Melodies from Cyberspace

Dr. Fred Kersten

PMEA Participants: I enjoyed presenting to you at PMEA and hope you will look at some of the ideas I have here for using MIDI accompaniments in your classes. If you have any questions about the Recorder I will be happy to provide any information I can to you...please contact me!

View yourselves and your presenters here!

The Presley tune you heard me play at PMEA:
Percussion and Orchestral Instrument Background

  • Technology has provided music teachers with a myriad of opportunities to include a variety of quality musical accompaniments in teaching music to their children. Not only can instrumental accompaniments be created, but there are many opportunities for production of vocal accompaniments for use in the classroom.
    An area not currently in vogue, but which will develop in the future, is the use of CYBERSPACE Movement Accompaniments. There is a wealth of material available, and the classroom teacher can access a continually fresh supply of music for class usage. Depending on the quality of the sound card or classroom synth, this music can be an inexpensive alternative to CDs and tapes.


  • "Music for Movement from my computer???" WHY NOT!!! Cyberaccompaniments are also useful for plays, as background music for poetry reading, and other classroom activities such as listening. Standard MIDI Files on the Net provides an extremely large variety of tunes that the teacher may audition, and select to use for classroom activities. Standard MIDI Files on the Net has a complete and well maintained list of sites with over 40,000 Links. Of interest: 1. information about development, and construction of MIDI files; and 2. a discussion regarding location, placement, and the pros/cons of embedding MIDI files on the web page. There is a good search engine and a listing of new files by modern composers. Interest areas abound! There is even a list for people who sequence music which is over 75 years old and considered public domain. Lists include: Celtic Tunes, Irish Dances, Polkas, Piano Music, and Music of the Early years. Through the resources of the Web, the classroom computer can provide a large and varied amount of music for daily use without expensive purchases.

There are many ways to obtain or produce files for such accompaniments:

  • A. Reasonably priced and "user-friendly" sequencing programs are readily available. These programs are quite easy to use and upper-grade students can develop accompaniments as well as teachers. Data can be entered either as step-time events or via keyboard in real time.

  • B. Dedicated software such as Band-in-a-Box can provide chordal accompaniments by typing in a specific chord progression. Specialized style enhancements for this program allow accompaniments that can be varied to include a variety of styles ranging from rock and waltz, to bluegrass.

  • C. Many series books now come with MIDI files for various songs and activities that are included in corresponding texts. Marilyn Davidson mentions the Share the Music Series that uses standard music sequencing programs to reinforce lessons with the Orff Schulwerk Approach.

  • D. Notation software packages which export to SMF format will allow creation of MIDI files that may be exported to the web. Standard MIDI files can then be imported into sequencer software should it be desired to extend the file editing possibilities.


  • 1. Look to "lower-level" programs for purchase if these applications are to be utilized within the classroom. Many of the new ones in the $49-100 dollar range have more than enough "bells and whistles" for use in most situations. Products such as "NoteWorthy Composer" are available at economical prices. Decide what you want the software to do before you purchase it, and then compare products for features and prices before purchase.

  • 2. Check for freeware and shareware sequencing and notation programs that sometimes have the same features for half-the-cost of higher priced items. A sequencer package called "Massiva" is available which is presently free and has many features.

  • 3. Editing of available files can be quickly done by muting the melody line, thus allowing the rest of the background to serve as a harmonic accompaniment. It may be necessary to change the volume (Controller 7) setting to provide more suitable balance for background accompaniments.

  • 4. Be aware that patch changes for timbral contrast can make a big difference in the attractiveness of an accompaniment. I have found that many of the files I use for recorder become more interesting via adding barred percussion backgrounds, rather than staying with the usual continuo of harpsichord and cello traditionally utilized.

  • 5. Finale, Sibelius, Music Time, other notation packages, and specialized MIDI to Notation software such as MidiNotate will allow Standard MIDI files to be converted to sheet music. With discretion in observation of the copyright law, single parts may be printed out and performed. Tweaking and editing resolution will have to be done to remove artifacts from the files.

  • 6. Realize that the computers you are sending information to may not reproduce the sounds as you hear them from your sound card or sequencer. Sometimes a web page with many graphics will overload a computer and cause it to lock up if too much data is sent on. Basic minimums should be developed for accompaniment files. If at all possible try to hear the accompaniments you are creating on another machine besides your own.

  • 7. Develop count downs that include within the first measures of your accompaniment file: pitch, tempo, and idiomatic characteristics of the composition. Usually one measure should suffice. Try to lower the velocities of each introductory note to provide correct tempo in an unobtrusive manner, maintaining the initial mood of the composition and not detracting by providing a metronome-type introduction. If possible try to provide a introduction in the style of the composition to be played as it is vastly superior to the "metronome method."

  • 8. Many MIDI players have features make playing accompaniments more adaptable for practice. WINAMP has a looping feature which allows the file to be repeated for continuous practice. The Roland Virtual Sound Canvas Soft Synthesizer has two very valuable features: 1. You can increase or decrease the tempo of a MIDI file, and 2. change the key.

  • 9. When placing MIDI files on the server be sure that the FTP mode is set to binary. Automatic is available on some software but check to see that it allows binary transfer and not ASCII or text.

  • 10. Most files can be transferred up at Format 1 which are multitrack files. Format O utilizes a single multichannel track and also is available, but most sequencers read Format 1 for concurrence to Standard MIDI File format.

  • 11. Be aware that the General MIDI Standard has a patch hierarchy. 0 level patches are oriented towards Pianos, followed by barred instruments, organs, guitars etc. Channel 10 is devoted to percussion. I have found that as accompaniments are developed in the sequencer it is a good idea to conform to this standard before exporting your files to Standard MIDI Format. There seems to be less confusion for those downloading and reading the files.

Good Online Resources

Check Out JazClass which is an award winning page devoted to learning about playing Jazz and Improvising. Michael Furstner, the developer of this page, has an interesting background. In brief: he was born in the Netherlands in 1937, obtained a MSc in Geology at Leiden University, then emigrated to Australia in 1966, where he worked as a Geologist.

In 1983 he changed direction in life, leaving his profession to study saxophone, piano, and jazz at Adelaide University for 6 years. Gradually he got into teaching and writing books and courses on music education. Now he lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland (Australia) and works full-time on Jazclass his "Award Winning" Music Education site which includes lessons, email courses, and books on Jazz, Blues, modern music theory, keyboard and saxophone. To request further information questions may be sent on to Michael Furstner.


A neat arrangement by Jim Phyper of a tune by Brian Bonsor:

Nice and Easy

Also a super sequence by Jim from "Pochahantis" by Alan Menken (music) and Stephen Schwartz:

Colors of the Wind