Mac me a music machine
March 17, 2009 2:52 AM   Subscribe

A family friend recently gave my kids a first generation iMac G3 (the bondi blue one). We've got loads of PCs around the house, but this is our first Mac. We also have a Yamaha P-120 digital piano. The kids are away for Spring Break and I'd love to surprise them by connecting the two so they can compose, experiment and generally mess around with music on the computer. The problem? Despite strong geekish tendencies, I know nothing about macs, midi or music. And googling isn't leading to anything particularly helpful for someone who knows zero about this stuff.

I'd be grateful for any pointers to beginningers guides, resources, software, hardware, etc that will get the two pieces of gear currently sitting in the family room to make beautiful music together. Or horrible music. As long as they can do it together.
posted by Hali to Technology (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Here is the least expensive MIDI-to-USB adapter that you really need. As to software, I would recommend Apple Garageband v1, if you can find it. I don't think you'll have enough horsepower on a 300 MHz G3 to run Garageband v2, but you might try it, if you can find it.

You definitely will not be running any modern sequencer (e.g., Garageband '08) on a machine of that age, so you may want to talk to the IT staff in the music department of a local school or university. They might have old software licenses to give or sell you.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:44 AM on March 17, 2009

A G3 processor is quite old now but if you get resources from that era, it will run better. Try Tiger (or panther) as an Operating system (Leopard will slow it to a crawl).
Invest in an inexpensive Midi controller keyboard. You can get one made by M-Audio or a similar company for less than 100$. Make sure it has a USB connection and is compatible with Tiger or Panther. You than will need an older midi sequencing program and sound sources. The easiest way to handle sounds would be to use a program that has instrument sounds built in. The problem with these is that they usually take lots of processor to work properly. Depending on the age of your children, Reason by Propellarheads is a really good, fairly simple program to use if you find an older version.

I think a Bondi Blue G3 may be quite a project to make work well in this case.....
One can get a G5 tower for less than 500$ or a G4 for 250$ to 350$ these would be WAY easier to keep current and make a music system out of.

Better choices...

G5 Computer
Leopard OS
Garage Band software
Reason Software
USB Midi keyboard
Headphones and or speakers
2 input audio interface
1 microphone

Contact me if you need more help:
the spam catcher @ me . com (remove spaces)
posted by Studiogeek at 3:58 AM on March 17, 2009

Just noticed you had the P-120 piano. You can scrap the USB keyboard and replace it with an inexpensive USB to MIDI interface (as mentioned above). M-Audio makes them as do other companies. They will be less than 100$ and go between your piano and computer (Provided your Piano has Midi outputs)

posted by Studiogeek at 4:04 AM on March 17, 2009

Here's a less expensive version of USB-Midi adapter.
posted by pompomtom at 4:38 AM on March 17, 2009

The piano you have has loads of built in sounds so all you really need is an midi adapter that connects the piano to the Mac, along with some sequencing software that will allow you to record and edit those sounds on the Mac. Back in the day, I used to use Opcode Studio Vision for midi sequencing and at the time, it was considered very high end. The company has long gone bust but you can still download the Vision program for free from here.

Once you have it all set up and running, you can also download free midi files off the web and those will play using the built in sounds on your piano. Lots of fun there.
posted by gfrobe at 7:01 AM on March 17, 2009

This may not be a good option given your self described non-geekyness, but if you have more time than money available for a given computer audio setup, you can eek out the best performance for a given hardware setup with a Linux multimedia distro with a low latency kernel and a minimal desktop environment. User friendliness / features / learning curve may suffer with this solution, but computing horsepower will be used optimally.
posted by idiopath at 9:41 AM on March 17, 2009

you don't mention the specific specs of the machine, but a first-gen iMac may have come with a hard drive as small as 4GB and 64MB of RAM. if you've not upgraded it at all, you're not gonna run OS X on it anyway - you won't have the disk space or the RAM. it may not have come with anything but OS 9 and/or some horribly old version of OS X - really, anything prior to OS X 10.3 (Panther) doesn't matter anymore, though you can sometimes get stuff to work on 10.2 (Jaguar).

stick with Mac OS 9 and find some old sequencing tools. gfrobe's suggestion of Vision was good, you might also look here as well. or, upgrade it and get some newer tools - that machine can take a standard PATA hard drive (though not bigger than 127GB, and the OS needs to be on a partition contained wholly in the first 8GB) and fairly standard RAM. look here for general info and whatnot. with a good bit of upgrading, you could run 10.3 on it and get access to more stuff.
posted by mrg at 9:46 AM on March 17, 2009

You won't need much in the way of hard drive space or RAM if all you're doing is midi (and it sounds like you are). Midi files are tiny and really just contain the instructions that tell your sequencer and sound module (your piano), what to play. However, if you're looking to record real audio (i.e. recording through a mic) then you'd need additional hard drive space as per mgr.
posted by gfrobe at 11:12 AM on March 17, 2009

« Older What choices do I have for backpacks that are hard...   |   Auto-crop auto-rotate batch scanning Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.