Midi files explained
Advantages of different formats
Links to free music
Digital library images
Pdf files & gifs
LINKS TO MUSIC SITES
Chopin piano works
midiworld.com - the best
Classical piano midi page
Internet renaissaince band
The Internet piano page
Some midi Jazz standards
Marches & Pokas from Scotland - with pdf files too
If you know where to look, and what to do with what you find, the Internet offers a wealth of free music in different formats which can be either played or printed. The major formats are:
ABC format is an ingenious system, used mainly for folk
tunes where only the topline is required. This article will deal
only with MIDI, scanned music and Scorch, but the ABC
Homepage offers a clear and in-depth introduction to ABC if you would
like to know more about it.
A midi file (MIDI stands for "musical instrument digital interface") is the computer version of the perforated piano roll, seen on old "player pianos". It contains instructions to an electronic musical instrument about when to play which notes at what speed at what volume for how long. Most computers today have a built-in synthesizer, and this will be the "instrument" that the midi file automatically addresses when you tell it to play.
MIDI systems (i.e. a piano-type keyboard attached to a computer) are used for two main purposes:
Most sheet-music, from the simplest piano piece to the
largest orchestral score, is produced by inputting musical notes into a
program which can display musical notation and play back what you
have written (a sort of WYSIWYH - what you see is what you hear).
Some midi files on the internet contain complete orchestral works or pop
songs, with large numbers of different instruments. The quality of these
will never replace a "real" recording, but the print-outs from the scores
can be extremely useful.
The chief advantage of midi files is their size - all five minutes of the final waltz from Les Sylphides, for example, is only 39k, and can be downloaded in seconds from the classical piano MIDI page. The second advantage is that they can be imported into any notation program and edited - so if you want to cut sections out of The Nutcracker for a school performance, you import the MIDI file into your notation program, and cut away as if you were word processing. Then, of course, you can print out your own customized score. Navigating through a midi file is also fast - much faster than through a CD track, for example.
It should be noted that there are limitations to this process. Firstly, if the MIDI file is a real-time recording of a performance, rather than the step-time inputting of a score, the score may well look a mess, and not be much use to a pianist. Fortunately, however, you can usually find two versions of the same piece - one that you like to listen to, and one which you can print. Secondly, MIDI generated scores do not have things like phrasing marks, articulation marks, dynamics etc. written in. This is not so terrible if the score is only needed as an aide memoire for someone who is already familiar with the music.
Pdf files, of all the image file formats, are the best. They download quickly, are clean, easily navigable, and since they are often scans of a score, contain much of the detail that MIDI files never show (i.e. phrasing, dynamics, articulation etc.).
Gifs, tiffs and other image files take some time to download, and do not print as well as pdf files or computer generated midi scores, but here the advantage is the sheer number of scores available - over 40,000 at the Library of Congress alone, and thousands of folk tunes in a number of different sites. The pianist who can harmonize a tune need never buy another songbook.
Sibelius Scorch® files are a combination of
MIDI files and image files, and a new standard in internet music viewing/playing.
To view Scorch files, you need a plug-in which you can download
free of charge from Sibelius). When this is installed you can
see the music score and hear the music at the same time. A
cursor moves across the score, indicating which part of the music is currently
playing. You can also transpose the score - very useful for singers
who need music in a different key. Scorch files are also a developing
standard in Internet music publishing - see the press
release from Sibelius. In addition, Scorch
music offer an opportunity for composers to publish their music with
an "Internet Publisher" - either for free, or for a charge. For successful
sales, they take 50%.
The quickest way to find a piece of music is to enter the composer or title and the type of file you want into a search engine. For example, "Scott Joplin Scorch" will find you Scorch files of Scott Joplin music, and "Chopin piano midi" will find you midi files of Chopin piano music. If you want the score of a Chopin waltz in pdf format (the quickest and cheapest way to get a score without leaving your home or opening your wallet) type "Chopin Waltz pdf" into the search engine. Depending on the composer, you will either have a number of sites to chose from, or find that there is no score available.
Free sheet music downloads has links to many sites with free music, many classical. Mfiles have a number of pieces in scorch, midi and gif format. Ceolas host hundreds of folk tunes in just about every format. In the sidebar are links to just a sample of what is available in each format.
Jonathan Still 7th September 2000