1 - Where To Begin
How do you put together a Computer Music System that will serve your needs? A good place to begin is to write down exactly what it is that you want to accomplish before making your final software/hardware purchasing decisions.
For example, one of our customer's desires were:
1) Print sheet music of original compositions
2) Create custom instrumental soundtracks of favorite songs
3) Transpose and reprint songs in a new key
Pin-pointing just these three musical tasks allowed this person to select just the right software that would allow him to accomplish his desires and create the kind of system he needed.
Of course, you have your own set of musical tasks in mind. Write them down -this will keep you focused on your goals as you make purchasing decisions for your music system, and can help you avoid costly mistakes in the process.
The following sections describe the components required for the most common MIDI/music applications. It is important, however, to find out if there are any additional or specific requirements for a particular piece of software or hardware component you may be planning to use. Any music technology manufacturer will be happy to inform you of any special requirements for their products.
Your Computer Music System Components
There are four main components characteristic of most computer music systems:
2. MIDI interface
3. MIDI instrument with speakers
4. Music software
Each component is described in the following sections.
Component #1: The Computer
Naturally, the computer itself is the most important component of your system. The computer industry is in a state of constant change which inevitably requires more memory and faster processing speeds to accommodate newer operating systems and software applications. Because of this, we recommend that you purchase whatever is “state-of-the-art” at the time you buy your computer system. At minimum, a Pentium4-based computer (or comparable) with 512 MB of RAM with at least a 60 gigabyte hard drive is recommended at the very least. Always check your particular music software and hardware documentation for their recommendations, as they will often outline additional, and more specific, requirements.
If you are planning to use digital audio software and hardware (for recording vocals, acoustic instruments, etc.), then you will certainly want to get the fastest processor (minimum 1.4 GHz ) and as much RAM (512 MB+) as your budget will handle. I recommend you seriously consider at least a Pentium-based 3GHz , 1 GB RAM computer system if you plan to do a lot of audio recording with multiple tracks. Also, two large-capacity hard drives will help ensure a smooth running audio recording system (more details below).
For audio recording, you want to be sure you equip your system with a high- performance, large-capacity hard drive (or two!) for processing and storing the audio files you will be creating. The hard drive should be at least an ATA-4/UDMA 66, be A/V-Rated for audio and/or video applications - thankfully, most are now. High performance drives have a minimum rotation speed of 7200 rpm, with an average seek time of less than 12 milliseconds (< 9 milliseconds is the norm).
It's highly recommended that you install TWO hard drives in your computer audio recording system. The main hard drive is used for running your operating system and all your software programs, and the secondary hard drive is specifically dedicated for writing and reading the audio files you will be creating when recording and during playback. You should not install any software programs at all on this dedicated audio drive. It is to be used exclusively for your audio (and/or video) files.
Most new computers come with a hard drive that will be fine for audio recording applications (the exception to this may be laptop computers, since most laptop hard drives don't spin at the minimum recommended speed of 7200 rpm needed for audio recording - rather, it's more common for a laptop hard drive to spin at 5400 rpm - not quite fast enough for hassle-free audio recording!).
NOTE: A computer that has been setup for recording digital audio is commonly referred to as a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).
A final note for musicians planning on recording digital audio: Digital audio applications are far more demanding on a computer than "plain-ol'-MIDI", and it is extremely important to pay attention to whatever system requirements are recommended by your audio software/hardware manufacturer.
TIP: Follow the "Recommended System Requirements" listed by the manufacturer for the particular hardware or software you will be using, not the "minimum system requirements" !
Component #2: The MIDI Interface
You will need a MIDI interface if you want to connect your computer to an external MIDI instrument (such as a keyboard synthesizer). There are three main kinds of MIDI interfaces...
• Internal MIDI interface
• External MIDI interface
• Computer Gameport Soundcard MIDI interface
• Products with
a built-in MIDI interface
Component #3: The MIDI Instrument
The MIDI instrument of choice is usually a keyboard synthesizer, since it provides the most logical way of getting music into your computer. You simply play the keyboard and the computer receives the music via your MIDI interface connection. A computer soundcard can also be considered a "MIDI instrument" and is commonly used in conjunction with a MIDI keyboard controller (a controller is a keyboard that has no built-in sounds of its own -all the sounds originate from the soundcard as the controller is played).
Component #4: Music Software
Refer to the list you made of your musical goals. This will help you make your software selections.
• For transpositions, compositions and arrangements that require sheet music printout, choose a notation/scoring program.
• For recording and playback, choose a recording (sequencing) software program.
• If your interests include music education, self-taught piano lessons and the like, there are a variety of music education programs that will fill these needs.
• Other software products include specialty applications for music scanning, pitch-to-MIDI conversion, audio editing and restoration, auto-accompaniment composition, and more.
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