First, a (very) brief history of MIDI
When MIDI was invented in 1981, it was quickly adopted by professionals worldwide and became a major pillar in the creation of digital recording. Though it has been widely adopted for a variety of different purposes, the protocol itself has remained virtually unchanged for nearly four decades. That is, until 2017 when a creative idea hit the stage and inspired a new breed of digital instruments.
Enter: MPE, or MIDI Polyphonic Expression.
What does MPE do?
What happens when you simultaneously hold two notes on a standard MIDI keyboard and activate the pitch bend wheel? Both notes bend at the same time, right? Well, what if you only wanted one note to bend while the other sustained its original pitch? You would need an MPE controller (like the Roli Seaboard, Sensel Morph, Jamstik Studio., etc). MPE can achieve this result by assigning each individual note its own MIDI channel.
This process allows for those single notes to communicate with your software on a much deeper level than simply velocity and note on/off. With MPE, these individual notes can communicate subtle or drastic variations in pitch, timbre, amplitude, and more. You could think of it like one section of an orchestra, each performer bringing their own unique playing style to the instrument, but all coming together to form one part.
How does the Jamstik use MPE?
Historically, it’s been very difficult to create a guitar-based MIDI controller that remains faithful to the nature of the instrument. And when you think about it, that makes sense. An engaging performance on the guitar is usually much more than just plucking a string or a chord. How hard you pick the strings, your vibrato, slides, bends, palm mutes, legato runs, etc. It’s all of these things that make up your unique style as a player. Before MPE, it was essentially impossible to accurately communicate all of that information to your DAW in real-time. With MPE, complex instruments like the Jamstik Studio are able to truly shine. The Jamstik MIDI Guitars use MPE to assign each string of the guitar to independent MIDI channels. This gives each string its own line of communication with your DAW. The result is an incredibly accurate translation from the analog guitar to digital MIDI.
Let’s see some examples of how the Jamstik uses MPE to translate the nuances of the electric guitar to MIDI
Here’s an example of how the Jamstik utilizes "Pitch Bend" information to accurately map vibrato.
And here’s an example of how the Jamstik uses “Expression” to accurately track the physical decay of the guitar string.
If you've been confused about MPE in the past, hopefully this article was able to shed some light on the idea. If not, just know we've got you covered. Our engineers are hard at work improving the marriage between this new technology and this classic instrument.
We hope that more 3rd party development teams will adopt the official MPE protocol soon, but in the meantime, there are plenty of awesome options to check out! Please make sure to check our MPE-Compatible DAWs, Plugins, and Instruments Database.