MIDI Files and Hymn Tunes
"MIDI" or "Musical Instrument Digital Interface" is first a
standard way of transmitting electronic signals that
represent musical "events". An event could be something
like "begin note" (such as pressing a key, tapping a drumhead,
beginning to blow into a tube, or plucking a string) or
"end note." This enables electronic instruments (such as
keyboards and synthesizers) from different manufacturers to
be easily connected into a functional system.
"MIDI" is also a common format for storing
a series of musical events, together with timing
information, in computer files ("MIDI files" or
- MIDI files look like any other file to a computer, and
can be saved, downloaded, copied, or distributed just like
any other software or data.
- Almost any computer sold with a MIDI port will also include
programs ("MIDI recorders") that monitor events and save them
into a MIDI file.
- There are programs (MIDI "sequencers"), many available
as freeware, that create, edit, and modify MIDI files.
- There is no standard format for musical sheet music --
every music notation editor has its own format -- but
nearly all music editors can read a MIDI file and turn
it into a rough draft of a score.
- Almost any personal computer system comes with programs
that can "play" various kinds of sound files, including MIDIs,
file using the computer's sound card as a synthesizer.
- Some people learn hymns best by hearing them: in the
absence of a trained chorus, they can learn new tunes
by listening to a MIDI file.
- These files can be re-imported into any music editor to create
sheet music which can be reformatted, modified, with lyrics added,
to provide sheet music for any purpose. Unlike some MIDIs
available for "free download", these files are not "shrouded"
or encrypted in any way to impede regeneration of sheet music.
You might call them "Score MIDIs", since they simply attempt to
encode the information on a printed score (with limitations:
Noteworthy Composer does not export some playback information, such
as breath marks and fermatos, to MIDI files.
Unless otherwise marked, MIDI files will be of this type.
- Some people have donated MIDI files designed to use in place of
organists or other musicians, to provide guidance or accompaniment to
singing groups. Such files typically contain more exact details
of variations in timing, phrasing, and volume of the playback.
(These files would be described as "Performance MIDI" in the index.)
Most of the "Score MIDIs" are not
ready for such use. The tempi were judged "at the keyboard" and
will often not be suitable for use by a group; and there has
been hardly any consideration of necessary rubato effects.
But you could use a score MIDI as a starting point, and add
performance markings with a "MIDI file editor."
- Hardware and Software Requirements:
You must have a "MIDI player" program compatible with your sound
card and speakers. If you can't play MIDI files from any source, then
this is the first problem.
- Browser Configuration:
All files downloaded on the net have a "MIME type", which is a coded
description of the format of the file, to tell the browser knows how to
display it. For instance, Files of type "text/html" should be shown
as ordinary web pages. The browser may be configured to handle other
types. The CCEH server gives MIDI files a "MIME type" of "audio/mid".
If you can't play files from the CCEH website, but can play them
after downloading and saving them, this is a problem.
You may need to configure your browser to recognize MIME type "audio/mid"
and "file extention" of "MID":
- Netscape 4.*: Click on the "Edit/Preferences" menu item, and click
on "Applications." There will be a list of known MIME types, extensions,
and programs that know what to do with them.
- Netscape 6.*: Click on the "Edit/Preferences" menu item, and click
on "Helper Applications." There will be a list similer to Netscape 4.*.
- Microsoft Infernal Exploder: This functionality is hidden
in the MS-Windows configuration, which you'll have to find differently
in each release of MS-Windows. Be warned that no version of the
Infernal Exploder treats MIME type information correctly. For some
simple cases (if no other kind of file on your system has the same
extension) you may not notice the problem. Or sometimes you may just
have to download and save files before playing them.
- Sound Cards and MIDI Voices:
On many of these MIDI files, the playback instrument is set to "Choir ahs"
or "Voice ohs." (Other MIDI files are set to "no instrument," which
defaults to a harpsichord or to the last instrument played, depending on
the sound card and MIDI player program. A few MIDI files use other
instruments or combinations.) "Choir" and "voice" are not the simplest
or most popular synthesized sounds. On a good sound card, they sound
realistic; on a mediocre sound card, they may not sound good; but on
an older card, they can be indistinguishable from "untuned buzz saw."
If the files play, but most of them sound horrible, the problem is
the sound card.
There are free, downloadable utilities that can change simple
characteristics of MIDI files like the playback instrument. You may
need to experiment to find a tolerable instrument setting for your
- "Harpsichord" usually sounds good, but its characteristics don't
match singing voices at all: notes written for a good "Ah-a-a-a-men"
sound more like "Eh...uh...men." "Piano" and "guitar" share the problem.
- "Church Organ" works well on some older sound cards.
The Open Directory Project
(which I help edit)
contains many links to other sources, starting from the
categories. "Editor's pick" or "cool" sites typically contain 500 to 3000