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Playing, Composing & Recording With Your Computer

The personal computer has brought a whole new dimension to the craft of songwriting.

With some of the computer music programs available today, you don't even have to know anything about music to be a composer.

Although this can be fun to sit back and let your computer do all the work, it is strongly recommended that you use your own creativity and talent to write the music and let the computer put it all together for you, quickly and easily.


To get started playing, composing and recording music with your personal PC, you will need at least Windows 95, a midi keyboard, a soundcard, and a MIDI sequencer program such as Power Tracks or Cakewalk. (More on Computer Music Programs later).

You will also need some sort of MIDI interface. The MIDI interface I use is a Roland MPU-IPC-T. There are many other MIDI interfaces on the market today. The MIDI interface connects to one of your computer ports (or soundcard) and on the other end to your Midi keyboard. First let me explain the term MIDI, for those of you who do not already understand this incredible technology. MIDI stands for (Musical Instrument Digital Interface).

With a MIDI keyboard and a Sequencer (either a stand alone hardware sequencer) or a software computer sequencer program installed in your computer, you will be able to play and record sounds from your keyboard into your sequencer and play them back later.

The advantage of having a sequencer program installed on your computer's hard drive is the fact that you can use your computer for your music and of course for many other things as well. With a stand alone hardware sequencer you can use it for recording music tracks, playing them back and nothing else. Though that they are very handy for musicians playing with bands who do not want to haul around their expensive computers to gigs.

A sequencer program is much like a multi-track digital recording system, only what you are recording is digital information from your keyboard into your computer or sequencer.

When you strike a note on your MIDI keyboard, a sensor located below that particular key relays a message to your computer as a note/pitch/touch message etc.

To play back the sounds you have recorded into your sequencer you will need a sound card in your computer or a MIDI keyboard or sound module capable of recreating sound. There are normally 16 MIDI channels to work with (some programs have more but we won't get into that now).


One great feature of computer sequencing is a function known as Quantiziation. This is where the computer will automatically correct your (not so perfect timing) and play your tracks back in perfect time.

For example: After you lay your drum tracks down and it comes out quite a bit sloppy and off the beat, you can press (Quantize) to say 8th resolution if you are playing a straight 8th groove or 8th triplets, if you are playing a shuffle groove, and your drum track will now come out sounding perfectly on the beat, just like you are the best drummer in the world. And, YES, you can do the same thing with all your other tracks and have a perfect sounding recording.


Computer sequencing is also a very good tool for composing. You can record a basic chord progression into your sequencer and then record a melody line over top experimenting with different melody lines etc.

You can also change the chord progression if you like as you go along experimenting and coming up with the best one that suits your current composition. This is not meant to be a complete course on recording with MIDI, but is included simply to get you acquainted with it's potential as a powerful aid to composing music. Once you get the hang of it, it is very easy to understand and to use.


The Computer Sequencing programs I personally use are Cakewalk, Power Tracks, and Band In The Box. There are many more programs available commercially, at prices ranging from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars, depending on all their bells and whistles.

You will probably not find these programs in your friendly neighborhood computer store, but you will find them in most music stores, and shops that cater to musicians.

If you do not own a MIDI keyboard and/or soundcard for you computer but are interested in checking out these wonderful gadgets, there are many to choose from at all price ranges. Check your local music store, there are usually very knowledgeable staff there to help you with all your questions, and to demonstrate all the latest musical techno toys.

© Phillip Walker

Phillip Walker is an electric violinist, composer and recording artist from Oregon.

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