MIDI help
November 29, 2005 8:16 PM   Subscribe

MIDI etc: My spouse has a fancy keyboard and I want hook it into our computer...

I would like to make a xmas gift of creating a MIDI computer system for my wife's Korg Triton. I would like to have the keyboard interface with the computer for notation and other techno wizardry. But, I have no idea where to start! Cables? USB? MIDI card and software? Are there good open-source sequencer/ music creation programs out there? Please help! Our computer is strong and the keyboard is very up to date.
posted by BrodieShadeTree to Media & Arts (9 answers total)
I highly recommend the Midisport 1x1 as the MIDI in/out box.

You can get cables at nearly any musical instrument retailer. There's an entire section in the Triton's manual on how to hook it up, I'm sure.

Cakewalk makes some pretty decent beginner's sequencing software, but you didn't mention what platform you're on.
posted by cmonkey at 8:34 PM on November 29, 2005

There are two easy ways to get your computer hooked up to MIDI equipment. First is with a cheap MIDI cable that connects to your soundcard's joystick port:

Soundcard MIDI Interfaces.

This is assuming you have an old style joystick port on the soundcard. The other way is with a standalone box like the M-Audio equipment cmonkey recommends. I've been looking at getting a FiireWire 410 myself. Also, look around, you can get interfaces for much cheaper than MSRP.

If you don't need extra line inputs or outputs, then a model with fewer ports or the Midisport would work.

The software will be another issue. Most hardware will come with some sample or "lite" software. The M-audio comes with the lite version of Ableton Live. I haven't messed with Live much, but what I have seen I like. Very different feel than Cakewalk (at least the older versions of Cakewalk), but they both provide sequencing tools.
posted by formless at 9:11 PM on November 29, 2005

Response by poster: This will be a PC system.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 9:50 PM on November 29, 2005

To be crystal clear, sound cards that have a game port do so as a legacy thing to offer game controller as well as MIDI input, and a special MIDI-to-PC cable is used to connect. In general high-end cards will have normal MIDI inputs. If you don't already have that port on your sound card or motherboard you can get one of those MIDI-to-USB devices mentioned here, or just get a better sound card as part of your upgrade.

As to a good sequencer, I talk about digital audio workstations in the first part of my post about recording. It's hard to find something that just does MIDI so that's what you're looking for. Wikipedia's article on the topic lists several open source examples. Of the major DAWs, the one with the strongest focus on MIDI is Digital Performer, since it started as a MIDI sequencer called Performer. They almost all (or all) offer basic sheet music functionality, but for something specializing in this task you want a sheet music editor - the two big players on this are Sibelius and Finale, though I'm not aware of any good free/Free packages for Windows.

Good luck, it's a great gift.
posted by abcde at 12:32 AM on November 30, 2005

An easy, cheap way to connect your MIDI keyboard is with a Yamaha UX16 USB-to-MIDI adapter, which is USB-powered (no separate power pack!) and offers both a MIDI input and output.

Once you have connected your computer to the keyboard, you need an application that will send MIDI signals to the keyboard, to make the keyboard play sounds.

Likewise, you want an application that will record the keys you press on the keyboard, which can be MIDI signals sent to the computer from the keyboard.

You would want to do this if you wanted to record your music, for example, to standard notation, for sheet music. Or if you wanted to lay down multiple tracks for your keyboard to play back (if your keyboard has multiple "voices").

This application is called a "sequencer". It will output MIDI signal to your keyboard, and it will record MIDI signal from your keyboard.

An easy and inexpensive sequencer is Mackie Tracktion. This has the least steep learning curve of all the sequencers listed so far, and you'll have more fun using your keyboard and less hassle learning the esoteria of professional software.
posted by Rothko at 1:07 AM on November 30, 2005

OK, my advice regarding MIDI interfaces is to steer clear of anything that uses the old style "Gameport" connector. This is ancient technology, and barely supported by any of the pro audio / MIDI companies any more.

My interface of choice is the M-Audio Audiophile 2496 PCI card. It's cheap, powerful, and is a combined PCI audio interface and 2 in / 2 out MIDI interface. I have one of these on my home DAW, on which I've mixed several commercial album releases, and numerous smaller projects. The site says that the card comes bundled with a version of Ableton 4 (great fun, but perhaps not what you're after). I've found that M-Audio cards often come bundled with other software too, so it would probably be worth checking at a store to see what's listed on the box.

If you are using a laptop, or otherwise don't have a PCI slot available, M-Audio have a generally excellent range of Firewire / USB interfaces too.

As for software, well it's a completely subjective choice. I'm a long-standing Cubase user, so naturally I'd recommend Cubase SE3. Here in the UK, it has a street price of around 99GBP. I'd guess that you'd be able to find it for around the $100 if you're in North America.

Hope some of this is helpful.
posted by coach_mcguirk at 2:57 AM on November 30, 2005

Oh, I have the same question but for an old Roland U-20 (made in 1989?) and a modern Windows PC. I haven't the first clue how to connect one to the other, never mind what to do with them once they're connected. Is it worth trying? What's available?
posted by pracowity at 6:25 AM on November 30, 2005

I second the Mackie Tracktion suggestion.
posted by toastchee at 7:49 AM on November 30, 2005

pracowity: If you have a MIDI out, just do the same things suggested here. Hook it up with a sound card or a MIDI->USB interface.
posted by abcde at 8:53 PM on November 30, 2005

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