MIDI Files To Improvise With

For me, improvising with a lot of different music, is a very effective form of practice, and also very enjoyable.

Aere, improvising with both hands on the melody-section

Though we supply 8 MIDI files for improvising-with in the tutorial exercises, it would be nice to have a lot more, so this article was written to supply a whole bunch more of them. Consider it our gift to you, for the holiday season.

There’s quite a variety of music here, so it should give you good amount of experience.

To obtain the MIDI files, right-click (or option-click) on the following link, and choose “Save Link As” (or whatever similar thing your browser offers in the pop-up menu that appears). Here is the link:

MIDI Files To Improvise With

The file you download, is a ZIP-file of a folder called “KMK-MIDI-Improv”, containing 17 MIDI files. This is a fairly small download, due to the compact nature of MIDI files.

Expand (or extract) that folder in your Downloads folder (or whever else you put it), then copy or move the expanded folder to where you can easily browse to it (and remember where it is).

I have improvised with all of these MIDI files, using the “MusicLab-1.kmk” configuration file. You could use other configuration files, as long as the performance panes and the Chords pane use MIDI channels 1, and 2. These MIDI files use channels 3, and above, so your playing using channels 1 & 2 won’t interfere with the music played from the MIDI files.

To play a MIDI file from the folder you downloaded, fire-up the KMK, and in its “MIDI Player/Recorder” window, select the synthesizer you want to use for playing it (probably the Java Sound (Gervill) synthesizer), in the “Playback Device” drop-list. Then, click (or tab-to and activate) the Player/Recorder’s “Browse” button, and browse to the folder where you keep the MIDI files. The picture below shows it on my machine:

The “Load MIDI File” Window, Selecting the “Fly Away” MIDI-file.

The “FlyAway-GM-0b.mid” file is a good piece of music to start improvising with. With your chosen file selected, click (or activate) the “Load MIDI File” button, and dismiss any copyright dialog that appears. After that, your MIDI Player window (and the Tracks Summary window describing the MIDI file) will appear, similar to the screen-shot below:

The MIDI Player/Recorder Window, and Track Summary Window

Once you’ve loaded one of the MIDI files from the folder, all you have to do to select a different file, is click-on (open) the “MIDI File” drop-list of the MIDI Player/Recorder window, and select the file you want to play.

The “Track Summary” window tells you the track names (usually an instrument sound), and what MIDI channel it uses. The name of the MIDI file, is:


In all the MIDI file names of this folder, the first part is the name of the piece, the “GM” part says it uses the “General MIDI” standard, and the “0b” part says its key-signature is zero flats (and zero sharps). One such file has “4#” (meaning 4 sharps), another has “5b” (meaning 5 flats), and one of them has “0b1b” (meaning it starts with a key-signature of zero flats, and changes to a key-signature of 1 flat within the piece.

So knowing the key-signature the piece starts in, in the main KMK window’s performance pane, click on (or tab-to and activate) the “Transpose” button. Specify the key-signature indicated by the filename, in the “Set Transpose-Interval / Key-Signature” window that appears, similar to the screenshot below:

Set Transpose-Interval / Key-Signature Window for a “4#” Piece

You might want to select the “All” radio-button, so that all the performance panes use that key-signature, allowing you to switch instrument sounds in the middle of the piece. Then, click (or tab-to and activate) the “OK” button.

You’re now ready to play the MIDI file, and improvise music with it.

You can start it playing either by clicking the MIDI Player’s “Play” button (and it will automatically shift keyboard-focus to the main KMK window), or you can click on (or shift-tab to and select) the “Play” button of the main KMK window. This second way may be more convenient for blind people.

The music will start playing (after any initial delay), and you can start improvising.

You’ll probably need to click the Left-Arrow key a few times to lower the volume of the performance pane to match the volume-level of the current place in the music.

When I improvise, I usually keep fingers of my right hand on the Left-Arrow and Right-Arrow keys, to keep the music I perform at a volume level that fits the music, as the piece plays.

As always with improvising, be sure to listen for the notes that are good to linger-on, and quickly pass over the notes that don’t sound good with the current harmony.

It’s best to improvise with a given piece, maybe 3 or more times in a row, since you learn how to do it better each time through the piece.

You can select another MIDI file to play, by clicking-on (opening) the “MIDI File” drop-list of the “MIDI Player / Recorder” window. Be sure to set the key-signature for the selected piece, as described above.

Some of the filenames end with “Piano”, or “Strings”. Such files play just the piano (or strings) part, giving you more sonic ‘space’ to improvise in. The other files have more than one part, and the music you improvise adds yet another instrument part to it. It’s good to choose the instrument you improvise with, to be one that contrasts with the other instrument parts, so you can easily recognize what you’re playing, as opposed to what the MIDI file is playing. The “Tracks Summary” window tells you what instrument sounds the tracks of the MIDI-file use.

One of the MIDI files, “MorningWind-GM-0b1b.mid” (and its piano-only version) is special. It shows “0b1b” for the key-signature. That means it starts in a key-signature of no flats or sharps, and changes to a key-signature of one flat, at the place where the fast piano notes end, and slow piano chords start playing.

You can have a separate performance pane set to the 1-flat key-signature, and hit the function-key for that performance pane when the music gets to that place.

I recommend you start out with the “FlyAway-GM-0b.mid” file. Of all my compositions when I was growing up, it was my mother’s favorite, and it’s melodic and dramatic. I think you are likely to easily have success with it. Give it a try.

Most of the MIDI files in the KMK-MIDI-Improv folder are compositions of mine, though there are two pieces of Beethoven, and one of Chopin’s. You are welcome to record your own pieces based on these MIDI files, as well as publish them.

I’m sorry there’s no pop music there (though I have such music). Legally publishing them would be prohibitively expensive.

If you use a MIDI-keyboard for playing the KMK, that works too, and you can set the key-signature, and improvise using just the white-keys, with black keys only for playing those rare accidentals (notes not in the key-signature’s scale). And MIDI keyboards usually give you touch sensitivity, which improves your expression.

If you need to review how to improvise your own music with music from MIDI files, you can follow the link below, to the tutorial telling you how to do it:

Improvising With MIDI Files

I hope you enjoy your new MIDI files, and get lots of good experiences improvising your own music with them.

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