MMML#1 – Making Music with MIDI on Linux

I’m going to document my learning about MMML right here. I’ve made lots of MIDI music in the past (mostly on OSX), but very little on Linux. So, for those who may care, let’s get right to it.

There’s a lot of technical stuff to be concerned with in making music with a computer, and so I’m aiming to Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS). One of the lessons I learned the hard way in the past is that you can so swamped with the technical stuff that you spend WAY too much time on it. That’s why I’m sticking with basics for now.

First of all, if you’re going to use an external synth, you need a MIDI interface, and the drivers that go with it. I’m using an M-Audio MIDISport 2×2 from back in the day. They’re fairly simple, inexpensive and the drivers have been around a long time and just work.

The MS uses a USB port (you’ll need a spare) which handles 2 MIDI ins and 2 MIDI outs. Each MIDI port handles up to 16 channels of MIDI data. Meaning I can drive up to 16 MIDI patches on one of two hardware instruments.

To get my computer talking to the Midisport I hunted around to find this program: midisport-firmware_1.2+dsfg1-0ubuntu6_all.deb. Linux distros will install deb-packages using different methods. You can use a program called GDebi, or – in the terminal – you can navigate to the directory your package is in and type: sudo dpkg -i package.deb.

MIDI tracks are laid down in a program called a sequencer. Of course, you can drive programs called softsynths from a sequencer and skip the hardware part. Either way, you have to route the audio output of these sequencers to an audio input port in order to record your track.

I’ll be starting with a sequencer app called Qtractor. There are others, notably MusE and Rosegarden. They are somewhat more involved. Another necessary program is called QjackCtl; it interfaces your sequencer to the Linux OS and is a patchbay, which lets you patch MIDI and Audio gozintas and gozoutas. Installed along with it are several other bibs and bobs, but QJackCtl is KISS.

Linux music resources collection (growing)

• Linux music software: HitSquad/Linux
• Advice/Help forum: LinuxMusicians
• Distro resource: Producing Music on Linux
Fedora Musicians Guide. Excellent for newcomers; details basics, guide to major software packages.

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