Having Fun with MIDI Files In GarageBand

You can open standard MIDI files in GarageBand. You can then view the notes in each track, change them, and change the instrument being used to play that track. You can combine MIDI tracks with other Apple Loops to create interesting remixes of music.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Having Fun with MIDI Files In GarageBand.

So if you want to do something fun and musical with your Mac you may want to spend some time playing around with MIDI Files. MIDI Files are music files that instead of being a recording are a series of instructions like musical notes. Software can use that to recreate a song. MIDI-like data is used in apps like Logic and GarageBand to store notes when you play on a keyboard and the notes are stored rather than the actual sound itself.

Now GarageBand can read standard MIDI Files and the internet is filled with them. So, for instance, we'll, in Safari, do a search for MIDI download. I'll go to a site here, just get a piece of classical music, and just download anything. Let's download this right here. Now we end up in the downloads folder with this MIDI File right here. Now it used to be that you could just double-click on that and it would open up in old Quicktime Player, years ago. Quicktime Player would actually play MIDI Files. It doesn't seem to work very well anymore. I couldn't get any MIDI Files to actually play in Quicktime Player, the current version.

But if you double-click on it you will actually open up GarageBand. It instantly opens up the song and shows you all the notes in it. So you can see here I've got a set of instruments here. There's flute, there's a whole bunch of string ensembles and then you can see all of the notes. If I play I can hear the music. So you can do lots of cool things.

For instance, you can change the instruments. So I can select this track here and if I open up the tray to the left you can see that's set to woodwinds flute solo. I can change that to clarinet. Now that will be played by clarinet. I can also isolate tracks. So I can use the solo here, so I can click on that. Now only this track will be played. I can hear that just played on clarinet and then I can change it to see what it would sound like on the oboe. Or even go really different and say let's just play that on the pipe organ.

So you can play around with all of this. You can also double-click on this track here and then you can see the notes and actually manipulate them. So you can change what's actually being played. You can lengthen notes. You can set the velocity for notes. You know how strong each one is. All sorts of different things. If you know how to read music you can even switch from piano roll to score and actually see the musical notes here for this track. So you may even actually be able to learn pieces of songs from MIDI Files if you know how to play an instrument.

We can continue to have fun from there. I've muted all of the tracks except for that solo track right there. I'm going to change the instrument to something else. So let's go and change to the piano. Now let's go and add an Apple loop here. I'm going to select drums and then take an R&B beat and loop that. So you can continue to have fun. Change the notes, add different things, maybe combine different MIDI Files you find. It's something to play around with and enjoy. It's a good way to get to learn some of the parts of GarageBand as well.

Comments: 8 Responses to “Having Fun with MIDI Files In GarageBand”

    Law Thim Fook
    1 year ago

    Very interesting tips, Gary. Much thanks.

    1 year ago

    hi Gary
    I have two versions of Garage Band 6.0.5 and 10.0.3. Reason being that each version has different features available. I tried opening a midi file by double-clicking on it and Garage Band is not one of the applications associated with midi files, looks like I can’t associate midi with it. So I had to open Garage Band, create a new project and insert the midi file. This may be an issue beyond the scope of your tip but thought I’d check to see if you had any suggestions. Thx

    1 year ago

    nick: You can always Control+click and choose Open With. Or, drag and drop a document to an app.

    Fernando Gonçalves
    1 year ago


    My system: macOS Sierra, 10,12
    I, too, have GarageBand 6.
    When I clicked on the .mid sample I downloaded, Quick Time open/played. When I tried to open it via GarageBand, the filename was greyed out.
    I did not do anything else. I’m sorry I missed the “Fun”.

    1 year ago

    Fernando: I’m using GarageBand 10.x with macOS High Sierra in the tutorial.

    Terry Haddow
    1 year ago

    Can you open the midi files on the iPad ? It seems to want to open in iMovie .

    1 year ago

    Terry: Not sure. I’ve never tried it, but I’m not sure how you would be able to do it with just the iPad version. Perhaps there are other apps that can handle MIDI files in iOS.

    1 year ago

    Interesting information to know. In the meantime, I’ve simply been converting MIDI files to WAV.

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