Making MIDI Expressive

Todd Beaney
tbeaney@earthlink.net
Rye HS/MS, Rye, New York

TI:ME Technology Areas Addressed:

Electronic Musical Instruments
Sequencing

Level:

High School

Class:

Music Theory

Equipment:

Computer for each student or pair of students; MIDI and audio playback ability; sequencing software that handles digital audio and allows editing of MIDI controllers (pan, reverb, velocity, main volume), such as Cakewalk’s HomeStudio, for example; MIDI keyboards or sound modules that respond to these controller messages.

Duration:

40 Minutes

Prior Knowledge and Skills:

Students are comfortable with recording and basic editing using MIDI, and with audio playback. Students have just been introduced to basic techniques for more advanced MIDI editing: working with note durations (single notes, groups of notes); editing velocity; editing Main Volume/constructing volume envelopes (sudden and gradual changes); editing tempo (sudden and gradual changes); and to basic principles for using Reverb and Pan settings.

NAfME Standards of 1994 Addressed:

NAfME Standards of 1994: Composing and Arranging Music within specified guidelines.

NAfME 2014: Creating 

NAfME Standards of 1994: Listening to, analyzing and describing music.
NAfME Standards of 1994: Evaluating music and music performances.

NAfME 2014: Responding 

Materials:

Two files to be opened in the sequencing software: an audio clip about 20-30 seconds long that includes instances of dynamic changes, accents, crescendo/diminuendo, varying note lengths (staccato/marcato/legato), and sudden or gradual tempo changes; and a MIDI sequence of exactly the same music but with these expressive elements REMOVED.

I sequenced the opening 19 bars of Chicago’s “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is” (34 sec.), which contains most of the above elements (though there are no changes in Tempo), then made an audio clip with the expression included, then took the expression out of the original MIDI file and made a “flat” MIDI file in which the notes were of uniform length and velocity, there were no changes in volume, and there were no reverb or pan settings.

Objectives:

Students must edit the “flat” MIDI file to make it sound like the audio example, using the techniques they have just learned to affect Duration, Velocity, Volume, Tempo, Pan and Reverb (whichever apply in the particular example). By listening to the model (the audio file), students must identify what needs to be changed, then make changes to the MIDI file by trial and error until they approach the sound of the model.

Procedures:

Depending on the difficulty of the music, students may need the equivalent of 3-5 40 minute periods to complete the assignment. I give them no help the first day, but after that I make a “help sheet” available, listing in a general way the edits that are needed (e.g. m. 3 – trumpet – sforzando-piano, then crescendo). While some students are grateful for the help sheet, others choose not to use it, preferring the challenge of relying on their ears!

Evaluation:

Students are evaluated on how close they got to the model, and on how many things they identified that needed editing.

Follow Up:

I like to close the unit by doing a large-screen demonstration for the students, showing how I would go about identifying and implementing the necessary edits in the example they have just finished working on.
Editing for Expression is then a requirement of all subsequent projects.

Items to Purchase:

Since this lesson is for more experienced students, nothing new would be needed other that the actual files to be used, and those would normally be created by the teacher. Another option could be to download a MIDI file and add the appropriate expression in imitation of a particular recording.

When budget should be submitted:

Since this lesson is for more experienced students, nothing new would be needed other that the actual files to be used, and those would normally be created by the teacher. Another option could be to download a MIDI file and add the appropriate expression in imitation of a particular recording.

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