There are two types of music on this web site: digital audio and MIDI. When everything is right, you can play either type of music with a click of the mouse. Simple as that. But if your computer isn't adequately equiped, or if various software components are not properly configured, you may not be able to hear either type of music.
Digital audio and MIDI are both in their infancies. Just over the horizon are some vast improvement, including much greater simplicity. When this is achieved you will no longer have to read explanations like this.
Many people experience trouble when trying to play MIDI, digital audio, MP3 or video over the Internet. Usually this is just an initial problem, but sometimes the trouble is recurring or intermittent.
If you experience problems getting the music to play, read through this section for some tips toward a solution. If that doesn't help, refer to Using Netscape Communicator for Playing Music.
Often there's a simple solution like changing or activating a plug-in your browser's "preferences" area, or downloading some free but necessary software, or changing a setting in you system software. You may think you're unqualified to make such changes. But read on you may conclude otherwise. If you decide you'd rather not do the tinkering, ask a knowledgeable friend to help. Or contact a consultant such a person can surely solve this problems and any other regular nuisances.
Many people immediately suspect that they have problems with audio because their computer is too old that it's simply not up to the task. If your computer is under three or four years old, you probably have all the hardware and horsepower that you need though a computer sales person may suggest otherwise. If your system software (that's the operating system, Windows 95, MacOS, etc.) is less than two years old, and if your browser is up-to-date (i.e. Level 4, meaning version 4.0 or later) then you probably have all the software you need.
The trick is to configure you're system software (operating system) and browser so all the components communicate properly. But sometimes you just need to find the volume knob and turn it up.
Unfortunately, even when only a single small adjustment is required, achieving the proper software setup can turn into a time consuming task. Most of the time is spent determining which small change is required. But if you persevere the rewards are substantial. There's a lot of music on the Internet.
The following notes attempt to briefly explain the difference between digital audio and MIDI recordings, and help in troubleshooting playback problems.
Digital Audio is the recording of acoustic sound such as: musical instruments, amplified electric instruments, and voice.
Here's a sample Digital Audio recording
NOTE: Audio playback is not always so slow. After you listen to an audio track over the Internet your browser stores a copy in its cache folder (Browser cache frequently used data so it can retrieve information quickly, directly from your computer, without the delay of getting it from a website.)
As long as the audio data remains in your browser's cache folder, the music will playback instantly whenever you click the title. However, your browser occasionally discards items from the cache. It does so regularly as a matter of good housekeeping. If it deletes the music, you'll have to wait the next time you play it while your browser gets another copy from the SingingWood website. You have some say on how your browser manages its cache; the controls are in the cache area of the browser's preferences.
Digital recordings are very large. When recorded at a CD quality level (the standard digital sampling rate of 44.1 Mz) audio recordings require 10 megabytes per stereo-minute. A three minute piece stereo recording weighs in at 30MB nearly half the size of my first hard drive!!!
Compressed audio takes up less space. It's usually 5 to 10 times smaller than the original recording and can be sent over the internet more quickly. Therefore most music on the Internet is compressed.
When you download compressed audio over the Internet, you spend less time waiting before the music plays, but there's a trade off. The quality of the sound is lower. The higher the compression, the quicker the Internet can transmit the music to you but the lower the sound quality. (The inverse is true: low compression means longer waits, but better sound.)
MP3 is the most popular Internet compression method.
Here's sample MIDI recording
Cello Suite, Boureé
Click on the title "Cello Suite, Boureé" to play it. A new window will open and display a music player probably LiveAudio or QuickTime Player. Shortly the music will begin to play automatically. Using the player controls you can stop, play, rewind, etc. When you're done listening, press your browser's "Back" button to return to the previous window.
(In some cases MIDI will play automatically without any controls present. When this happens, your only options are to listen or to stop the music by leaving the page, for instance, by pressing your browser's "Back" button.
MIDI recordings are quite different from audio recordings. All the instruments and sounds in a MIDI recording are generated via music synthesis or digital sampling. The tone quality of the instruments depends largely on the playback synthesizer.
There's probably one or more synthesizers already in your computer, ready to play MIDI recordings for you. And the sound quality is usually pretty good, but not great. Some of the instruments may sound unrealistic, but the sound may be adequate for most purposes.
A synthesizer in your computer may be software or hardware. On board hardware synthesizers usually reside on a card installed a slot in your computer.There are plug-in synthesizers, software designed to reside somewhere within you system software. Such a synthesizer may be ready to function even though you may have not seen or heard it. There are numerous software synthesizers, some are free, and some cost hundreds of dollars. Some are installed when you upgrade your operating system, or when you install software such as an Internet browser, a music sequencer or notation software.
To achieve a much higher grade of MIDI sound you can install a sound card with a better MIDI tone generator. Or by using a MIDI interface to connect your computer to high quality synthesizer or a sample player.
Often you can dramatically improve the sound by adding a good quality speaker system, as discussed below.
Of all the components in a music system, speakers have the most dramatic impact on the overall sound. Amplifiers, receivers, CD players, and wiring (assuming that they're working properly) should be transparent, and should have a minimal effect on the sound. However, a good set of speakers make a tremendous difference!
If you're listening over a standard two-inch built-in low fidelity computer speaker, you're really missing a lot of sound. If so, consider a set of multimedia speakers.
You should be able to find good pair of speaker with a sub-woofer in the $75 range. However, if you have audio outputs (RCA jacks on the back of your computer) or even a headphone jack, you can run the sound into any amplifier, including a regular home stereo amplifier. Just run the computers signal to any line-level input, like aux-in, tape-in, or CD-in. (If your computer only has a headphone jack, you'll need an adapter (a mini-stereo plug to a pair of mono RCA jacks) which you can find at a Radio Shack or electronics store.
MIDI: Strengths & Weaknesses
Overall, MIDI has many, many strengths. The most striking is MIDI's efficiency. MIDI recordings are quite small, though they may be quite complex and lengthy.
MIDI's low profile allows music to be delivered very quickly so listeners don't spend lots of time waiting.
MIDI is remarkably editable. A person who understands MIDI can make striking changes in the music. It's easy to change tempo, key, volume, accent, and instrumentation. Listen to the following versions of the Little Fugue, by J.S. Bach. The second "Harpsichord" versions is identical to the first, but the tempo was increased. The first "harpsichord" version and the "sound mix" version are identical, except that different sounds are used. With MIDI it's easy to make small changes that yeild dramatic effects. And usually it's easy to get in a change one aspect of a single note.
Little Fugue - Harpsichord
Little Fugue - Harpsichord (Faster Tempo)
Little Fugue - Sound Mix
Of course, MIDI has it's weaknesses.
For instance, each model of synthesizer sounds different from the next. Sometimes the difference is subtle; sometimes it's dramatic.
This presents an endless challenge for the MIDI artist. He or she never knows exactly what sound will meet the listener's ear. If the listener has the same sound module that the artist used, then the sound will be identical. But if the listener has a different module, there's no doubt, there will be differences in tone quality, and perhaps in volume. The sound may be quite similar. It can also be outrageously different sometimes MIDI gets it's "wires" crossed, and instead of hearing the crack of snare drum, you hear a conga, a flute. Or a dog barking, an elephant trumpeting, the crashing of ocean waves, drops of water, sledge hammers, or the sound of a jet passing overhead! The "General MIDI Specification" has made this type of problem less frequent.
So there's a degree of unpredictability when MIDI recordings are played outside of the environment where they were created. Even details like the stereo pan (that's the placement of instruments in the stereo field) and effects like reverb, and pitch bend may behave differently among synthesizers, or may not function at all. It depends on the model and its features.
Most junior colleges have courses in electronic music which cover MIDI sequencing, digital audio, sampling, and music notation applications. Diablo Valley College and Los Medanos College both have good programs.
NOTE: If you have trouble playing the music on the Singingwood website after reading the notes provided here, feel free to email me a description of the problem.