For those of you curious enough to want to “look under the hood”, the section My MIDI Story describes how my interest in the MIDI hobby originally came about and shows what I‘ve accomplished in this area up to now.
Should any of you become sufficiently inspired by what I’ve done to want to do the same thing, I would recommend that you read the section titled My MIDI Method. If you intend good quality, the estimated amount of work is about one or two days per single sheet of music.
And enjoy the examples!
My MIDI Story
Years ago, I happened to notice two MIDI connectors at the rear of our Clavinova digital piano, which prompted me to check the user manual. Via the MIDI-OUT connector, key stroke information could be sent from the Clavinova to other electronic music instruments or to computers. Via the MIDI-In connector, the Clavinova could be controlled remotely when key stroke information is sent to it. For more information, please refer to the MIDI topic in Wikipedia. Later on, I had an idea to use the computer-assisted Clavinova to accompany my singing. Back then, I didn’t have much knowledge about computer-based music, but a young computer enthusiast told me that in addition to the Clavinova and a laptop, some additional equipment would be needed: first, a MIDI-to-USB interface adaptor cable, plus driver software to connect the Clavinova to my laptop and secondly, sequencer software to manage the MIDI data (=MIDIs) on the computer. This was “perceived and perfected!”
The Internet then became a valuable source of MIDI information. Searching the Web for MIDI, I discovered several sites offering piano music in the MIDI format, which I was able to download onto my laptop, allowing it to play the Clavinova. Being a bassist myself (though not on an artistic level), I really enjoy songs from the romantic period. However, I had a hard time finding suitable piano music in the audio or MIDI format to accompany my singing. In any case, after a while I found on the Internet several collections of MIDI files for classical song compositions. These are usually raw MIDIs, containing the pure scores, but lacking any musical elaboration. Nevertheless, such raw MIDIs are welcome as a basis for further refinement. Using the MIDI sequencer, I learned how to produce refined piano accompaniments on a PC, which really isn’t difficult. It’s just a time-consuming process, depending on how good of a musical quality you want to achieve. So I decided to produce piano accompaniment MIDIs for my private singing.
Since the Clavinova is located in our living room, the entire family was able to enjoy my music – whether they wanted to or not. So I acquired some high-quality sound-generating software to produce audio tracks out of the MIDI tracks already on the computer. Such audio tracks can be played on a CD player anywhere and anytime. Consequently, the Clavinova then fell into oblivion again and my musical activities moved from the living room to my workroom in the basement.
Like electronic pianos and keyboards, electronic accordions also have MIDI connectors. Standard accordions can be modified into MIDI accordions by means of sensors which send out MIDI information about key-stroke and bellow pressure. Enthusiasts of dancing evergreens might be interested in taking a look at the Accordion MIDI web site of the Norwegian accordion virtuoso Nils-Helge Brede. Brede’s pieces present the accordion as a member of a small dancing music ensemble, including percussion. However, all of my own accordion pieces that I have in the Accordion Lounge present the accordion as a solo instrument, since I want to give the audience an impression of my personal playing sensation and experience.
Commonly, the accordion is estimated to be a folk music instrument. But, that it can be more in fact, is demonstrated by these transcriptions:
- Toccata and Fugue in D minor (BWV 565) – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750)
MIDI is never practised as an end in itself; the end is always audio products. As for me, piano accompaniment and vintage accordion music were the actual intentions. In fact, my audio equipment inspired me to extend the scope of its application. Recently I acquired a microphone to record my own singing, but I became rather disappointed about the results. Family members, who perceived my frustration, wisely suggested me to use the microphone for recording fairy tales for our grandchildren. My results (in German language) are presented in Grandpa Karl’s Fairy Lounge.
My MIDI Method
Learning Piano MIDI
Pieces out of the renaissance or baroque periods naturally require relatively little refinement of note volumes and tempo. Thus they are well suited for early MIDI practice.
As a more advanced student, I downloaded a few well-refined classical piano MIDI files from the Internet to my sequencer program, where I studied and modified them for the sake of training. In this way, I discovered and adopted the techniques used by MIDI experts and I recognized the essential criteria for shaping musical phrases. I would recommend this exercise to every newcomer. The following web sites offer well-refined piano MIDIs that you can use for your training:
Several romantical piano pieces resulted from such MIDI practices:
- Nocturne Op. 9, No. 1 – Frederic Chopin (1810 – 1849) Nocturne Op. 9-1
- Nocturne No. 3 Liebestraum (dolce cantando) – Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) Dream of Love / Song
- Nocturne No. 3 Liebestraum (con passione) – Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) Dream of Love / Piano
- Consolation No. 3 – Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) Consolation No. 3 (vintage)
Producing Piano Song MIDI
When I like a song which requires virtuoso piano accompaniment, I acquire the sheet music and search the Internet for a raw MIDI file. If I can’t find one, I use my sequencer’s piano-roll editor to key in all of the notes. This is quite a tedious job, but it rewards me with a deep analysis of the composition. When I first began practicing MIDI while I was still using the Clavinova, I entered the notes step-by-step via the keyboard. However, as I couldn’t take any advantage of this procedure, I ceased doing it this way. Now I also use a scanning program that supports the task. Though I’m not yet completely happy with the results, it seems to be time-saving.
Next, I proceed through the three tracks looking for the musical phrases (sections). I adjust the note volumes (= note velocities), the note durations (legato, portato, staccato) and the tempo in a rough manner, according to the composer’s directives in the score. The MIDI sequence still sounds very „ho-hum“ in this raw state.
As a musical layman, I can’t trust my own ability to interpret the music in a stylistically correct manner. I therefore search for a good interpretation of the song and choose it as my model. Sometimes I cannot agree on all aspects of the paradigmatic interpretation. When interpreters clearly infringe the composer’s intention or when I’m simply convinced that my own, different interpretation is as feasible, then I of course follow my own perception. With the paradigm in my ear, I again work through the sequence phrase by phrase, making fine adjustments in note durations, note volumes and tempo. What I call a “musical phrase” may comprise several bars or only a few critical notes, for which I expend quite a bit of effort.
In additional passes, I then notify the sustain pedal for the piano tracks and the expression controls in the wind instrument (voice) track. In this refined status, the sequence already sounds good enough to be used as a piano accompaniment. Nevertheless, it’s still easy to further modify and optimize the MIDI tracks. A first rehearsal usually results in some corrections being necessary. Only after these corrections have been made, do I make final adjustments of differing note lengths and volumes within chords, since further refinements become much more complex later on.
Producing Accordion MIDI
When I produce piano accompaniments for my singing, I definitely follow the General MIDI standard. Because an accordion generates equal sound volumes for all notes that are played at the same time, the accordion sound generator I’m using prevents me from controlling the note volumes via note velocities in the usual manner. Instead, I use the expression controller to set and finely adjust the note volumes. On the other hand, the sound generator offers a special MIDI tablature (according to the common Stradella system) for the left hand accordion buttons. These basic features bring me to deviate from the General MIDI standard when producing accordion MIDI music. As the MIDI sequences on top of that have to compensate quite a few shortcomings of the accordion sound generator, they can only be used in my special system set-up.
I don’t own a MIDI accordion. In the beginning of my hobby I used the clavinova, later on a scanner software to record all the notes. Both methods require to edit each note once more afterwards. Now, based on several years of experience, I record all the notes immediately in the piano-roll editor of the sequencer. For me this is the quickest procedure and the most pleasant, because it instantly produces aggreable music.