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MIDI Instruments - Part II
MIDI Instrument, Wind Controller, MIDI Guitar, MIDI Drums
by Ron Tongue

In part one of MIDI instruments I discussed the differences between a MIDI instrument, MIDI controller, Sound Module, and Virtual Synth. In part two I'm going to give you a closer look into the different types of instruments and controllers.


Yamaha Motif XS8
Yamaha Motif XS8

There are literally hundreds of different MIDI keyboards available today. Prices range from less than $100.00 to several thousand dollars, US. If your primary use of your MIDI studio is for recording music, then you are going to need a more expensive instrument. More expensive instruments tend to have better quality sounds.

NOTE!! If your primary use of your MIDI studio is for notation and/or learning aids type software, then you may not need as expensive of an instrument. Because of the diversity in this area, it really comes down to your own personal preferences.

Wind Controllers

Akai EWI Wind Controller

Akai EWI Wind Controller

If you don’t consider yourself a pianist or keyboardist, and you have experience playing wind instruments such as a clarinet or saxophone, then a wind controller may be your MIDI instrument of choice.

A wind controller works similar to a keyboard except, instead of pressing a key to make a sound, you blow through the instrument while fingering the correct pitch. This allows for a whole new level of expression when trying to capture a more realistic sound using MIDI technology.

TIP!! Because of the versatility of MIDI, you can record the music with one instrument, and play it back with another. This is especially useful if you like a particular clarinet sound on your keyboard but want the realistic articulations of a wind instrument. Simply record your music using a wind controller, then set up your software to play back using your keyboard.

MIDI Guitar

Sonuus Guitar to MIDI
Sonuus Guitar-to-MIDI Converter

One of the most difficult instruments to accurately record using MIDI technology is a guitar. One of the biggest reasons for this is that the strings are often strummed in a way that is very difficult to emulate on a keyboard instrument. There are at least three options for using a MIDI guitar.

The first option is to buy a guitar that is specifically designed to record MIDI. It is basically a keyboard with a neck and strings. These tend to be not much more than a toy though. They can also be very difficult to play.

The second option is to buy a MIDI guitar kit. It consists of a special pickup that needs to be either attached to the outside or installed to the inside of your current guitar. There are a few different models depending on your needs. The nice thing about this is that it allows you to use a real guitar of your choice that is comfortable for you to play.

The third option is to use a guitar-to-MIDI converter box. You plug your guitar into it like any other effect and it converts your signal into MIDI. The box would then be connected to a computer, MIDI instrument, sound module, or virtual synth which would ultimately produce the sounds that you hear.

NOTE!! Something to keep in mind while recording with a MIDI guitar controller is that you're not recording your actual guitar sound. So when you play it back, you will get the articulations of being played on a guitar instead of a keyboard, but the sound of the sampled guitar sounds your software has access to.

Remember, an advantage you have is that you can switch guitar sounds (or any sampled sound such as piano, strings, synth...) based on the available sounds in your playback instrument (keyboard, sound module, virtual instrument...).

MIDI Drums

Roland V-Drums
Roland V-Drums

Drums are another instrument that can be difficult to play realistically on a keyboard or other MIDI instrument. There are currently several different MIDI devices geared for drum sounds.

The less expensive devices are the popular drum machines. It is a small device with either buttons or pads. The button versions are intended to be played with your hands. The pad versions are intended to be played with drumsticks. Both options work well, but are not much better than playing the drums patterns on a keyboard.

The best solution is to use an electronic drum set or adding triggers to an acoustic set. These are becoming more and more popular among drummers for both live and recording events due to their realistic sounds and efficient setup. You also play the electronic drums just like a real drum set.

Just as you can with the other MIDI instruments, you can also swap out instrument sounds with an electronic MIDI drum set. For example, audition different snare sounds. Select a new bass drum sound. Missed a beat? Simply fix it using your software and the click of a mouse.

Moving Forward
Now that you have all this awesome MIDI gear, you're going to need to connect them all together. In the next session, I'll discuss the different options that are available for MIDI cables.

midi last
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