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[This document is Dave Oppenheim's current version of the MIDI file specification, as sent to those who have participated in its development. The consensus seems to be to submit this to the MIDI Manufacturers' Association as version 1.0. I apologize for any loss of clarity that might have occurred in the conversion from a Microsoft Word document to this pure text file. I have removed some of the discussion about recent changes to the specification in order to keep the file size reasonable.–Doug Wyatt]

Standard MIDI Files 0.06 March 1, 1988

0 Introduction

This describes a proposed standard MIDI file format. MIDI files contain one or more MIDI streams, with time information for each event. Song, sequence, and track structures, tempo and time signature information, are all supported. Track names and other descriptive information may be stored with the MIDI data. This format supports multiple tracks and multiple sequences so that if the user of a program which supports multiple tracks intends to move a file to another one, this format can allow that to happen.

This spec defines the 8-bit binary data stream used in the file. The data can be stored in a binary file, nibbleized, 7-bit-ized for efficient MIDI transmission, converted to Hex ASCII, or translated symbolically to a printable text file. This spec addresses what's in the 8-bit stream.

We'd like to make MIDI Files 1.0 happen as soon as possible, so please respond soon with any comments or proposals you have about MIDI File transmission, the MIDI meta-event event or any other comments or questions you have about anything in this specification.

Please direct comments to:

Dave Oppenheim Opcode Systems 1024 Hamilton Court Menlo Park, California 94025 (415) 321-8977

1 Sequences, Tracks, Chunks: File Block Structure

Sequence files are made up of chunks. Each chunk has a 4-character type and a 32-bit length, which is the number of bytes in the chunk. On the Macintosh, data is passed either in the data fork of a file, or on the Clipboard. (The file type on the Macintosh for a file in this format will be "Midi".) On any other computer, the data is simply the contents of the file. This structure allows future chunk types to be designed which may easily be ignored if encountered by a program written before the chunk type is introduced. Your programs should expect alien chunks and treat them as if they weren't there.

This proposal defines two types of chunks: a header chunk and a track chunk. A header chunk provides a minimal amount of information pertaining to the entire MIDI file. A track chunk contains a sequential stream of MIDI data which may contain information for up to 16 MIDI channels. The concepts of multiple tracks, multiple MIDI outputs, patterns, sequences, and songs may all be implemented using several track chunks.

A MIDI file always starts with a header chunk, and is followed by one or more track chunks.

MThd <length of header data> <header data> MTrk <length of track data> <track data> MTrk <length of track data> <track data> …

Track Data Format (MTrk chunk type)

The MTrk chunk type is where actual song data is stored. It is simply a stream of MIDI events (and non-MIDI events), preceded by delta-time values.

Some numbers in MTrk chunks are represented in a form called a variable- length quantity. These numbers are represented 7 bits per byte, most significant bits first. All bytes except the last have bit 7 set, and the last byte has bit 7 clear. If the number is between 0 and 127, it is thus represented exactly as one byte.

Here are some examples of numbers represented as variable-length quantities:

Number (hex)	Representation (hex)
00000000	00
00000040	40
0000007F	7F
00000080	81 00
00002000	C0 00
00003FFF	FF 7F
00004000	81 80 00
00100000	C0 80 00
00200000	81 80 80 00
08000000	C0 80 80 00

The largest number which is allowed is 0FFFFFFF so that the variable- length representation must fit in 32 bits in a routine to write variable-length numbers. Theoretically, larger numbers are possible, but 2 x 108 96ths of a beat at a fast tempo of 500 beats per minute is four days, long enough for any delta-time!

Here is the syntax of an MTrk chunk:

<track data> = <MTrk event>+

<MTrk event> = <delta-time> <event>

<delta-time> is stored as a variable-length quantity. It represents the amount of time before the following event. If the first event in a track occurs at the very beginning of a track, or if two events occur simultaneously, a delta-time of zero is used. Delta-times are always present. (Not storing delta-times of 0 requires at least two bytes for any other value, and most delta-times aren't zero.) Delta-time is in some fraction of a beat (or a second, for recording a track with SMPTE times), as specified in the header chunk.

<event> = <MIDI event> | <sysex event> | <meta-event>

<MIDI event> is any MIDI channel message. Running status is used: status bytes may be omitted after the first byte. The first event in a file must specify status. Delta-time is not considered an event itself: it is an integral part of the specification. Notice that running status occurs across delta-times.

<meta-event> specifies non-MIDI information useful to this format or to sequencers, with this syntax:

FF <type> <length> <bytes>

All meta-events begin with FF, then have an event type byte (which is always less than 128), and then have the length of the data stored as a variable-length quantity, and then the data itself. If there is no data, the length is 0. As with sysex events, running status is not allowed. As with chunks, future meta-events may be designed which may not be known to existing programs, so programs must properly ignore meta-events which they do not recognize, and indeed, should expect to see them. New for 0.06: programs must never ignore the length of a meta-event which they do recognize, and they shouldn't be surprised if it's bigger than they expected. If so, they must ignore everything past what they know about. However, they must not add anything of their own to the end of a meta-event.

<sysex event> is used to specify a MIDI system exclusive message, or as an "escape" to specify any arbitrary bytes to be transmitted. Unfortunately, some synthesizer manufacturers specify that their system exclusive messages are to be transmitted as little packets. Each packet is only part of an entire syntactical system exclusive message, but the times they are transmitted at are important. Examples of this are the bytes sent in a CZ patch dump, or the FB-01's "system exclusive mode" in which microtonal data can be transmitted. To be able to handle situations like these, two forms of <sysex event> are provided:

F0 <length> <bytes to be transmitted after F0>
F7 <length> <all bytes to be transmitted>

In both cases, <length> is stored as a variable-length quantity. It is equal to the number of bytes following it, not including itself or the message type (F0 or F7), but all the bytes which follow, including any F7 at the end which is intended to be transmitted. The first form, with the F0 code, is used for syntactically complete system exclusive messages, or the first packet an a series Ñ that is, messages in which the F0 should be transmitted. The second form is used for the remainder of the packets within a syntactic sysex message, which do not begin with F0. Of course, the F7 is not considered part of the system exclusive message. Of course, just as in MIDI, running status is not allowed, in this case because the length is stored as a variable-length quantity which may or may not start with bit 7 set.

(New to 0.06) A syntactic system exclusive message must always end with an F7, even if the real-life device didn't send one, so that you know when you've reached the end of an entire sysex message without looking ahead to the next event in the MIDI file. This principle is repeated and illustrated in the paragraphs below.

The vast majority of system exclusive messages will just use the F0 format. For instance, the transmitted message F0 43 12 00 07 F7 would be stored in a MIDI file as F0 05 43 12 00 07 F7. As mentioned above, it is required to include the F7 at the end so that the reader of the MIDI file knows that it has read the entire message.

For special situations when a single system exclusive message is split up, with parts of it being transmitted at different times, such as in a Casio CZ patch transfer, or the FB-01's "system exclusive mode", the F7 form of sysex event is used for each packet except the first. None of the packets would end with an F7 except the last one, which must end with an F7. There also must not be any transmittable MIDI events in- between the packets of a multi-packet system exclusive message. Here is an example: suppose the bytes F0 43 12 00 were to be sent, followed by a 200-tick delay, followed by the bytes 43 12 00 43 12 00, followed by a 100-tick delay, followed by the bytes 43 12 00 F7, this would be in the MIDI File:

F0 03 43 12 00
81 48					200-tick delta-time
F7 06 43 12 00 43 12 00
64					100-tick delta-time
F7 04 43 12 00 F7

The F7 event may also be used as an "escape" to transmit any bytes whatsoever, including real-time bytes, song pointer, or MIDI Time Code, which are not permitted normally in this specification. No effort should be made to interpret the bytes used in this way. Since a system exclusive message is not being transmitted, it is not necessary or appropriate to end the F7 event with an F7 in this case.

2 Header Chunk

The header chunk at the beginning of the file specifies some basic information about the data in the file. The data section contains three 16-bit words, stored high byte first (of course). Here's the syntax of the complete chunk:

<chunk type> <length> <format> <ntrks> <division> 

As described above, <chunk type> is the four ASCII characters 'MThd'; <length> is a 32-bit representation of the number 6 (high byte first). The first word, format, specifies the overall organization of the file. Only three values of format are specified:

0	the file contains a single multi-channel track
1	the file contains one or more simultaneous tracks (or MIDI 

outputs) of a sequence

2	the file contains one or more sequentially independent 

single-track patterns

The next word, ntrks, is the number of track chunks in the file. The third word, division, is the division of a quarter-note represented by the delta-times in the file. (If division is negative, it represents the division of a second represented by the delta-times in the file, so that the track can represent events occurring in actual time instead of metrical time. It is represented in the following way: the upper byte is one of the four values -24, -25, -29, or -30, corresponding to the four standard SMPTE and MIDI time code formats, and represents the number of frames per second. The second byte (stored positive) is the resolution within a frame: typical values may be 4 (MIDI time code resolution), 8, 10, 80 (bit resolution), or 100. This system allows exact specification of time-code-based tracks, but also allows millisecond-based tracks by specifying 25 frames/sec and a resolution of 40 units per frame.)

Format 0, that is, one multi-channel track, is the most interchangeable representation of data. One application of MIDI files is a simple single-track player in a program which needs to make synthesizers make sounds, but which is primarily concerned with something else such as mixers or sound effect boxes. It is very desirable to be able to produce such a format, even if your program is track-based, in order to work with these simple programs. On the other hand, perhaps someone will write a format conversion from format 1 to format 0 which might be so easy to use in some setting that it would save you the trouble of putting it into your program.

Programs which support several simultaneous tracks should be able to save and read data in format 1, a vertically one-dimensional form, that is, as a collection of tracks. Programs which support several independent patterns should be able to save and read data in format 2, a horizontally one-dimensional form. Providing these minimum capabilities will ensure maximum interchangeability.

MIDI files can express tempo and time signature, and they have been chosen to do so for transferring tempo maps from one device to another. For a format 0 file, the tempo will be scattered through the track and the tempo map reader should ignore the intervening events; for a format 1 file, the tempo map must (starting in 0.04) be stored as the first track. It is polite to a tempo map reader to offer your user the ability to make a format 0 file with just the tempo, unless you can use format 1.

All MIDI files should specify tempo and time signature. If they don't, the time signature is assumed to be 4/4, and the tempo 120 beats per minute. In format 0, these meta-events should occur at least at the beginning of the single multi-channel track. In format 1, these meta- events should be contained in the first track. In format 2, each of the temporally independent patterns should contain at least initial time signature and tempo information.

We may decide to define other format IDs to support other structures. A program reading an unfamiliar format ID should return an error to the user rather than trying to read further.

3 Meta-Events

A few meta-events are defined herein. It is not required for every program to support every meta-event. Meta-events initially defined include:

FF 00 02 ssss Sequence Number This optional event, which must occur at the beginning of a track, before any nonzero delta-times, and before any transmittable MIDI events, specifies the number of a sequence. The number in this track corresponds to the sequence number in the new Cue message discussed at the summer 1987 MMA meeting. In a format 2 MIDI file, it is used to identify each "pattern" so that a "song" sequence using the Cue message to refer to the patterns. If the ID numbers are omitted, the sequences' locations in order in the file are used as defaults. In a format 0 or 1 MIDI file, which only contain one sequence, this number should be contained in the first (or only) track. If transfer of several multitrack sequences is required, this must be done as a group of format 1 files, each with a different sequence number.

FF 01 len text Text Event Any amount of text describing anything. It is a good idea to put a text event right at the beginning of a track, with the name of the track, a description of its intended orchestration, and any other information which the user wants to put there. Text events may also occur at other times in a track, to be used as lyrics, or descriptions of cue points. The text in this event should be printable ASCII characters for maximum interchange. However, other character codes using the high-order bit may be used for interchange of files between different programs on the same computer which supports an extended character set. Programs on a computer which does not support non-ASCII characters should ignore those characters.

(New for 0.06 ). Meta event types 01 through 0F are reserved for various types of text events, each of which meets the specification of text events(above) but is used for a different purpose:

FF 02 len text Copyright Notice Contains a copyright notice as printable ASCII text. The notice should contain the characters (C), the year of the copyright, and the owner of the copyright. If several pieces of music are in the same MIDI file, all of the copyright notices should be placed together in this event so that it will be at the beginning of the file. This event should be the first event in the first track chunk, at time 0.

FF 03 len text Sequence/Track Name If in a format 0 track, or the first track in a format 1 file, the name of the sequence. Otherwise, the name of the track.

FF 04 len text Instrument Name A description of the type of instrumentation to be used in that track. May be used with the MIDI Prefix meta-event to specify which MIDI channel the description applies to, or the channel may be specified as text in the event itself.

FF 05 len text Lyric A lyric to be sung. Generally, each syllable will be a separate lyric event which begins at the event's time.

FF 06 len text Marker Normally in a format 0 track, or the first track in a format 1 file. The name of that point in the sequence, such as a rehearsal letter or section name ("First Verse", etc.).

FF 07 len text Cue Point A description of something happening on a film or video screen or stage at that point in the musical score ("Car crashes into house", "curtain opens", "she slaps his face", etc.)

FF 2F 00 End of Track This event is not optional. It is included so that an exact ending point may be specified for the track, so that it has an exact length, which is necessary for tracks which are looped or concatenated.

FF 51 03 tttttt Set Tempo, in microseconds per MIDI quarter-note This event indicates a tempo change. Another way of putting "microseconds per quarter-note" is "24ths of a microsecond per MIDI clock". Representing tempos as time per beat instead of beat per time allows absolutely exact long-term synchronization with a time-based sync protocol such as SMPTE time code or MIDI time code. This amount of accuracy provided by this tempo resolution allows a four-minute piece at 120 beats per minute to be accurate within 500 usec at the end of the piece. Ideally, these events should only occur where MIDI clocks would be located Ñ this convention is intended to guarantee, or at least increase the likelihood, of compatibility with other synchronization devices so that a time signature/tempo map stored in this format may easily be transferred to another device.

FF 54 05 hr mn se fr ff SMPTE Offset (New in 0.06 - SMPTE Format specification) This event, if present, designates the SMPTE time at which the track chunk is supposed to start. It should be present at the beginning of the track, that is, before any nonzero delta-times, and before any transmittable MIDI events. The hour must be encoded with the SMPTE format, just as it is in MIDI Time Code. In a format 1 file, the SMPTE Offset must be stored with the tempo map, and has no meaning in any of the other tracks. The ff field contains fractional frames, in 100ths of a frame, even in SMPTE-based tracks which specify a different frame subdivision for delta-times.

FF 58 04 nn dd cc bb Time Signature The time signature is expressed as four numbers. nn and dd represent the numerator and denominator of the time signature as it would be notated. The denominator is a negative power of two: 2 represents a quarter-note, 3 represents an eighth-note, etc. The cc parameter expresses the number of MIDI clocks in a metronome click. The bb parameter expresses the number of notated 32nd-notes in a MIDI quarter- note (24 MIDI Clocks). This was added because there are already multiple programs which allow the user to specify that what MIDI thinks of as a quarter-note (24 clocks) is to be notated as, or related to in terms of, something else.

Therefore, the complete event for 6/8 time, where the metronome clicks every three eighth-notes, but there are 24 clocks per quarter-note, 72 to the bar, would be (in hex):

FF 58 04 06 03 24 08

That is, 6/8 time (8 is 2 to the 3rd power, so this is 06 03), 32 MIDI clocks per dotted-quarter (24 hex!), and eight notated 32nd-notes per MIDI quarter note.

FF 59 02 sf mi Key Signature

      sf = -7:  7 flats
      sf = -1:  1 flat
      sf = 0:  key of C
      sf = 1:  1 sharp
      sf = 7: 7 sharps
      mi = 0:  major key
      mi = 1:  minor key

FF 7F len data Sequencer-Specific Meta-Event

      Special requirements for particular sequencers may use this 

event type: the first byte or bytes of data is a manufacturer ID. However, as this is an interchange format, growth of the spec proper is preferred to use of this event type. This type of event may be used by a sequencer which elects to use this as its only file format; sequencers with their established feature-specific formats should probably stick to the standard features when using this format.

4 Program Fragments and Example MIDI Files

Here are some of the routines to read and write variable-length numbers in MIDI Files. These routines are in C, and use getc and putc, which read and write single 8-bit characters from/to the files infile and outfile.

WriteVarLen (value) register long value; {

register long buffer;
buffer = value & 0x7f;
while ((value >>= 7) > 0)
	buffer <<= 8;
	buffer |= 0x80;
	buffer += (value & 0x7f);
while (TRUE)
	if (buffer & 0x80)
		buffer >>= 8;


doubleword ReadVarLen () { register doubleword value;

register byte c;

if ((value = getc(infile)) & 0x80)
	value &= 0x7f;
		value = (value << 7) + ((c = getc(infile)) & 0x7f);
	} while (c & 0x80);
return (value);


As an example, MIDI Files for the following excerpt are shown below. First, a format 0 file is shown, with all information intermingled; then, a format 1 file is shown with all data separated into four tracks: one for tempo and time signature, and three for the notes. A resolution of 96 "ticks" per quarter note is used. A time signature of 4/4 and a tempo of 120, though implied, are explicitly stated.

The contents of the MIDI stream represented by this example are broken down here:

Delta Time(decimal) Event Code (hex) Other Bytes (decimal)

0	FF 58	04 04 02 24 08	4 bytes: 4/4 time, 24 MIDI 


			8 32nd notes/24 MIDI clocks
0	FF 51	03 500000	3 bytes: 500,000 µsec per quarter-note
0	C0	5	Ch. 1, Program Change 5
0	C0	5	Ch. 1, Program Change 5
0	C1	46	Ch. 2, Program Change 46
0	C2	70	Ch. 3, Program Change 70
0	92	48  96	Ch. 3 Note On C2, forte
0	92	60  96	Ch. 3 Note On C3, forte
96	91	67  64	Ch. 2 Note On G3, mezzo-forte
96	90	76  32	Ch. 1 Note On E4, piano
192	82	48  64	Ch. 3 Note Off C2, standard
0	82	60  64	Ch. 3 Note Off C3, standard
0	81	67  64	Ch. 2 Note Off G3, standard
0	80	76  64	Ch. 1 Note Off E4, standard
0	FF 2F	00	Track End

The entire format 0 MIDI file contents in hex follow. First, the header chunk:

	4D 54 68 64 	MThd
	00 00 00 06	chunk length
	00 00 	format 0
	00 01	one track
	00 60 	96 per quarter-note

Then, the track chunk. Its header, followed by the events (notice that running status is used in places):

	4D 54 72 6B	MTrk
	00 00 00 3B	chunk length (59)
Delta-time	Event	Comments
00	FF 58 04 04 02 18 08 	time signature
00	FF 51 03 07 A1 20	tempo
00	C0 05
00	C1 2E
00	C2 46
00	92 30 60 
00	3C 60	running status
60	91 43 40
60	90 4C 20
81 40	82 30 40	two-byte delta-time
00	3C 40	running status
00	81 43 40
00	80 4C 40
00	FF 2F 00	end of track

A format 1 representation of the file is slightly different. Its header chunk:

	4D 54 68 64 	MThd
	00 00 00 06	chunk length
	00 01 	format 1
	00 04	four tracks
	00 60 	96 per quarter-note

First, the track chunk for the time signature/tempo track. Its header, followed by the events:

	4D 54 72 6B	MTrk
	00 00 00 14	chunk length (20)
Delta-time	Event	Comments
00	FF 58 04 04 02 18 08 	time signature
00	FF 51 03 07 A1 20	tempo
83 00	FF 2F 00	end of track

Then, the track chunk for the first music track. The MIDI convention for note on/off running status is used in this example:

	4D 54 72 6B	MTrk
	00 00 00 10	chunk length (16)
Delta-time	Event	Comments
00	C0 05
81 40	90 4C 20
81 40	4C 00	Running status: note on, vel = 0
00	FF 2F 00	end of track

Then, the track chunk for the second music track:

	4D 54 72 6B	MTrk
	00 00 00 0F	chunk length (15)
Delta-time	Event	Comments
00	C1 2E
60	91 43 40
82 20	43 00	running status
00	FF 2F 00	end of track

Then, the track chunk for the third music track:

	4D 54 72 6B	MTrk
	00 00 00 15	chunk length (21)
Delta-time	Event	Comments
00	C2 46
00	92 30 60 
00	3C 60	running status
83 00	30 00	two-byte delta-time, running status
00	3C 00	running status
00	FF 2F 00	end of track

5 MIDI Transmission of MIDI Files

Since it is inconvenient to exchange disks between different computers, and since many computers which will use this format will have a MIDI interface anyway, MIDI seems like a perfect way to send these files from one computer to another. And, while we're going through all the trouble to make a way of sending MIDI Files, it would be nice if they could send any files (like sampled sound files, text files, etc.)

Goals The transmission protocol for MIDI files should be reasonably efficient, should support fast transmission for computers which are capable of it, and slower transmission for less powerful ones. It should not be impossible to convert a MIDI File to or from an arbitrary internal representation on the fly as it is transmitted, but, as long as it is not too difficult, it is very desirable to use a generic method so that any file type could be accommodated.

To make the protocol efficient, the MIDI transmission of these files will take groups of seven 8-bit bytes and transmit them as eight 7-bit MIDI data bytes. This is certainly in the spirit of the rest of this format (keep it small, because it's not that hard to do). To accommodate a wide range of transmission speeds, files will be transmitted in packets with acknowledge – this allows data to be stored to disk as it is received. If the sender does not receive a response from a reader in a certain amount of time, it can assume an open-loop situation, and then just continue.

The last edition of MIDI Files contained a specialized protocol for sending just MIDI Files. To meet a deadline, unfortunately I don't have time right now to propose a new generalized protocol. This will be done within the next couple of months. I would welcome any proposals anyone else has, and would direct your attention to the proposal from Ralph Muha of Kurzweil, available in a recent MMA bulletin, and also directly from him.

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