What are MIDI files?
An easy-to-understand explanation for Net newbies

When you see this button on the pages of lyrics on this Web site, and you click on it, you are activating a link to a MIDI file that will play a particular song composed on a synthesizer. With a properly equipped computer, the song will play for you while you browse the lyrics. The sound quality of the MIDI playback will depend upon the quality of your computer sound card and of the MIDI software that is installed on your computer.

What does MIDI stand for?
    MIDI stands for "Musical Instrument Digital Interface," an electronic communications standard originally developed during the early 1980s for music synthesizers, so that different brands of synthesizers, commonly known as "electronic keyboards," could be connected together and played simultaneously from one master keyboard.   As personal computers became more sophisticated, the line between electronic keyboards and personal computers became blurred; so that by now, a decent multi-media home computer can perform all the functions of not only an electronic keyboard, but also those of a recording studio.   MIDI is an essential tool for contemporary musicians, who can now collaborate and trade their compositions across the world via the Internet.  There are hundreds of thousands of MIDI compositions available at thousands of Web sites on the Internet.   If you have ever seen a hotel lounge piano playing by itself, look for the MIDI control module mounted on the bottom of the instrument.   An acoustic piano retrofitted with a MIDI module and a motorized playing unit will actually duplicate and even enhance the original performance of the musician who recorded the MIDI composition in a studio. Imagine a virtuoso piano piece playing back with the sound of a flute, or at double the original speed of performance!

How are MIDI files different from digital sound files such as .WAV or .AVI files?
    MIDI files are to electronic music what sheet music is to acoustic music.   A MIDI file is a set of computer instructions that contains performance information (not sound waves) that describes what notes were played, and in what manner (how fast, how hard, and for how long were the notes played).   So, just as sheet music contains playing instructions for a musician, MIDI files contain playing instructions for the computer or synthesizer.   The advantage of using MIDI files is that they are usually much smaller than .WAV or .AVI files, so they can be downloaded quickly when using a Web page browser.

Why can't I hear the MIDI files when I click on them?
    Your personal computer must have a sound card (if you have a Mac, that capability is already built-in) and software that can decode MIDI files.   Netscape Communicator 4.0 for the IBM-PC has the software plug-in included for playing MIDI files.   (Earlier versions of Web browsers may need additional software, such as Crescendo, which you can download here.  Mac versions of browsers can use Crescendo or a plug-in known as MacZilla to play back MIDI.)    Some Windows PCs may include a more sophisticated, stand-alone application such as Media Player, or the Yamaha "soft synthesizer" SYXG50.

    You must also have a set of speakers or headphones attached to the audio output jack in the back of your computer.   You will not be able to hear a MIDI file by plugging in headphones to the CD-ROM audio jack located in front of your PC.

Why does playing the MIDI music remove the lyrics from the screen?
On some versions of Netscape Navigator running on Macs (including my own), the MIDI file does not automatically open in its own browser window. Instead, it "bumps" the lyrics window in order to play the file. When you hit the "Back" button, the lyrics come back, but then the MIDI file stops playing. To remedy this, click on the musical icon at the upper left corner of the lyrics page, and HOLD the mouse button to get the pop up menu, scroll the mouse to select "New Window with this link." Now that you have two browser windows open, you can click back on the lyrics page, and have the MIDI musical accompaniment running simultaneously.

Where can I find MIDI files on the Internet?
    You can use any of the popular search engines such as Yahoo, Excite, AltaVista, HotBot, etc. - just enter "MIDI."  

How do I save MIDI files so I can play them later?
    If you are using Netscape 4.0 or later, a small rectangular window will pop up when a MIDI files is played.  On an IBM-compatible, click on that rectangle once with the right mouse button and select "Save As", then select the location on your hard drive (or floppy disk) to save the file.   The file will probably be called "Untitled.mid", so you should make up a name up to 8 letters long, followed by ".mid."   (If you don't change the file name, your next file will save over and erase the previous MIDI file because the name is the same as the last.) On a Mac, saving MIDI the file to your hard disk is a bit more straightforward - the original file name (sometimes fairly long) will be used.

Can I edit MIDI files?
    Yes, you can edit MIDI files, but you will need special software for composing and editing MIDI files.   This type of software usually allows you to change the instrument sounds, tempo, add drums and percussion, extra tracks, reverb, special effects etc., and connect an external keyboard through a MIDI interface, which is a special type of 5-pin cable box.  Most popular consumer keyboards made by brands such as Casio and Yamaha have a MIDI interface that will work with a computer MIDI interface.   This means that if you hook up a MIDI keyboard to your computer, you can not only compose and record your keyboard songs, but you can also send MIDI files from your computer to be played out on your keyboard.  Some of the well-known MIDI computer applications include Cakewalk, CyberPlayer, etc.   You can also download and try out freeware or shareware MIDI software by going to this site on the Internet:


Copyright 1999 by W. Tong

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