MIDI Sequencing Basics

The term MIDI is used to describe digitally generated sounds that can be arranged and manipulated with sequencing software such as Reason to create the effect of real instruments. If, for example, you’re a guitar player who has created a piece of music for piano, and wonder how it would sound with saxophone and drums—but don’t have access to a sax player or drummer—you can use a MIDI keyboard to trigger synthesized drum and sax parts directly into your computer. If managed properly, these synthetic parts can sound just as good as actual live instruments —that is, if you create the parts properly.

According to course author and instructor Michael Moss, “Some people say that MIDI sequences can sound mechanical. But that’s not something in MIDI itself. It’s in the way that people use—and misuse—MIDI sequencing. What we do in this class is explore MIDI sequencing basics, understand that it can actually sound very good—and learn how with Reason software.”

“Students in this class learn their way around the program, and get an introduction to all the main modules within Reason,” said Moss. “If they write their own music, they can create a song during the course, but if not, they take a song that I provide, and reconstruct it by either copying and pasting the existing parts into their own arrangement, or else by playing from a chord chart that I also furnish.”

Whether students work with parts that Moss provides, or play their own parts into the computer using a MIDI keyboard, they will create a complete piece by adding “layers” of sound to their MIDI track. “We start with the drums, then add the bass, then we add the synthesizers. This way, they learn hands-on about how a contemporary dance track is generally constructed in Reason.”

MIDI Sequencing Basics is designed for a wide range of musicians. “MIDI is helpful to so many different kinds of musicians,” Moss said. “In this course, I’ve had school music teachers who want to create practice tracks for their band and choral students, and church organists who wanted to incorporate orchestral sounds into their church services, but didn’t have violinists available to play the piece. If you have a MIDI-capable keyboard, a computer, and sequencing software, you have access to a universe of instrument sounds at your fingertips.”

There are no prerequisites for MIDI Sequencing Basics. “It helps if they know the basic concepts of music, like the bass is low, for example,” Moss said. “A touch of music theory helps to make it all make more sense, but the most important thing to have really is basic computer skills. If you can copy and paste in a Word document, you’ll be able to copy and paste music with my instructions to create a very good sounding track.”

Moss said that even the most beginner-level students are amazed at the end of this three-week course to find that they’ve created a contemporary dance track that sounds like the real thing, after just three weeks. “People say to me, ‘Wow! I can’t believe I did that.’ They finish with a great sense of accomplishment.” Even if students don’t compose their own piece of music, they can work with the materials provided in the course to come up with something that’s original—and good. “When it’s done, the piece chugs along with energy, and they’ve contributed to making a funky, energetic piece happen.