Utilizing MIDI Accompaniments in Music Classes and Continued Home Study

Teaching with Computer Accompaniments

Technology has provided music teachers with increasing opportunity to include quality computer-developed musical accompaniments in teaching music to children. Presently, Standard MIDI files (SMF) are being recorded on discs and CDs included with music texts allowing accompaniment for singing, playing, and movement activities. Additional lessons are provided that employ these files to facilitate creativity, theory, timbral awareness, and music analysis.    Instrumental method books are also incorporating files allowing   practice to established tempos and musical backgrounds that  require rhythmic and intonation awareness, making practice time more productive.  Many teachers are now placing accompaniment MIDI files and home-music learning lessons on their school and home computer web servers thus allowing students to work and practice assignments at home.


For the creative music teacher, developing lessons utilizing MIDI files as accompaniments can become an exciting opportunity to explore the vast resources available from the Internet as well as involving students within the lesson development process.  There is a wealth of material available on the web in SMF format, and teachers can access a continually fresh supply of music, teaching materials, and ideas.  Realizing limitations--MIDI presentations may not have human nuances of musical expression; the quality of the computer soundcard or connected synthesizer can influence reproduction realism, copyright and permission rights have to be carefully observed--resources downloaded from the web can provide an inexpensive alternative to CDs and tapes.  Not only can accompaniments for instrumental solos be obtained or created, but also backgrounds for vocal solo, chorus, classroom and individualized singing may be produced.

        MIDI sequences are also useful for plays, as background music for poetry reading, and other activities such as listening.  MIDI files that are opened up with sequencing software may be edited, allowing changes in key, and orchestration, should you wish to accommodate student instrument players or singers as part of a performance.

Musical Flexibility of MIDI Accompaniments                                  

        A problem in using CDs and tapes for music accompaniments concerns the fixed tempo of these media.  Practice at slower tempos, and ability to provide adaptable speeds to  accommodate student needs are limited.  Computer accompaniments solve this problem, thus providing flexibility.  By using inexpensive sequencing software, you can change tempo of downloaded or self-made SMFs so you can adapt a composition to better  suit the tempo requirements of your students.  You can also repeat the entire song as many times as you wish, or, just a certain section.  Tempos can be progressively increased or decreased, or certain measures played continuously for learning specific passages. 



Procuring MIDI files

     Obtaining accompaniment files for computer use can be done in many ways. Importantly, procurement activities can provide exciting avenues of new music learning for your students and yourself.  Some suggestions for acquiring and using files follow.

¯ Create your own!  Reasonably priced and "user-friendly” sequencing programs are readily available that will allow you or your upper-grade students to produce musical backgrounds and original compositions.   Data can be entered as step-time computer events (an alternate to playing in real-time notes via the  keyboard) hence students do not need extensive keyboard skills.

        As students generate and modify files they are involved in a “comprehensive musicianship” approach to learning.  Besides working with notes, rests, and basics of theory, they are able to control orchestration, form, and tempo, place an ensemble on a sound stage, and explore various aspects of room acoustics, and reverberation.  As the sequencer will allow immediate changes within a composition, experimentation can be encouraged and results instantly and individually experienced.

    ¯ Using “Band-in-a-Box” (PG Music)   or “Jammer (SoundTrek) software, chordal accompaniments can be created by simply typing in a specific chord progression.   Specialized style enhancements for programs allow accompaniments that can be varied to provide a diversity of styles from rock and waltz, to bluegrass. Created accompaniments are great for individually practicing improvisation whether the student is an instrumentalist, keyboard person, or vocally oriented.

    ¯Instrumental methods now incorporate accompaniments that are developed for exercises and tunes included within the books. As an example, the Accent on Achievement series from Alfred, by O’Reilly and Williams, includes a CD providing a program that allows several accompaniment modes.  You can modify the accompaniment to change tempo, revise the basic beat, and rhythmic patterns, or allow the melody to be played as a model.   Additionally, the program will facilitate recording of student playing which can illustrate to the teacher practice problems occurring prior to the lesson.

    ¯ Perusing the web will locate many MIDI sites where files can be purchased for specific songs, or downloaded for free. Type the word MIDI into your browser and “surf the web!”  “Following the tread” from one site to another can be fun and students can participate in the selection process of music as well as listening to a wide variety of styles.

   ¯MIDI files downloaded from the web may be adapted to provide accompaniments for specific songs by using sequencing software.  Possibilities include: muting melody lines, changing volume, adding retards, and altering timbres.  These are only a few of countless possibilities.

¯Notation software packages, which export to SMF format, will allow creation of MIDI files that may be exported to the web. SMF's can be imported into sequencer software should it be desired to extend file-editing possibilities.



 Online Resources

Midi Search Engine  A Search Engine with access to over one million MIDI files. This site has a good alphanumeric search engine.

MIDI.COM  provides a highly comprehensive guide to MIDI information on the Internet:  Included are MIDI sites, MIDI files, and facts.             

Standard MIDI Files on the Net   accesses over 40,000 sites and provides an extremely large variety of tunes that teachers may audition and select to use for music learning.  There is information about development and construction of MIDI files, and a resource for those who are interested in sequenced music which is over 75 years old and considered public domain.   Lists include: Celtic Tunes, Irish Dances, Polkas, Piano Music, and Music of Early Years.  

MIDI WORLD is a great overall page that includes a comprehensive library of MIDI files and links to classical archives in addition to information about MIDI basics, synthesizers, and software. 

Harmony Central is a good site that will provide background on MIDI and provides a wealth of resources.  MIDI Software, Putting MIDI on the Web, Sources of MIDI files, and MIDI documentation are some of the links that can provide clarification and information backgrounds for amplification.



Providing Lessons from Afar

           Teachers, with free web space usually allowed by their Internet service provider or school, can develop a web page and make available for their students many of the suggested ideas found in this article.  Placing musical exercises, information about composers, quizzes, song accompaniments, and assignments on line is motivational for students who may not have much opportunity for contact past the lessons received from their teacher.

If you are a public school teacher consider developing a home music page for your school’s online system or school web page.  Many school districts now have these pages established as part of the computer-literacy programs and are ever increasing.  Sharing resources between schools within a district is a presently-developing activity.

By including a music component for the web server page you may make accompaniments available that can be accessed by your students in their homes.  This is a fantastic opportunity to extend your music program.  Students may then sing along at home to songs that have been taught in the classroom, take recorder lessons, or play other instruments such as guitar, and nonpitched percussion to song accompaniments placed online.

Providing online accompaniments for singing is helpful for classroom, private instruction, and home usage. Children can sing along at home to their favorite songs and are provided with notation to follow, correct pitch, and interesting rhythmic backgrounds.  Because they can continuously repeat songs played from the online web page, students can work on specifics of notes and words at their leisure.   Social pressures are diminished for those who may be inhibited or self-consciousness about singing in a group with their peers. Other children in the home also have an opportunity to hear the songs and sing if they wish.  Peer modeling for younger siblings by brothers and sisters, musically interacting with the computer, can be beneficial for musical enrichment, and the awareness and involvement aid in musical aptitude development.   

An example of how this might be done is presented by Dr. Watson  as an idea  that might be modeled by private and public school music teachers:

* “Home Practice on Line” by Dr. Anthony Scott Watson, teacher at the Parkland School District in Allentown, PA, and Temple University  is a practical example of how the web can be used by children to practice at home.


Home Practice Online (HPO) was established in March 1998 to augment the activities of the elementary band program in the Parkland School District, Allentown, PA. The site continues today as a general resource for young instrumentalists and their teachers everywhere.

This site links presently include Band Rehearsal, String Rehearsal, and Private lessons. A Special Music Link leads to Special Ensembles for students working on solos, or small ensemble music (duets, trios, etc.). As in the other areas, click on the title you want to play, wait for it to load, and then play along.  Sheet music may be downloaded by clicking on a desired part indicated. New items on this site include Instrument Care Videos, and Rhythm Review exercises.


Scott provides students with materials that can be used for current practice and improvisation activities. Examples on the page include accompaniments that correlate with band methods and compositions that are used during rehearsals. Application of technology allows students to go home and “self-reinforce” instruction that was done at rehearsal sessions during the day.  It also allows parents to view, and hear activities occurring in the music instruction of their children, as they practice with online computer accompaniments.   Parents have a chance to help or to feel some importance in support and encouragement of music activities occurring in the home.

Such activities can be developed and encouraged by public school music teachers permitting opportunities for performance, ear-training, theory, listening, or consideration of aspects of music that can be experienced through multimedia via the internet.   

Improvising in Real Time

Explore JazClass,  which is devoted to learning about playing jazz and improvising.  Michael Furstner has provided an outstanding award-winning music education site from his home on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland (Australia).  This page includes listening examples, accompaniments for playing and improvising, blues progressions, and e-mail courses.  Students can play, clap, or sing along to the accompaniment examples as they explore various means of improvisation. Michael Furstner may be contacted at jazclass@ozemail.com.au .


Adding MIDI accompaniments to Your Teaching

Consider possibilities of utilizing computer accompaniments for your students.  A first step is to view some of the sources such as from , Scott Watson as this will  will give you  “cutting-edge” examples to follow. Think of how you can incorporate some of these ideas within your lessons. Peruse the sample lesson resources indicated. 

Acquire a software-sequencing package and try to mute out the melody line of a SMF that you have downloaded from the web, or create an original file using this application. Try the accompaniment with your classes using the classroom computer. 

The next step would be to investigate possibilities of placing accompaniment files on your personal or school web page or providing musical opportunities through computer interaction for your students.   Both can be most effective in extending the reach of music into the home and increasing student contact time. I am sure if you attempt any of these procedures, you will find the time and effort well justified in the increased student interest and musical involvement you will generate.