Example of music created in MIDI format
Several rack-mounted synthesizers that share a single controller
Using MIDI, a single controller (often a keyboard, as pictured here) can play multiple instruments, which increases the portability of stage setups. This system fits into a single rack case, but prior to the advent of MIDI, it would have required four separate full-size keyboard instruments, plus outboard mixing and effects units.

MIDI (i/; short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a technical standard that describes a communications protocol, digital interface, and electrical connectors that connect a wide variety of electronic musical instruments, computers, and related audio devices.[1] A single MIDI link can carry up to sixteen channels of information, each of which can be routed to a separate device.

MIDI carries event messages that specify notation, pitch, velocity, vibrato, panning, and clock signals (which set tempo). For example, a MIDI keyboard or other controller might trigger a sound module to generate sound produced by a keyboard amplifier. MIDI data can be transferred via midi cable, or recorded to a sequencer to be edited or played back.[2]:4

A file format that stores and exchanges the data is also defined. Advantages of MIDI include small file size, ease of modification and manipulation and a wide choice of electronic instruments and synthesizer or digitally-sampled sounds.[3]

Prior to the development of MIDI, electronic musical instruments from different manufacturers could generally not communicate with each other. With MIDI, any MIDI-compatible keyboard (or other controller device) can be connected to any other MIDI-compatible sequencer, sound module, drum machine, synthesizer, or computer, even if they are made by different manufacturers.

MIDI technology was standardized in 1983 by a panel of music industry representatives, and is maintained by the MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA). All official MIDI standards are jointly developed and published by the MMA in Los Angeles, and the MIDI Committee of the Association of Musical Electronics Industry (AMEI) in Tokyo. In 2016, the MMA established the MIDI Association (TMA) to support a global community of people who work, play, or create with MIDI.[4]



Dave Smith (right), one of the creators of MIDI

In the early 1980s, there was no standardized means of synchronizing electronic musical instruments manufactured by different companies.[5] Manufacturers had their own proprietary standards to synchronize instruments, such as CV/gate and Digital Control Bus (DCB).[6]

Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi felt the lack of standardization was limiting the growth of the electronic music industry.[6] In June 1981, he proposed developing a standard to Oberheim Electronics founder Tom Oberheim,[5] who had developed his own propriety interface, the Oberheim System.[7] Kakehashi felt the system was too cumbersome, and spoke to Sequential Circuits president Dave Smith about creating a simpler, cheaper alternative.[7] While Smith discussed the concept with American companies, Kakehashi discussed it with Japanese companies Yamaha, Korg and Kawai.[5] Representatives from all companies met to discuss the idea in October.[5]

Using Roland's DCB as a basis,[6] Smith and Sequential Circuits engineer Chet Wood devised a universal synthesizer interface to allow communication between equipment from different manufacturers. Smith proposed this standard at the Audio Engineering Society show in November 1981.[2]:4 The standard was discussed and modified by representatives of Roland, Yamaha, Korg, Kawai, and Sequential Circuits.[5][8]:20 Kakehashi favored the name Universal Musical Interface (UME), pronounced you-me,[7] but Smith felt this was "a little corny".[9] However, he liked the use of "instrument" instead of "synthesizer", and proposed the name Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI).[9][2]:4

Moog Music founder Robert Moog announced MIDI in the October 1982 issue of Keyboard.[10]:276 At the 1983 Winter NAMM Show, Smith demonstrated a MIDI connection between Prophet 600 and Roland JP-6 synthesizers. The MIDI specification was published in August 1983.[5] The MIDI standard was unveiled by Kakehashi and Smith, who received Technical Grammy Awards in 2013 for their work.[11][12][13]

The first MIDI synthesizers were the Roland Jupiter-6 and the Prophet 600, both released in 1982. 1983 saw the release of the first MIDI drum machine, the Roland TR-909,[14][15] and the first MIDI sequencer, the Roland MSQ-700.[16] The first computers to support MIDI were the NEC PC-88 and PC-98 in 1982,[17] and the MSX (Yamaha CX5M)[18] released in 1983.[19]


MIDI's appeal was originally limited to professional musicians and record producers who wanted to use electronic instruments in the production of popular music. The standard allowed different instruments to communicate with each other and with computers, and this spurred a rapid expansion of the sales and production of electronic instruments and music software.[8]:21 This interoperability allowed one device to be controlled from another, which reduced the amount of hardware musicians needed.[20] MIDI's introduction coincided with the dawn of the personal computer era and the introduction of samplers and digital synthesizers.[21] The creative possibilities brought about by MIDI technology are credited for helping revive the music industry in the 1980s.[22]

MIDI introduced capabilities that transformed the way many musicians work. MIDI sequencing made it possible for a user with no notation skills to build complex arrangements.[23] A musical act with as few as one or two members, each operating multiple MIDI-enabled devices, can deliver a performance similar to that of a larger group of musicians.[24] The expense of hiring outside musicians for a project could be reduced or eliminated,[2]:7 and complex productions could be realized on a system as small as a synthesizer with integrated keyboard and sequencer.

MIDI also helped establish home recording. By performing preproduction in a home environment, an artist can reduce recording costs by arriving at a recording studio with a song that is already partially completed and worked out.[2]:7–8 Educational technology enabled by MIDI has transformed music education.[25]

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