Improving MIDI playbackIf you're stuck with the default Microsoft MIDI player you can be forgiven for thinking that MIDI just doesn't sound good enough to bother with. However you can dramatically improve MIDI playback quality in several ways, including the following:
- Use an external keyboard
- Buy a separate soundcard which supports MIDI synthesis
- Install a software synthesizer to replace Microsoft's own.
Using a keyboard or digital pianoIf you already own a MIDI-capable keyboard or digital piano, and are happy with how it sounds, it makes good sense to link it to your computer for playing MIDI. A MIDI-capable keyboard normally displays the "General MIDI" logo (see illustration left), but if buying a new one check that it is capable of both sending and receiving MIDI data, since some keyboards are made for computer input only. The normal connection will be through MIDI-in and MIDI-out ports on the keyboard, usually running to the MIDI/joystick port on the computer, though some modern keyboards are designed to connect via USB - check the manufacturer's specifications. You will need to buy a suitable cable for this: this should cost about £15. Many music shops stock these, as well as some computer outlets.
Connect the 15 pin male connector at one end of the cable to the joystick (or game port) connector on your soundcard (see the image on the left). On the back of your keyboard you will see two MIDI sockets (see image on the right). Connect the 5 pin "MIDI OUT" plug on the cable to the "MIDI IN" on your keyboard and the 5 pin "MIDI IN" plug to the "MIDI OUT" on your keyboard. In case you're wondering about the logic of this, take a quick look at the diagram:
MIDI-file data on your computer travels OUT from the computer (MIDI-OUT) INTO the keyboard (MIDI-IN) for playback. Similarly, when you play your keyboard, MIDI data is sent FROM the keyboard (MIDI-OUT) TO your computer MIDI-IN.
All that remains is to set up your computer to use this connection. If your computer runs the XP operating system you simply go to your computer "Settings - Control Panel", click "Sounds and Multimedia" and select the "audio" tab. In MIDI preferences set the prefered device to "MIDI OUT", "MPU-401" or "EXTERNAL MIDI". (See illustration.) Your keyboard will now be the default device used by your computer for MIDI playback.
If using Vista or later the system is slightly more complicated as there is no MIDI mapper in the control panel sound applet. It is possible to change the MIDI settings by editing the registry, which I don't recommend. A better solution is to install Putzlowitsch's Vista MIDI Mapper Control Panel from here and follow the instructions on the Sierra Help pages.
Next page: fitting a new soundcard