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It'd be nice to be able to use MIDI for more diverse music than just that based on western scales. Are there any MIDI extensions that support quater tones, or other sub-semi-tone pitch divisions? I know things can be done with pitch bend automation, but that's really a pain..

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  • I have no idea what you mean by "MIDI extensions". The term "extension" does not belong in MIDI terminology. – user1044 Jan 3 '14 at 15:46
  • Wheat, yeah, my terminology is wrong. I meant anything that can be done with MIDI beyond the standard set of 127 MIDI notes. JCpedroza's answer covers it now. – naught101 Jan 3 '14 at 22:52
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You can go microtonal using MIDI! You don't need an extension. The question is: does your instrument/device (hardware or software) allows it?

MIDI can handle microtonality from the control surface to the program interpreting it.

One example of MIDI allowing microtonality in the interpreting side is Native Instrument's Absynth. You can set the instrument to 19, 24, 24, 31, 48, or 96 semi-tones per octave. In fact, you can edit the tuning as you wish, and it can be played with any MIDI control surface. You can set each note in the MIDI piano (or whatever MIDI device you are using) to any frequency.

Absynth tunning tab.

MIDI can also handle microtonality from the control surface, all you need is a control surface that implements it.

There are different solutions for microtonal control. If you can't tune your MIDI device, you can use a microtonal MIDI keyboard converter, like this one: http://www.h-pi.com/TBX1intro.html

There are MIDI control surfaces specifically designed for microtonality: http://www.h-pi.com/TPX28buy.html

Or if your device allows it, personalize the tuning.

If MIDI isn't getting the work done, you can look into OSC, but I think MIDI has you covered on this one.

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  • That's not really MIDI handling the problem though, that's a specific synth compensating for MIDI's lack of functionality. Which means that it's not always going to work. I was kind of aware that OSC could do it, and part of the reason for the question was to see if there wasn't a MIDI based way to do it, since MIDI still seems pretty killer for lots of other things. – naught101 Jan 3 '14 at 10:22
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    To clarify, I would add that MIDI is not actually tuned to anything. It is a language that uses numbers to tell a 'brain', often a computer nowadays, what to do. Each parameter, such as pitch or velocity, is given 127 values. When a key is depressed, it has a corresponding number within the brain that tells it what pitch to play, which can be set to whatever tuning system the software allows. MIDI can control anything from a keyboard to a DAW to video editing software... With the right software you could use it as a computer keyboard and type your SE questions using a musical keyboard. – Basstickler Jan 3 '14 at 14:03
  • @JCPedroza - Oh yeah, the zero value! How could I forget?! Being a binary system, it would have to have a bandwidth that's a an exponent of 2. As far as the tuning... I appear to have overstepped my bounds a little. While I am aware of the convention of General MIDI, I falsely assumed that the pitch specification transmitted something like A4, which the brain translated to 440Hz, established by the International Organization for Standardization. I imagine my confusion is due to only using MIDI with a DAW via USB and my lack of experience with analog synthesizers and their programming. – Basstickler Jan 4 '14 at 1:59
  • This, while quite interesting, was over my head but I thought it may be useful: midi.org/techspecs/midituning.php – Basstickler Jan 4 '14 at 2:16
  • Your links are dead! – chikitin Dec 5 '20 at 4:25
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To suppliment the answers that explain in detail how MIDI works, I would like to point out that practically all dedicated hardware keyboard synthesizers and sampler instruments, particularly digital pianos, have a built-in capability to let the user select from among several different preset tunings and temperaments rather than 12-tone equal temperament. Technically this has nothing to do with MIDI, but it provides one with a keyboard that can achieve many different tunings and temperaments. Most such keyboards provide historical Western temperaments of 12 (unequally-spaced) pitches to the octave, for Western common-practice tonality.

However, there are also keyboard instruments from several manufacturers designated "Oriental" which provide scales and tunings usable in ethnic music from places like Turkey, the Arabic nations, India and China. These instruments also provide built-in preset sounds designed for use in music of these ethnicities; for example, the oud and the nay.

Examples include:

Casio AT-5 Oriental Keyboard

Yamaha PSR-OR700 Arranger (Middle Eastern, Arabic and Mediterranean)

Roland EXR-46 OR Oriental keyboard

Generalmusic PK5 OR Middle-Eastern Keyboard

Korg Pa600QT "Quarter Tone"

These instruments have an extra one-octave miniature keyboard positioned above the main one on the left which can be used by the left hand to modify the pitches played on the main keyboard to produce the quarter-tones required by Arabic music.

From the Korg web site:

This Pa600QT (Quarter Tone) version contains all the functionality of the standard Pa600, and adds a mini-keyboard on the left side, which can be used to customize quarter tone scales and quickly access scale presets.

enter image description here

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Midi is a data file/transfer format. The software on both ends generate and interpret the midi data. The software should at first need to support such perform and just translate to/from midi using the method that you describe. That is probably a pain to debug when you create it but i think that it should not be that hard to create a function that calculates there values.

I do know that there are keyboards where you can select another mode that allows to easily play such notes and these have midi out too. Those probably create midi messages with that pitch bend method.

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