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MIDI Products

Non-Traditional MIDI Controllers
Unusual Musical Instruments using MIDI

MIDI Hardware & Software

MIDI makes a lot of things possible, and there are many types of MIDI product available to help you create, control, or even just listen to music. MIDI products tend to fall into one of two categories:

  • MIDI controlling devices (things that send MIDI messages)
  • MIDI-controllable sound-generating devices (things that play music via MIDI)

Some MIDI Products -- such as the typical keyboard synthesizer shown on the right -- are both a controller and sound generator.

If you would like to make music with MIDI, we recommend you visit a MIDI specialist to determine the right products for you. Here are just some of the products that you may want to consider.

Keyboards: Practically every musical keyboard sold today has MIDI (or USB-MIDI) connections... that's everything from the $100 portables to $300,000 digital grand pianos! Some have their own sounds, and some are just controllers designed to connect to sound generators (e.g. computers or "sound modules"). Some MIDI keyboards have an extra dimension of expression, such a keys that move in and out, or left and right (see "Non-traditional MIDI Controllers", below).

Wind controllers, MIDI guitars & drums etc.:
You don't have to be a keyboard (piano) player to benefit from MIDI. There are specially made MIDI wind controllers, MIDI guitars, MIDI drums, even MIDI accordions. Since MIDI was primarily designed for ‘keyboard players', these devices are often referred to as 'alternate MIDI controllers.'

(Interested in MIDI Guitar? Check out Craig Anderton's High-Tech Guitar forum over at Harmony Central.)

Non-Traditional Controllers: Another category of "alternate MIDI controllers" are those that don't mirror traditional musical instruments. There are many people who feel that traditional musical instruments are too hard to learn, or limit their expression to "traditional" forms. 

MIDI controllers come in a large variety of shapes and formats, and thanks to motion and impact sensors just about anything can be made to send MIDI data.

We've compiled some examples of non-traditional controllers below, and some additional and unusual uses of MIDI below.

Control Surfaces: This type of ‘alternate MIDI controller' includes unique products designed to trigger or modify notes on a sound-engine, as well as products to remotely control the settings of software or other hardware using knobs, sliders, buttons, wheels, and joysticks that send MIDI Messages. There are also controllers designed for DJ's and controllers that work as a mixing surface for Digital Audio Workstations.

Lighting Controllers: MIDI is not just for sound; Many professional stage lighting controllers also allow external control of scene and program changes via MIDI. 

Sound Modules: To make sound using MIDI messages requires a sound generator, either built-in to a controller, or available as a stand-alone device. Sound Modules come in many sizes, as well as in the form of software that runs on a computer, smart phone, or tablet.

Computers, Tablets, and Smartphones: Practically every Mac or Windows computer sold since 1995 has included software to play MIDI files, and just needs a "MIDI Interface" (e.g. USB, or FireWire) to be used as a sound generator and/or to control gear like keyboards, drums, and more.
If you have an iPad or iPhone, you can connect to MIDI products via an iOS MIDI Interface (using the Camera Kit or Lightining Port) or connect to other computers via WiFi. Similar functionality is being developed for Android and Windows phones and tablets.
Software applications: Professionals and amateurs alike use MIDI on computers, tablets and smartphones to compose, arrange, and record original music, or to learn about music or how to play an instrument. There are hundreds if not thousands of software applications that involve MIDI, either actively or passively. Included are MIDI Sequencers (now commonly combined with audio recording into Digital Audio Workstations or ‘DAWs'.), auto accompaniment applications, notation programs, music teaching software, games, DJ/remix environments, and more.

Software sounds: ‘Softsynths' or ‘software musical instruments' started
to appear in the late 1990s. With the development of plug-in architectures and virtual studio technology (e.g. VST, AU, etc.) there has been an explosion of sound-generating software products in both ‘new' and ‘vintage' styles. 

Games: Computer and video game music, now generally referred to as game audio, began with MIDI and evolved over time to use dozens of digital audio tracks that represent actual orchestral scores like in block-buster movies. Still, MIDI serves a purpose in downloadable and mobile games where bandwidth is limited, and also in games that require the music to change continuously along with the game play.

Music Games: Both Rock Band and Guitar Hero use MIDI data to tell the game engine what you (the player) should be playing and calculate your score. Later versions of Guitar Hero have a studio mode that uses MIDI to allow the player to make their own songs, while Rock Band 3 can be played using most any MIDI controller. And in the music game (which is also training software for guitar players) Rock Smith 2014 there is a backing band made up entirely of sampled instruments controlled by MIDI that can follow your tempo, volume, and excitement level.

Companies and products listed here do not imply any recommendation or endorsement by MMA.

Here are some Non-Traditional MIDI Controllers:

LINN: Linnstrument

The Linnstrument is an expressive alternative to the MIDI keyboard controller. Unlike a typical piano-style MIDI keyboard, LinnStrument captures three dimensions of each finger's movement, polyphonically: strike velocity, finger pressure (Z axis), finger left-right (X axis) movement, and finger forward-backward (Y axis) movement.

ROLI: Seaboard

The Seaboard re-imagines the piano keyboard as a soft, continuous surface, with polyphonic pitch bend, vibrato and per-note dynamic changes all available at your fingertips. Continuous touch enables you to sound a note and then take it on a musical journey, modulating its pitch, volume and timbre through one continuous gesture.

Dualo: du-touch

More than just a controller, du-touch is a portable instrument, complete with built-in synth and sequencer. The chromatic keyboard is a custom design, featuring pressure-sensing lighted pads. Also equipped with an accelerometer and 3 touch sliders. 

TEControl: Breath Controllers

(Okay, Breath Controllers are actually Traditional, in that they were introduced with the Yamaha DX-7 way back in 1984... but Yamaha's didn't output MIDI directly, and these do... and Yamaha stopped making them.) These Breath Controllers convert breath pressure to MIDI messages (CC, Pitch bend or Aftertouch) that let you add realistic expression to any performance (both USB-MIDI and DIN-MIDI outputs are available). 

Portmanteau Devices: Pianocade

The Pianocade is a synthesizer designed to sound, look, and feel like a vintage arcade game machine. The built-in synthesizer is based on the sound hardware of the Nintendo NES, and the hardware includes genuine arcade buttons, joystick, and even coin slots.

Da Fact: Karlax

Karlax has been designed to offer artists a large and diverse range of controls. Karlax captures all the gestures, from the most sensible to the widest, combining expressivity and intuitiveness. The movement of fingers, wrists, elbows, forearms, torso and whole body are captured, analyzed and sent to the computer running the artistic intentions of the performer and composer.

Naonext: Crystall Ball

With an interface based on movement, the Crystall Ball allows for intuitive control of MIDI synthesizers and computer-aided creation software. Features include 24 white and blue backlit play keys, 8 blue backlit control keys, and 5 optical sensors that measure distances of between 5 and 35 centimeters in real-time.

Nu Desine: Alphasphere

The AlphaSphere nexus features 48 pressure and velocity sensitive pads, USB connectivity and responsive internal lighting. When used in conjunction with the bundled software AlphaLive on your computer as a standalone or combined with your favourite DAWs, it becomes a unique and creative interface to push the boundaries of musical expression.

Musicode Innovations: MidiWing 

The MidiWing is a MIDI controller designed to reduce or eliminates the technical difficulties related to playing a musical instrument. It is designed to have progressive levels of difficulty, complexity and capacity, and can be played by more than one person. MidiWing makes playing music even easier which means more children will have access to music, especially those with physical or mental challenges.

Eigenlabs: Eigenharp

The Eigenharp brings truly expressive musical performance to every musician. The 3D keys are amazingly sensitive - sensing pressure for volume, side to side for effects and moving up down for pitch. Each Eigenharp comes with a breath pipe and one or more strip controllers used to control any aspect of a sound - such as triggering notes and applying effects and filters. You can also attach pedals, headphones and a microphone. You can change the key layouts, instrument mappings, scales, how all the controls behave - just about everything in fact.

Inspired Instruments: "You Rock Guitar"

The You Rock Guitar is both a digital (MIDI) guitar (with 6 strings and a touch-sensitive digital fret board) AND a game controller (adapters available for Xbox, PS2, and Wii). And it has a built in synthesizer with a "You Rock" mode for learning to play in the right scale with only the right notes.

Misa Digital Guitar

The Misa Digital Guitar is a guitar without strings. It is a MIDI controller that you play using a touch screen along with switches on the fret board. With the touch screen you can adjust four synth parameters simultaneously. It is not meant to replace a stringed guitar, but for playing electronic music.

                (click to enlarge)

Samchillian: Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeee

The Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeee (patent #5,565,641) is a computer style keyboard MIDI controller based on changes of pitch, rather than fixed pitches. This scheme gives the performer the ability to perform extremely quick, rhapsodical lines. There is a software-only version for PCs.

C-Thru Music: Axis

The obvious difference between this and other music interfaces is the key surface, which gives you a geometric overview of musical harmonies. Learning it is absorbing, and using it is inspirational, and fun. The layout of notes on the keysurface helps you expand your creativity and productivity in a live or studio situation. Playing it is like no other instrument.

Haken Audio: The Continuum Fingerboard

The Continuum Fingerboard offers realtime continuous control in three directions for every finger that is placed on the playing surface. The Continuum is compatible with any MIDI synthesizer, sound module, or sequencer. There is a special MIDI handling mode for communication with Symbolic Sound Corporation’s Kyma Workstation.

Yamaha: Tenori-On

The TENORI-ON is a unique 16 x 16 LED button matrix performance instrument with a stunning visual display. By operating and interacting with the LED buttons and the light they produce you gain access to numerous performance capabilities. There are six different performance and sound/light modes, and these modes can be combined and used simultaneously for rich, complex musical expression. For DJs & producers it is a unique performance tool enabling them to perform using MIDI and load the TENORI-ON with samples to 'jam / improvise' within their set BPMs.

 MIDI Theremin

The MIDI Wave Theremin can be played like a normal Theremin (producing audio output from within the Theremin itself, using a variety of build in oscillators, wave-forms and modulators, to create a multitude of different sounds and effects), but is also capable of producing a stream of midi messages, to control some other midi-capable instrument that, in turn, produces the desired audio output or controls external filters etc.

Sonalog: GypsyMIDI

The GypsyMIDI is a unique performance instrument for motion-capture MIDI control... The suit is modeled on the human skeletal form using rotational sensors placed on the joints. The GypsyMIDI simply plugs into a MIDI interface and arm movements are converted into a real-time stream of MIDI data. The mapping interface eXo-software allows the user to define how the movements are translated into MIDI control, including the ability to trigger notes, generate continuous control commands or even play scales.

Here are some unusual musical instruments and other products that use MIDI: 

DIY 3D Printed MIDI Controller
Source: www.adafruit.com

If you have access to a 3D printer, you can build the "UNTZtrument" yourself. It is an open-source grid controller in a 3d-printed case, using a Trellis 4x4 PCB with elastomer key pad, 4 potentiometers, and an Arduino microcontroller. All the materials (and info) are at www.adafruit.com.

MIDI Strip
Source: www.amptonelab.com

MIDI Strip is a MIDI controller based on a resistive strip. It is designed to be installed in an electric guitar body to control an external MIDI synth or software (FL Studio, GarageBand, etc.). Includes a microcontroller, resistive strip, 5-PIN DIN socket, etc.

MIDI-Powered Sound Module
Source: www.ploytec.com

The Pi-Lambda Squared (or "PL2") synth module is a 2" cube containing a 2-voice PWM synthesizer that can be powered from the MIDI data line or via micro-USB. The synth has both analog and digital filters, 32 factory sounds, and is fully controllable (and updateable) via MIDI.

MIDIvampire-IMiniature MIDI Synth and Drum Machine
Source: www.openmusiclabs.com

The MIDIvampire-I and -II are a 4 voice polyphonic synth and 4-voice drum machine (respectively) that are powered from the MIDI data line. The synth has 16 different wavetables, AM, FM, attack, decay, reverb, and a slew of other parameters, all controlled by MIDI CC messages. The drum machine has a snare, hi-hat, cymbal, and bass drum, or you can build your own percussion sounds with MIDI CC messages.

MIDI Doorbell

Source: www.jacobjensen.com

Yes, this is a cordless doorbell that plays MIDI Files. It comes with with five pre-installed tunes, plus software and USB cable for loading your own MIDI files (SMF Type 1 , 8 Channels, up to 8 seconds in length).

MIDI-driven Marimba
Source: www.Gizmodo.com

By deconstructing a standard marimba, assigning a mallet to each, and hooking the whole mess up to two MD24 MIDI decoders, Larry Cotton has found a way to enjoy the soothing plinking of a marimba that can be controlled by any a MIDI sequencer or keyboard. Watch a video of the device in action on YouTube...

Free MIDI Game
Source: Synthesia

Synthesia is a game that teaches you to play the piano using falling notes. No sheet music reading is required. With it, you can: Learn to play songs using a musical keyboard connected to your computer; Keep track of your progress in every song with per-song scoreboards; Slow, fast-forward, and rewind songs while learning new parts; Practice left and right hand parts together or separately. Try out any MIDI file you can find on the Internet. Use it on either your PC or Mac.

MIDI Sequencing with Hamster Control
Source: Cornell University

This project was initially fueled by the desire to explore the MIDI protocol. It was decided that this would be accomplished by building a MIDI device. An intelligent MIDI sequencer was designed with hamster control. The MIDI sequencer intelligently produced melodies by manipulating the musical elements of rhythm and note-choice. Guided by inputs based on hamster movements...

Sofa as MIDI controller
Source: Music Thing Blog Spot

A German designer calling himself Seppoman has built a MIDI control system into a sofa. If two people are sitting down, they can output three control values each - left and right buttock weight and how far the person is leaning back.

Peter Jackson's $100,000 Ragtime MIDI Band
Source: Music Thing Blog Spot

The $99,975 LB-BGJ from Ragtime Automated Music is a cabinet containing a robotically controlled acoustic band. A touch-screen interface controls the whole works, sending MIDI signals to the mechanical elements that play the full drum kit, piano, accordion, guitar, banjo, electric bass, and 24 organ pipes. Click here for a video of the thing in action.

MIDI Gamma Ray Spectrometer
Source: www.kosmophone.com

The Kosmophone is a gamma-ray spectrometer operating in the range of about 3 to 7 million electron-volts (MeV) controlling a MIDI music synthesizer. This octave of the electromagnetic spectrum, about a million times higher frequency than the octave our eyes respond to, contains very little energy that originates in our solar system. Almost all of the energy in this band is a result of unbelievably energetic radiation coming from the far reaches of the universe, 'Cosmic Rays'.

MIDI Van de Graaff Generator
Source: www.boston.com

The towering Van de Graaff electric generator in the Theatre of Electricity of the Museum of Science throws off some serious sparks -- about 1.5 million volts' worth, we're told. Little did we know that it also can be manipulated to make music. In ''Zap!," composer Christine Southworth and robotics engineer Leila Hasan, alumnae of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, use the Van de Graaff to add sparks and static to an hour-long concert with eight other musicians. Southworth composed the music; Hasan controls the generator with a laser-theremin MIDI controller. More info at web.mit.edu.

MIDI Ladder
Source: www.tonleiter.com

The ToneLadder. If a household ladder is extended with a melodic function, it will develop into a real musical instrument. The ordinary ladder transforms into a soundladder. Stepping on a bar of the ladder creates a sound or tone which is different from rung to rung. So you can create a piece of music by stepping up and down on the ladder. Together with a partner you can even play a duet.

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