Music for sound cards. (Windows-based Musical Instrument Digital Interface programs) (Column)
by David English
When Microsoft added sound to Windows 3.1, it also added MIDI to Windows. MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is the data communications protocol that has become the standard for today's music synthesizers, computer-music interfaces, and computer-music software. As I mentioned last month, great-sounding General MIDI modules are inexpensive enough ($250-$800) for almost anyone to buy one. This month, I'll look at music programs for Windows that work with ordinary sound car s as well as MIDI modules a synthesizers.
The key to telling Windows whether to use your sound card's built-in FM sounds or an external MIDI device is MIDI Mapper. It helps ensure that music produced for one kind of electronic musical device will sound the same when played back on another. If you've installed the Windows driver for your sound card or MIDI instrument, you should be able to bring up MIDI Mapper by double-clicking the Control Panel icon (it's usually in the Main group) and then double-clicking the MIDI Mapper icon. Microsoft provides drivers for many popular sound devices (usually including Ad Lib, General MIDI, MT32, and Proteus/ 1). If you can't find the driver for your sound card or MIDI device, check your documentation to see if you can use another driver in its place.
By selecting the appropriate driver, you tell Windows to route all MIDI communications to and from that device. For example, if you have a Media Vision card, you can have its FM synthesizer chip play your MIDI notes. If you have a MIDI device attached to your sound card, such as the Wave Blaster daughterboard that's available for the Sound Blaster 16 ASP, you can send the MIDI signals there. Because Windows takes care of which device gets the MIDI data, most Windows-based MIDI software will work with most sound cards and MIDI devices--as long as you have the right MIDI Mapper driver selected.
Now that you know how to send MIDI data to your sound card or MIDI device, let's look at Windows-based MIDI programs that can be used by beginners as well as professionals. Top of the list would have to be Band-in-a-Box Pro for Windows (PG Music, 266 Elmwood Avenue, Unit 111, Buffalo, New York 14222; 800-268-6272; $88). It creates automatic accompaniments using a large number of musical styles (Jazz Swing, Reggae, Miami Sound, Blues Shuffle, and so on). Type in the chords to a song, pick an appropriate style, and press the Play button. That's all there is to it. The bass, drums, piano, guitar, and strings parts are created automatically. Band-in-a-Box Pro comes with 75 styles, but you can buy extra ones or create your own in the Style-Maker section of the program. While the package includes many preprogrammed melodies and chords, you can record your own using the built-in sequencer or buy MIDI Fake-Book disks that contain the melodies and chords to many popular songs. Best of all, this mix-and-match approach yields some excellent--and often unique--tunes. If you're into music, Band-in-a-Box is a must buy. It's loads of fun.
PG Music also sells PowerTracks for Windows, a full-featured Windows MIDI sequencer that costs only $29 (they even throw in the DOS version of PowerTracks for free). And for just $389, the company will sell you a Roland SCC-1 (it's a Sound Canvas on a PC card) and throw PowerTracks for Windows in for free. It's a terrific package for anyone who wants to get started with General MIDI.
If you've ever wanted to program a drum machine, take a look at The*Drums. It offers realtime pattern editing and recording and supports standard MIDI files. Each drum instrument is given a row of boxes that represent the beats in a measure. Simply click on the boxes to turn the drums notes on and off. If you have a good ear for music, you can quickly create complex drum patterns. Compuserve members can find the demo version of The*Drums in the MIDI/Music Forum (type go midiforum). The full version is available for $50.
Other Windows music programs that support sound cards, as well as MIDI synthesizers and modules, include Power Chords 1.0 (Howling Dog Systems, Kanata North Postal Outlet, Box 72071, Kanata, Ontario, Canada K2K 2P4; 613-599-7927; $84.95), which lets you generate your music using the onscreen frets of a guitar, bass, or banjo; NotePlay for Windows (Ibis Software, 140 Second Street, #603, San Francisco, California 94105; 415-546-1917; $49.95), which helps you learn to sight read music; and MusicTime (Passport, 100 Stone Pine Road, Half Moon Bay, California 94019; 415-726-0280; $249.00), which lets you record your music and use desktop publishing to produce it in standard notation.
If you would like to learn more about MIDI, check out these two books. Craig Anderton's MIDI for Musicians is intended for the nontechnical musician who's just starting out with MIDI, while Joseph Rothstein's MIDI: A Comprehensive Introduction is a clear and concise explanation of all aspects of the MIDI specifications.