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Ultimate Guide: How To Play MIDI Files In Your DAW

March 8, 2024 | Tero Potila — Learn to play and edit MIDI files directly in your DAW. Experience the power of MIDI music with Soundtrap's all-in-one, online music software.

Producer on bed creating MIDI files in Soundtrap

Learning how to play MIDI in your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is easy.

MIDI, which stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, is a technical standard that describes a protocol, digital interface, and connectors, allowing a wide range of electronic musical instruments, computers, and other related devices to connect and communicate with one another.

How To Play MIDI Files

With a modern DAW at your disposal, you can now create, edit, and play MIDI sequences using virtual instruments and external MIDI hardware.

Soundtrap MIDI editor lets you create and edit MIDI files using the Piano Roll and Patterns Beatmaker editors, providing a metronome and a grid to snap your notes into place. There's a range of virtual instruments available to choose from.

Soundtrap's online MIDI playback and editing environment simplifies music-making and encourages collaboration and learning. It's also a fantastic resource for teachers and students, providing an accessible platform for honing your skills and bringing your musical ideas to life. 

You can jump straight into creating, editing, and playing MIDI files and making your own music today without the need to download complex software or own expensive equipment.

Understanding MIDI

The invention of MIDI revolutionized the world of music production, allowing for seamless communication between various electronic instruments and devices. It's your portal into an efficient way of digitally creating, editing, and playing back music.

MIDI Basics

MIDI is a technical standard that describes a communications protocol, digital interface, and connectors. It enables a wide variety of electronic musical instruments, computers, and other related devices to connect and communicate with one another. 

A single MIDI link can carry up to sixteen channels of information, each of which can be routed to separate devices or instruments.

The fundamental concept behind MIDI is that it transmits messages to control aspects of the music performance, such as:

  • Note On/Off: Tells the device when to start and stop playing a note.

  • Note Number: Corresponds to the pitch of the note.

  • Velocity: Indicates how hard the note is played, affecting volume.

  • Control changes (Modulating different parameters)

  • Program changes (Switching instrument sounds)

  • Channel pressure (Aftertouch)

  • Pitch bend

MIDI File Format

MIDI files contain sequences of MIDI messages that describe the playback of a piece of music. Here's what you need to know about the MIDI file format:

  • Standard MIDI File (SMF): The file format designed to store the data in a sequence of MIDI messages.

  • MIDI File Types:

    • Type 0: Single track file format. All messages are contained in one track.

    • Type 1: Multi-track file format. Messages are organized into several independent MIDI tracks.

    • Type 2: Rarely used; contains a series of separate patterns.

  • Tracks: Compose a MIDI composition and carry messages across several channels.

  • MIDI files also store important information regarding time signature and key signature, which are critical for ensuring that the playback of the file is musically accurate.

MIDI Devices and Interfaces

MIDI has become a vital tool for modern music production, and understanding the range of hardware is just as important:

  • MIDI Controllers: Devices like keyboards and drum pads that send MIDI data to other devices.

  • Sound Modules: Devices that receive MIDI messages and generate sound.

  • Interfaces: Hardware that allows traditional MIDI systems to communicate with computer-based systems. They convert MIDI messages into a format a computer can read.

The connection between MIDI devices often requires interfaces such as USB, MIDI cables, or a wireless MIDI system

When setting up your MIDI devices, ensure they are properly configured to send and receive the correct channel information to avoid conflicts in your MIDI setup.

The Future of MIDI

MIDI 2.0 represents a significant evolution in digital music communication. 

Building on the foundation laid by the original MIDI standard, MIDI 2.0 introduces a host of new features and capabilities aimed at enhancing the musical experience. 

One of the key advancements is its bidirectional communication, enabling devices to send and receive data simultaneously. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities for expressive control, allowing musicians to interact with their instruments in more nuanced ways. 

Additionally, MIDI 2.0 boasts increased resolution and accuracy, providing finer control over parameters such as velocity and timing. With its expanded feature set and improved performance, MIDI 2.0 promises to revolutionize the way musicians create, perform and interact with digital music.

What is MIDI?

Software and Tools for MIDI Playback

Digital Audio Workstations

DAWs are powerful for MIDI creation, playback, and editing. All modern DAWs support these MIDI features, so the choice mostly comes down to your workflow preferences and convenience.

Sountrap provides one of the most convenient options since the DAW is completely online. It makes it easy to create and share your ideas with your collaborators and comes with all the basic tools you need to use MIDI.

Standard MIDI File Players and Media Player Compatibility

Free MIDI player applications and general media players are available for straightforward playback if you don't want to use a DAW:

  • Windows Media Player: Supports MIDI; available in built-in Windows OS.

  • VLC Media Player: Supports multiple audio formats, including MIDI; free to download.

  • Sweet MIDI Player: Allows tempo and key changes, and channel mixing.

  • SoundFont MIDI Player: Offers advanced sound quality and audio synthesis with SoundFont support.

Playing and Editing MIDI Files

Editing MIDI

To edit MIDI in Soundrap, you can add or delete notes, change their duration, and tweak the pitch to your liking using the Piano Roll editor. 

The Piano Roll provides a visual representation of the notes. You can also record MIDI data using an external MIDI device, such as a keyboard. And you can import and export MIDI files if you're collaborating with someone using a different DAW.

If you want to edit MIDI without a DAW, you can use programs like MuseScore or MidiEditor. 

Customizing Playback Settings

Customizing the playback of your MIDI files often involves adjusting the velocity and pitch of each note. 

Velocity is the value of how hard to note was struck when played. You can also control MIDI volume values using volume sliders and other controllers, like pedals.

The pitch of notes can be controlled beyond the Midi note values by applying pitch bend, typically performed using a pitch bend wheel on your MIDI controller.

MIDI Sequencing

The invention of MIDI sequencer software was a turning point in the modern music production workflow.

Today, DAWs like Soundtrap, with their built-in MIDI sequencers, are key when arranging and precisely playing back your music. These features allow you to create sequences of MIDI events across multiple tracks, which you can align to the exact timing set by the DAW. 

Sequencers are integral for ensuring your MIDI files play back correctly with the intended rhythm and style. They work with various audio formats and connect to MIDI devices, providing a comprehensive playback and intricate editing platform.

Editing MIDI in Soundtrap

MIDI Integration with Instruments and Software

In today's digital music production workflow, MIDI serves as the backbone, allowing you to bridge the gap between various musical equipment and software. You can expand your musical capabilities through MIDI by controlling various instruments and sounds from your computer or mobile device.

Virtual Instruments

Virtual Instruments are software that generates sounds traditionally made by physical instruments. These instruments can emulate sounds ranging from anything like an acoustic grand piano to a full orchestra by using sample audio files that capture the sound of the original instrument.

MIDI Controllers and Keyboards

A MIDI controller, often a digital keyboard or a set of drum pads and other controllers, is a MIDI input device that sends MIDI signals, translating your performance into MIDI data. 

When you press a key, the MIDI controller sends information about the note, its pitch, duration, and velocity to the DAW, allowing it to play back the corresponding sound from the virtual instrument.

Connecting MIDI Keyboards in Soundtrap

Community and Support

Engaging with online communities and support networks can be immensely helpful as you learn about MIDI playback and editing. 

Whether you're troubleshooting a specific issue or seeking new ways to leverage MIDI in your music production, the collective knowledge and resources available can enhance your experience.


Learning how to play MIDI files within your DAW opens up boundless opportunities for musical exploration. Understanding the intricacies of MIDI, from its fundamental protocols to its versatile file formats, gives you a solid foundation for creating, editing, and playing back music digitally.

With modern DAWs like Soundtrap offering intuitive MIDI editing tools and a vast array of virtual instruments, the barrier to entry for music production is lower than ever. Whether you're a seasoned producer or a beginner, Soundtrap's online MIDI playback and editing environment fosters collaboration, learning, and creativity without the need for complex software or expensive hardware.

MIDI integration with various instruments and software expands the horizon of musical possibilities, allowing for seamless communication between electronic devices and enhancing the overall music production workflow. 

The versatility of MIDI technology empowers musicians to control and manipulate sound in unprecedented ways.

About the author

Tero Potila is a professional music composer and producer. His career combining knowledge and experience from music, TV, film, ad, and game industries gives him a unique perspective that he shares through posts on

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