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The Computer Connection - Using Your Computer to Create Music
Written by Scott R. Garrigus - © 2005, PRIMEDIA Business Magazines & Media Inc. Reprinted with Permission.
I used to give private lessons to a number of students who had digital pianos in their homes. Whenever I suggested that they consider connecting their digital piano to their home computer, they would reply, “Really? I didn't know that was possible.” And after a pause, they would ask, “Why would I want to do that?” To answer all of you who may be asking the same question, let me say that connecting your computer to your digital piano or home keyboard allows you to do amazing things.

With the right software, you can perform a number of fun and useful activities with your keyboard. For instance, you can record your performances and then play them back to hear how well you did. You can also edit and arrange your music, even correcting any mistakes you made. And you can convert your music into standard notation and print it out as sheet music. If you're just beginning to play your instrument, your computer can help you learn how to play it better. If you're already a good player, your computer can act as a backup band, composing music that follows your performance. The magic of MIDI makes all of this possible.

Getting Connected
To connect your piano or keyboard to your computer, you need a MIDI interface. This device, which plugs into your computer, allows it to understand MIDI. Think of the interface as a translator: when your keyboard sends MIDI messages to your computer, the MIDI interface converts those messages into signals the computer can understand. Since your portable home keyboard or digital piano probably has built-in MIDI jacks, you just need to find a MIDI interface that fits your computer. MIDI interfaces can connect to your computer in various ways. Some come in the form of expansion cards you install inside your computer. Your best bet, however, is to find an interface that simply plugs into the back of your computer. This way, you avoid having to open up the computer, which can damage the delicate circuit boards inside.

You can find MIDI interfaces that plug into your computer's serial (modem) port, parallel (printer) port, or USB port. If your peripherals already occupy the serial and printer ports, you may want to go with one of the newer USB types. Your MIDI interface will include specific instructions on how to install it, so I won't go into that here.

All MIDI interfaces connect to your keyboard in the same way. When you look on the back of your keyboard, you'll probably find two connections labeled MIDI In and MIDI Out. You may also see a third connection labeled MIDI Thru, but you don't need to concern yourself with that for now. These connections are MIDI jacks, and you'll also find them on your computer's MIDI interface. By connecting the MIDI jacks on the back of your keyboard to the MIDI jacks on your computer, you can send MIDI messages between the two devices.

To make the connections, you'll need a couple of special cables that carry MIDI data. Each end of a MIDI cable has a plug with five pins inside. You'll notice that all the MIDI jacks have five holes available, which means you can plug a MIDI cable into any of the available jacks. What matters is how you connect the MIDI jacks on your keyboard to the ones on your computer's MIDI interface.

One simple rule to remember is that MIDI data coming out of something must go in to something. So if you want MIDI data to flow from your keyboard into your computer, you have to connect the MIDI Out on your keyboard to the MIDI In on your computer's MIDI interface. And if you would like the computer to send MIDI data back to your keyboard, you have to connect the MIDI Out on your computer's MIDI interface to the MIDI In on your keyboard (see Fig. 1). Don't worry if you make a mistake by connecting a MIDI Out jack to another MIDI Out jack or a MIDI In to a MIDI In. Special circuitry inside each MIDI interface prevents any damage — the connection just won't work. Don't worry either about plugging in cables when your equipment is turned on. You won't get an electric shock from a MIDI connection. This is an excerpt from the following article: The Computer Connection.

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