MIDI - the Musical Instrument Digital Interface - was designed to allow electronic music generating equipment e.g. a keyboard, to control electronic sound generating equipment. Previously the sound generator and the means for controlling it had to be made as one unit - like an electric organ. Now what you probably won't be told and what you will only find out after some time is just how difficult other sound generators can be to use - so whatever you do, whatever anyone recommends, check out the WEM Midi Partner Accordion sound expander before you saddle yourself with some high-tech 'millstone'.
MIDI accordions are standard accordions that have some form of key recognition electronics put in them that sends a signal (or message as MIDI signals are called) to a sound producing box. You can buy accordions already 'Midied' or you can have your favourite accordion fitted with a MIDI Interface as the conversion is called. In fact in MIDI terms the accordion is actually 3 instruments - the right-hand, the chords and the bass all producing independent MIDI messages (down one cable though) that could control 3 separate sound producers - these may or may not be in one unit, it is the users choice. WEM make a MIDI interface - (NO LONGER AVAILABLE separately as a kit). Midi fitted equipments are connected to each other by a lead fitted with 5 pin 'DIN' plugs - you may recognise them as a home Hi-Fi plug. Each lead is one way only though i.e. you can send in one direction only. This is fine for accordion use as we are sending from the accordion to our sound expanders. If you have equipment that can send and receive to each other then you would need 2 leads. MIDI equipment has has a straight forwardly labelled 'MIDI OUT' on the socket that is sending MIDI and 'MIDI IN' for the socket that receives MIDI. In order to link further pieces of MIDI equipment, there is a 'MIDI THRU' socket which has a copy of the MIDI IN signal on it and would connect to the next bit of equipment's 'MIDI IN'.
One great advantage of the MIDI approach is that as the performance of sound generating equipment improves, one only has to upgrade this part of your musical set-up. You can do all sorts of things with your music once you have played it in MIDI form, you can store it i.e. record it and then edit it and then even print it out as a score and then when you play it back, you can play it back using different instruments and orchestrations. If this all seems too much for you then you will not be surprised to know that many people just use MIDI to add extra bass or chords and/or percussion to give their dance accompaniments some extra 'oomph' ! - this is the equivalent of what used to be called 'power bass'.
In order to keep the different instrument parts separate (e.g. the 3
parts of an accordion), MIDI messages have their own MIDI Channel
number, ranging from 1 to 16. MIDI accordion has evolved its own
assignments where the right-hand is sent on channel 1, chords on
2 and bass on channel 3.
These 3 separate channels allow a different sound for each channel. Sound producing 'boxes' which can produce more than one different sound at a time are known as Multi-timbral units. They are also classified according to the number of notes they can play at once e.g. if your sound producer is 32 note polyphonic then it can play 32 simultaneous notes maximum, any further notes sent to it either won't play or if they play other existing notes will disappear.
The sound producing boxes or modules are often referred to as expanders. They are all sound synthesizers of one sort or another.
Up to now, most expanders used by accordionists were at best, only
partly suited to accordionists, being excessively complicated and
difficult to set up or modify. As you would expect most sound
generators are aimed at the more general keyboard and studio markets
with perhaps a 'nod' in the accordionists direction. Even modules apparently
made for or suitable for accordion are after examination found to be tiresomely
difficult to use in practice.
WEM have remedied this situation bringing to the MIDI accordionist a small, light weight easily operated high quality sound expander - the Midi Partner. WEM also make a MIDI interface without control panel that will not deface your accordion (no longer available separately as a kit)
If you have unanswered questions about MIDI and your accordion call us :-
Watkins Electric Music Ltd 020 8679 5575
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
MIDI Terms Glossary and Questions & Answers. (- in progress)
How far can you send MIDI ?
The maximum recommended MIDI cable length is about 5 metres, which is usually more than enough for the average user. It will depend to a degree on the particular equipment being connected and the cables. If you require greater lengths then 'power driver and receiver' units are available which are capable of sending MIDI signals down hundreds of feet. Alternatively, a wireless system such as the Kenton system that we sell, will free you of cables altogether and give you the distance.
What do the the labels on the MIDI connection sockets mean ?
MIDI In. - This is the main input from the MIDI generator (MIDI accordion in our case) and comes from the MIDI Out of the generator.
MIDI Thru - (MIDI through) - this is an out socket and has a copy of the MIDI In signal. It is used to link to another expander which can be used to link to yet another etc - sometimes known as a 'daisy chain'.
MIDI Out - This is an output socket but is usually used to send special MIDI messages that are generated inside the particular expander to another MIDI unit. E.g. The settings of one expander can be sent to another so that they change together. The MIDI Out socket may have the MIDI In signal as well as extra messages depending on the facilities of the particular expander and could be used as the MIDI Thru socket.
Expander - musical synthesiser unit also known as MIDI module, MIDI sound module, sound expander, sound module, sound generator etc - basically an electronic musical instrument without the keyboard - you supply that with your Midi accordion.
Polyphony - the number of notes available to be played at the same time. Electronic MIDI sound generators are always limited practically in the number of simultaneous sounds that they can produce, though in practice this is usually not an actual limitation as there are usually enough notes available. It is something to look out for though if you are a 'busy' player and have an older expander. One of the great things about MIDI is that you can add on extra expanders for extra sounds or extra polyphony just by plugging another sound module in.
Multi-timbral - if an expander can produce more than one type of sound at a time then it is multitimbral e.g. on the Midi Partner you have at least 3 different sounds happening at once - on the bass, chords and right-hands.
Active Sensing - This is a Midi message which acts like a
beacon to units that recognise it. Basically it is sent when normal Midi
messages stop e.g. when you stop playing and it is there to let the modules
receiving it know that they are still connected to an active source of Midi
messages. It has a very handy practical use : you may have had 'notes stuck on'
syndrome where played notes will not go off. This is often caused when a
note on message is sent when you press a key to play a note and then for some
reason either say someone trips over a cable, you have a bad cable connection or
the accordion is switched off etc - well whatever the reason expanders like the
Midi Partner recognising that active sensing messages have stopped will clear
all the playing sounds.