What Is a MIDI File?

How to open, edit, and convert MIDI files

What to Know

  • A MIDI file is a Musical Instrument Digital Interface file.
  • Open one with VLC, Windows Media Player, or WildMidi.
  • Convert to MP3, WAV, etc., with Zamzar.

This article explains what a MIDI/MID file is, how to open one, and how to convert one to a different file format, including sheet music.

What Is a MIDI File?

A file with the .MID or .MIDI file extension (pronounced as "mid-ee") is a Musical Instrument Digital Interface file.

Unlike regular audio files like MP3s or WAVs, these don't contain actual audio data and are therefore much smaller in size. They instead explain what notes are played, when they're played, and how long or loud each note should be.

Files in this format are basically instructions that explain how the sound should be produced once attached to a playback device or loaded into a particular software program that knows how to interpret the data.

This makes MIDI files perfect for sharing musical information between similar applications and for transferring over low-bandwidth internet connections. The small size also allows for storing on small devices like floppy disks, a common practice in early PC games.

MIDI files in Windows 10 that open with Windows Media Player

You can read more about the MIDI file format at MIDI.org: About MIDI.

If you already know how to open Musical Instrument Digital Interface files and are instead looking for ways to download some, try Hit Trax.

How to Play MIDI Files

MIDI files can be opened with Windows Media Player, VLC, WildMidi, TiMidity++, NoteWorthy Composer, WildMIDI, Synthesia, MuseScore, Amarok, Apple's Logic Pro, and very likely some other popular media players.

To play one online, try Online Sequencer.

Online MIDI player at Online Sequencer

Some of those desktop programs open MIDI files on Linux, too, notably TiMidity++, WildMIDI, and Amarok.

Midi Sheet Music is a portable program (you don't have to install it) that can play the file, too, and it even shows you the sheet music in real time during playback. It also lets you convert it to sheet music that you can print or save to your computer as either a PDF or as multiple PNG images.

Sweet MIDI Player is a MIDI player for iPhone and iPad, but it plays only 75 percent of the file unless you pay. Android users can open MID files with Fun Fun MIDI Player or MIDI Voyager Karaoke Player.

A file with the .MID file extension might instead be a MapInfo Data file. You can open one with GDAL.

How to Convert a MIDI File

Zamzar is a free online file converter that can convert MIDI to MP3, WAV, AAC, FLAC, OGG, WMA, and a few other audio formats. Other tools work just as well, some of which are in this Free Audio Converter Software Programs list.

The Midi Sheet Music program from above can be used to convert the file to sheet music.

Still Can't Open It?

At this point, if you've tried all of the above and none of the websites or programs will open your file, it's important to know that some files share some of the same letters in the file extension even if their formats are unrelated.

In other words, your file might look like it's MIDI or MID when really it's something similar like MD or MII. In this circumstance, if you really have a MII file, then you have a Wii Virtual Avatar file.

Another file extension that looks a like these is MDI, used for Microsoft Document Imaging files. If you have this file, it won't work with the programs linked above, but instead requires Microsoft Office or the MDI2DOC converter (to convert it to DOC).

  • What is a MIDI karaoke file?

    MIDI karaoke files are MIDI files that include song lyrics. Programs that support MIDI karaoke files display lyrics on the screen in sync with the music.

  • What software compares a MIDI file to what's playing on a keyboard?

    In addition to Midi Sheet Music, free MIDI sequencers like MuseScore, SynthFont, and KlaverScript can turn MIDI files into musical notation. These programs also allow you to edit and compose your own MIDI tracks.

  • Can I change the instrument that plays a MIDI file in Audacity?

    No. While the Audacity program allows you to import and play MIDIs, it doesn't support editing MIDIs. Use a MIDI sequencer or a digital audio workstation (DAW) like Ableton Live, Acid Pro 10, FL Studio, Reaper, or Sonar for more advanced editing options.

  • What is the difference between MIDI, WAV, and MP3?

    WAV and MP3 files are larger and more difficult to edit than MIDI files. Since MIDI files are small and contain only the actual musical notes, they are the preferred format for writing and editing music electronically.

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