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[HD] MIDI cimbalom

To: Hammered Dulcimers <hdlist@hammered-dulcimers.org>
Subject: [HD] MIDI cimbalom
From: Lone Stickman <lonestickman@gmail.com>
Date: Wed, 15 Jul 2015 00:50:12 -0700
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For those who don't know, MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It allows one to use any given MIDI-equipped keyboard, and to play the sounds in any MIDI-equipped sound generator. Some keyboards have sounds built in, but you can still sue them to play sounds from other gear. There are even MIDI controllers which are wind instruments or guitar instruments, and a synthesizer which accepts information about wind pressure can allow realistic emulation of wind and bowed instrument sounds.

Further, many MIDI controllers and sound modules send/receive information on key velocity, meaning how fast a key is depressed. When you play a key faster, the sound gets louder, and on better sound generators, the timbre changes as well. A piano sound will have more brightness and volume with a faster strike, just like a real piano.

Like at least two people on this list, I've previously explored building some kind of MIDI dulcimer. I actually built such an instrument which lacked velocity sensitivity (meaning all the notes were the same volume, regardless of how hard you hit) by building a diode matrix and switches made of a mylar/ubber sheet sandwich, combined with a cannibalized MIDIMan keyboard controller.

There are now a few MIDI brain-boxes which allow one to hook up all kinds of controller possibilities, including piezoelectric elements which send out more signal the harder they're struck. If the sound generator can recognize and react to velocity, you get the electronic version of what an acoustic dulcimer can do automatically.

Also, a MIDI controller has to send out the name of every single note it wants the module to play. If you have a lot of notes which aren't easily distinguishable, there isn't a device which can sort the notes out... which is why there aren't devices or even software which can cleanly convert an audio file of a piano into sheet music. The device in the video and link uses one trigger/switch for each string/course on the cimbalom, so there's no question which note is being played/struck.

There are advantages to going the MIDI route, of course. You can change the output sound. If you want to sound like an American dulcimer, or a yangqin, or a cimbalom, or even a xylophone or a flute, you can do so. In fact, by setting your sound module to only play one note at a time (monophonically) and by pressing the sustain pedal, you can play natural-sounding legato lines, and by adding breath control, you can get even closer to a flute's sound.

Because of the issues involved in building a MIDI dulcimer, I eventually went in a different direction, using normal guitar effect pedals, and a lot of research, hard work and exploration, to transform my dulcimer's sound into my desired results. However, I still find it interesting to see that someone has followed the path to a full velocity-sensitive MIDI dulcimer controller.

Hopefully someone else finds it as interesting as I did.

Happy reading!
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