this:

Let’s examine what we have here. We have created a 4 measure phase playing quarter notes all on middle C. Note the thicker lines denoting a measure separation.

Okay, so we have our measure created, now we need to play it back through something. See that these are just triggers (events) we need to tell N-track what to trigger with it. Colse the piano roll (click the X below the X that closes N completely) and we should be back to our time line.

Now we are going to load SFZ. Click Track > MIDI > New Instrument Channel > VSTi > sfz. (If Sfz is not listed, than the sfz DLL was installed into the wrong VST folder. Reinstall SFZ and make sure it goes to the right folder.) This will load SFZ into N-track. At this point SFZ is worthless as it doesn’t have any sounds loaded into it… so let’s load a sound… the Rhodes.

First, let’s click the > next to Mode and choose DFD. (We’ll worry about that that means later) Then click in the box to the right of File> in Sfz and this will bring up a box for you to browse and find the Rhodes SF2 file. Find the Rhodes SF2 file and choose open. This loads the SoundFont into SFZ. Under program you should see it says “0: Rhodes 73”.

Great. SFZ is all ready to accept our events from N-track. Close sfz by clicking the X in its menu.

Now we are back at our time line. Right click on the MIDI track we created before and choose Properties.
Set everything to look liek the image below. Some things may not make sense (why am I choosing Acoustic Piano when I have a Rhodes loaded) we’ll deal with that later.

Click close. Now everything is ready to play back our 4 measures of middle C. This will be exciting. Press play and N-track should play back your 4 measures. Digest this and we’l move onto lesson 3.

One thing that might be helpful is to import a preprogrammed midi file of one of your favorite songs and use sfz (or another Soundfont player or VST synth) and replace the midi playback with sampled sounds (using Bubbagump’s tutorial). You can look at the piano rolls for each track and experiment with editing to change or add notes.

You are the man Bubba…

Hey Doc? I don’t want to confuse you and besides, I hope to pick up a trick or two from Bubba and the others myself, so I’ll stay out of the “instructional” part of the thread. What I would like to do though, is pass on a few “pros” to learning MIDI that I have experienced myself.

1. This one is a biggie for me… I am a guitar hack, NOT a keyboard player. I can hammer in some chords and arpeggio’s and riffs on the keys though if need be. I RECORD the MIDI data so I can open the MIDI track and fix my flubs (which are usually many) with the mouse. CAKE!

2. Using MIDI sequencing software with notation, you can create parts for other instruments using your primary instrument as a base. For example, my bud and I will plunk out horn parts using guitar for others to play on trumpet or sax. Pop the notes on the staff as you create the parts on the guitar then transpose with a couple of mouse clicks and print the horn charts.

3. Composing using tools like Band In a Box or similar is fun and opens many possibilities for reaching outside ones own instrument playing abilities. Strings, horns, bagpipes, whatever are all possible. Well… I dunno about bagpipe samples. :D

MIDI is worth the learning curve. Guys like me who do a lot of one man band recording open a whole new world when we dive off into MIDI music. It’s great.

D – learning more MIDI all the time…

Doc…I don’t know why but I always thought you knew how to use MIDI.
I am like Diogenes in that I am a guitar player who can do a little on keys. Learning MIDI has opened up a whole bunch o’stuff. Not that I am very good, but I just want to let you know it is well worth the effort. And, once you figure the basics, you will be off and running. A sample of me learning MIDI can be found here :Combo Rockers if you care to listen. It is not very good but demostrates what you can do as a beginner MIDI programmer.
The people here showed me the basics…so, carry on Bubba.