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What Every Class/Group Piano Teacher Should Know about MIDI

The short answer: NOT VERY MUCH or really, NOTHING AT ALL!

The only reason you need to know something about MIDI is if you have a lab in which:

1. you're using computers to record and play back (sequence) performances, or

2. you have external sound (synth) modules on some or all your pianos.

If either or both the above statements apply, then perhaps you need to know a little something about MIDI and this brings us to:

The medium answer:

-- MIDI cables are always plugged from OUT to IN, never from OUT to OUT or IN to IN.

-- There is absolutely no reason for you to ever plug a MIDI cable into the THRU unless you have more than one external sound module. At that point, you need to read: The LONG answer

The most common reasons an external MIDI device (sound module) won't play (please check in this order):

1. The power cord is not plugged in, or the power is turned off, or (more likely), the power strip into which everything is plugged is turned off. CHECK THIS FIRST! It's very embarrassing to call a repairman and they come over only to discover that the power strip is turned off ($$).

2. Someone has changed a setting on the front of the module. The module should be set to play in General Midi mode (GM mode), NOT Program mode, Combination mode, Performance mode or anything like that.

3. The MIDI IN cable of your sound module has become unplugged. Make sure the MIDI cable is plugged into the IN port, not the OUT or THRU (THRU is really an alternate OUT, not an IN).

Most synth modules have a MIDI ACTIVITY LIGHT (indicator) somewhere on the front so when you play on the piano keyboard, a light should blink on and off on the sound module every time you press a key. If this is happening and you are not getting any sound, then the problem is not MIDI but AUDIO. Check to see if the AUDIO is turned ON and please check to see IF THE TEACHER CONTROLLER UNIT IS TURNED ON.

Without exception, for all manufacturers of class piano labs, the teacher controller unit has to be turned ON before you get any audio sounding in the individual student workstation headphones.


Connecting your MIDI pianos to a computer

There are several reasons why you might want to connect your MIDI pianos to a computer:

1. You can enter notes directly into Finale or Sibelius by simply playing on the keyboard.

2. You can use more sophisticated sequencer recorders than come built into your keyboard. See Garage Band.

3. Your students can use interactive music software for teaching notes on the keyboard, notes on the staff, key signatures, and other music fundamentals. AND, your students can work independently, which is great if you have many different levels of students in the same class.

To connect your MIDI keyboard to a computer, one of these will apply:

1. Your keyboard has a USB port. Connect the keyboard to your computer using a standard USB cable.

2. You have a really old midi keyboard with no USB port, so you will have to purchase an inexpensive midi interface. Get a cheap and simple MIDI interface with one MIDI IN and one MIDI OUT. We recommend the M-Audio Uno because midi cables come physically attached. You may have to install a driver if your computer doesn't recognize it.

To connect your keyboard to a computer using a MIDI interface:

Go ahead and plug the USB cable of the MIDI interface box into the computer. Now take the two MIDI cables and plug them from the MIDI port on the back of the keyboard to the MIDI port of the MIDI interface. Remember: MIDI out goes to MIDI in. NEVER plug MIDI IN to MIDI IN or MIDI OUT to MIDI OUT.

Unfortunately, there is ONE MORE STEP and this means you're going to have to get your keyboard manual out and read it. In the GOBAL settings of your keyboard there is a setting to choose whether you're using the internal USB (or serial) port OR an external MIDI interface. Just read carefully and then set your piano the way it says. If this is not set correctly, then you will not be able to control or play sequences from the computer and hear them on the piano and you won't be able to play on the piano and have the computer record it. If this seems just too confusing for you, then you will just have to call in a specialist to set the keyboard up for you and that will take just about 10 seconds once they get there. So, yes, YOU CAN DO IT!! Newer keyboards may not require this step, but if you cannot get a midi signal from you keyboard to the midi interface then this is probably the reason, or you may have to install a driver for the midi interface.

That's pretty much all there is to it -- providing your computer is set up correctly to recognize the USB MIDI interface.  If not, you may have to install MIDI interface drivers which came on a disk when you purchased the interface. Otherwise, you may need to consult with your school's IT services specialist or your lab manager if you're lucky enough to have one.


Beyond these simple bits of advise, you will have to slide into the dark and murky waters of "MIDI Land" or constantly be at the mercy of your IT Specialist or lab technician. Please don't be intimidated. You CAN DO IT! Please see MIDI Resources.


See A Critical Overview of Class Piano Lab Manufacturers.

Back to Class Piano Lab Resources.

Contact us for information about designing and installing a class/group piano lab in your school.


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