MIDI harware questions

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MIDI harware questions

Postby mochafairy » Wed Dec 07, 2011 5:25 am UTC

So, I'm doing a project where I need music to play, and I'm in it with MIDI. So, I have my awesome Arduino and it's sending out the MIDI commands and I've hooked it up to the MIDI shield...

Now what? I'm kinda lost on what to do next, and my internet searching is coming up fruitless. I'm pretty sure it's because I'm not sure for what I should be looking. Could someone point me in the right direction (or totally solve all my problems! That's acceptable too!) ?

Thank you!
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Re: MIDI harware questions

Postby phlip » Wed Dec 07, 2011 5:47 am UTC

I'm not sure what you're asking for... Are you looking for some sort of actual MIDI synthesizer to plug into your device, and actually play the music your chip's generating?
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Re: MIDI harware questions

Postby mochafairy » Wed Dec 07, 2011 8:06 am UTC

Yeah. I need a synthesizer. Some poor sap who is still in the lab with me just told me I need one.

I didn't know what the step was after the shield in the block diagram /flow chart /I theoretically know what I'm doing progression.

Thanks for the help, though!
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Re: MIDI harware questions

Postby phlip » Wed Dec 07, 2011 8:54 am UTC

Yeah, the way it works is: the chip generates instructions like "Note on", "Note off", "Change instrument to the Lithuanian Nose Flute", etc. Then the shield thing, as I understand it (this thing, right?) basically just wires those instructions into the standard connectors. At this point it's still not audio data per se, just note data. The synth is the magic box you can plug into the connectors on that shield and will turn those note instructions into actual sounds. You then may or may not need audio equipment to plug that into - some synths may have a speaker builtin, some might need an external speaker, some might even need an external amplifier... it just depends on what you're getting. Also, because the synth is the thing that's actually creating the sound, the quality of the synth will be the main determining factor in what the resulting music sounds like... whether it sounds like you're right there in the middle of an orchestra, or sounds like a gameboy being held underwater. Different synths will also have different capabilities, possibly different instrument sets, and the like. Unfortunately I don't actually know any specifics about different hardware - just the theory. Look around for reviews and such. But I wouldn't expect to spend less than a few hundred bucks.

A cheaper alternative is to get a MIDI In port for your computer (there exist USB boxes that you can use), and hook that up, and do the synth-ing on your computer (if you can play .mid files on your computer, then you'd be able to make it work) but given it's an Arduino you might want to be running this disconnected from a computer...
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Re: MIDI harware questions

Postby mochafairy » Wed Dec 07, 2011 1:34 pm UTC

Cost is always an issue, isn't it. :roll:

It needs to stand alone, since it's going in a portable instrument that has certain size constraints.

This project is almost sounding like it'd be cheaper (and easier) to gut a cheap electric keyboard.
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Re: MIDI harware questions

Postby Dream » Wed Dec 07, 2011 2:51 pm UTC

mochafairy wrote:It needs to stand alone, since it's going in a portable instrument that has certain size constraints.

This project is almost sounding like it'd be cheaper (and easier) to gut a cheap electric keyboard.

Can you describe the instrument physically? You need it to be portable, and it seems, built into something? What's the something?

What kind of sounds are you hoping to create here? Are they entirely synthetic, like a Moog? Do you need more than one instrument sound at once, aka multitimbrality? Would you be happy with a cheap keyboard kind of sound, or do you need something at least a bit realistic?


If you're happy with a soldering iron and Arduino programming, you might do well with a Meeblip, which can be had in unassembled form, and would build into a custom enclosure very well. Cheap at $69 too. That would be for very synthetic sounds. Alternatively, if you need say strings or something, try looking on ebay for an old rackmount half rack 1U sound module like this, or this. They can make all kinds of sounds or sampled real instruments, and are multitimbral and polyphonic.

But anyway, if you answer the questions above, I can make very specific recommendations.
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Re: MIDI harware questions

Postby mochafairy » Fri Dec 16, 2011 7:21 am UTC

It's a triangle shaped thing...we're not really making a traditional instrument, more like a quasi theremin. It's kinda like this except there's an actual frame and, well, different. :roll: Yeah, that's specific. We need it to make both synthetic sounds (we're going for Mario!) and other instruments (like a piano, trumpet, maybe a violin), which is why we decided on MIDI.

Anywho, so the same sap who helped me in the lab last time placed an order for one of these for me, and told me it can be used as a MIDI synthesizer. After looking at the lovely data sheet, I see that there's a lovely library (page 25, if your curious). So I'm sure there's a way to do it, I'm just totally lost. My emphasis is in power systems and smart grid shit, not microcontrollers or processors or, well, this. Sorry for the whining.

Anyway, anyone still awake and want to teach me how to make this stupid little board work the way I want it to?

Edit: I should really search google BEFORE bugging y'all. Thank maude for the internet. How did people do shit before the internet? I'll never know.
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Re: MIDI harware questions

Postby Dream » Sat Dec 17, 2011 7:50 pm UTC

mochafairy wrote:We need it to make both synthetic sounds (we're going for Mario!) and other instruments (like a piano, trumpet, maybe a violin), which is why we decided on MIDI.

Yeah, then a GM synth is the way to go. Looks like you have the right choice, though I'll just speculate that your "real" instruments are likely going to sound every bit as synthetic as your synth sounds. That's just the way it is with GM.

mochafairy wrote:I should really search google BEFORE bugging y'all.

Does that mean you've solved the problem?
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Re: MIDI harware questions

Postby mochafairy » Sun Dec 18, 2011 3:08 am UTC

haha. oh, I wish I'd solved the problem. I tried a bunch of different configurations I found, and none of them worked...so, if you have any suggestions, I"d be open to hearing them.
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Re: MIDI harware questions

Postby Dream » Tue Dec 20, 2011 11:43 am UTC

I'm afraid I can't specifically troubleshoot a homebrew hardware project, beyond the really obvious stuff that you'll definitely have thought of. Sorry to be useless, but without knowing exactly what you're up to with it, and having some experience with the synth board, I really wouldn't know where to start. Good luck though, it's great to see instrument builders at work.

If you're having serious trouble, just build a test version with a MIDI output and connect it to somebody's MIDI keyboard. Make sure all your own work is doing its thing, then troubleshoot the synth. It would also be a plan to be able to connect the thing to a computer over MIDI anyway, which would make it highly extensible and very much more useful than just having a built in synth.
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