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MIDI Basics For The Worship Keyboardist


I get a lot of question on what EXACTLY MIDI is.  I can say “I have a MIDI controller here, and this is sending MIDI notes to here, and then I have this MIDI drum pad here, and that is sending a MIDI Program Change to here” and once I finish my sentence, I get these blank stares.  So I thought I would simply MIDI to a few basic principles for those of you wanting to use it in your keyboard rigs, guitar rigs, loop rigs, etc.

What Does It Mean?

Musical Instrument Digital Interface

What Does It Do?

MIDI signal is simply an electronic protocol.  There is absolutely no audio signal passed through a MIDI cable, it is simply for electronic devices to talk to each other.  A basic MIDI cable will usually by a 5-pin male-to-male cable.  But only three of the pins are usually connected.

When Was It Made?

In the musical world, MIDI is still relatively new, but is being used now in ways I doubt Bob Moog and Dave Smith, who developed and announced it in the early 80’s, would be able to imagine what it would be doing now.

So How Does It Work?

As I said, MIDI is simply a protocol through which messages are sent through electronic devices.  In a keyboardist/multi-instrumentalists/programmers context, it is really useful.  In my current rig, a Line 6 M5, and a Strymon Timeline.  These all have MIDI IN capability.  So how do I use them?  Well, MIDI cables have the ability to carry 16 channels per separate and available midi hosts.  So, in the diagram below, I send MIDI OUT from my Saffire Pro 40, to the MIDI IN, of the Strymon Timeline, then MIDI OUT of the Timeline to the MIDI IN of the M5  Using MIDI channels settings in the respective units, I am able to change presets, and programs, as well as tempo via one push of a button send a MIDI Program Change to each of these.  One brilliant thing about Ableton, and these pedals that is really great is the MIDI Tempo Sync feature.  So whatever tempo I assign to Ableton Live, it sends signal to sync the tap tempo of the respective pedals!

MIDI 101 DIAGRAM-page-001

In the diagram, all of these parts are connected by MIDI cables.  I am using Ableton Live to send MIDI commands out of the Saffire Pro 40, to the rest of these.  Since a MIDI cable can carry 16 different channels of commands, there is no need for different MIDI output ports, all the different channel commands are running through one line of cable.  So, I am able to talk with the pedals individually or at the same time as well as change tempo via the MIDI sync function in Ableton Live so all my tap tempos line up automatically.

*note: the Line 6 M5 like many other devices may have MIDI OUT but it will not pass incoming signal through it, otherwise known as MIDI THRU.  A Midisolutions box, such as a Midisolutions Quadra, is a great MIDI Splitter for sending different signals to various devices if MIDI THRU is not an option.

More to come soon!

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8 Responses to “MIDI Basics For The Worship Keyboardist”

  1. Im still confused perhaps a video with an example would help but thanks anyways.

  2. not to be a negative nancy.. but u did not mention the keys at all in this article. perhaps it should be titled midi and live guitar applications. 🙂 maybe you can do another article splaining ableton and midi and all the different instruments and sounds one can have available with their midi keyboard controller 🙂 my keys player thought i was out of my mind when i directed him to the article.

  3. Hi Wil and Eddie! I am in the process of making a video showing how I utilize this method while playing keys. Stay Tuned!

    • Hi, is the video available now? i’ve been searchign for a good tutorial for integrating midi with our keyboard for worship. Thanks!

  4. Might want to correct the spelling in the title…

  5. Colleen Brown August 3, 2014 at 3:17 pm Reply

    I’m sorry. I agree, I’m still confused. You are still talking language I do not understand. Therefore it’s not that basic after all.

  6. Actually Dave Smith, Tom Oberheim, and Ikutaro Kakehashi, developed MIDI and Bob Moog announced it.

    You are using MIDI for a rather esoteric function, setting up effects devices and matching their tempos. A lot of church keyboardists don’t even use an effects pedal. Why not start out explaining the basic functions like connecting two synths and playing both from one keyboard, or connecting a drum machine to a keyboard and syncing the arpeggiator?

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