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Short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, MIDI is a system that lets an electronic instrument or computer control other instruments. MIDI is largely a set of commands, called MIDI messages, that cause an electronic instrument to play specific sounds at specific times, and also to play those sounds in the style that you dictate. A MIDI instrument functions very much like a player piano, only instead of using a roll of paper with holes punched in it, a MIDI instrument needs a software program or other MIDI instrument to turn its notes on and off. When you record MIDI, you don’t record the sound of the instrument you’re recording—you record the commands that play that instrument in the way you want it to be played. For example, when you press a key on a MIDI keyboard while your Cakewalk software is recording, the software just records the fact that a certain note was pressed and then released—the software doesn’t record the actual sound of the note. When you play back the recording, the software takes control of your MIDI instrument and turns the note on and then off at the same time in the song that you did. MIDI notes can be read and displayed by a music notation program. Digital audio, the sound format used by CDs, Wave files, and MP3s, can not. After you record your MIDI data you can use Cakewalk to convert the MIDI data into digital audio so that you can create CDs, MP3s, or Windows Media files.
MIDI has advantages and disadvantages when compared to digital audio. MIDI files are much smaller than audio files, since MIDI data is only made up of the commands to play instruments, instead of the actual sound of the instruments themselves. You can usually copy one or more MIDI files onto a floppy disk. You can easily email MIDI files. You can save a MIDI file in a format called a Standard MIDI File, and then open it and use it in many different programs. You can record MIDI music as slowly as you want, and then change the tempo in your software to play it back at any tempo you want. Audio files, however, can only play back at approximately the same tempo they were recorded at without drastically altering the sound quality. It’s easy to edit and transpose MIDI files, since they are so small and you’re just editing commands, not actual sound. MIDI files can be printed out as standard musical notation or lead sheets. It can be harder to make MIDI music sound as natural as audio. If you don’t record MIDI music in real time, it can sound mechanical. Some MIDI instruments, especially some of the acoustic-sounding instruments such as brass, strings, and guitars that you find on the built-in synthesizers of low-priced sound cards, sound artificial. However, percussive sounds usually sound quite good on MIDI instruments, and are much easier to record than a real drum set. You can also play back MIDI data through any number of hardware or software samplers that use recordings (samples) of any instrument you can imagine as sound sources.

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