The following information pertains to the Windows 9x operating systems and the Internet Explorer browser; other systems will be similar, but not exactly the same.

Music on the computer comes essentially from two sources:
1) Digitized music files (.wav, .mp3 etc.). These contain the actual sound waves in digitized form which can be converted to analog form, and transmitted as electrical signals through amplifiers and speakers. They can be located either on your hard disk or on CD's or on the internet. In other words, it's a recording, the complete sound that the listener hears when driven by an appropriate player device.
2) MIDI files (.mid). The files here contain a 'description' of the music, but not the actual sound. To get the actual (or approximate) sound, the file has to drive a synthesizer or an electronic piano. These instruments can be located internally on your soundboard, or externally as standalone instruments, or as software on your hard drive. MIDI is explained in more detail if you click here.

Your computer should be set up to receive and play either of these two types of music files.



The main pieces of hardware referred to here are a soundboard and your speakers. Make sure the speakers are turned on, and the volume is turned up sufficiently. The better the amplifier and speakers you use, the better will be the sound you hear. I have my soundboard connected to my electronic piano , which has a very good amplifier and speakers. Of course, also make sure that the Line Out from your soundboard is connected to the Line In on your speaker system.

If you use an external instrument, which is to be driven by MIDI files, you must also have a MIDI cable connection. The connection is MIDI Out at the computer (frequently a connection at the joystick port on the soundboard) and MIDI In at the external instrument (this is frequently labelled peculiarly - if the cable is connected, and you do not get any sound, try reversing the In/Out ends of the MIDI cable at the external instrument).



Ports refers to the actual sound source that's providing the music. You will find the information for this on your operating system Control Panel (Click Start-Settings-Control Panel-Multimedia). We are concerned here primarily with the MIDI tab. The other sources (Audio, CD etc.) should be okay, but you can look at them to make sure no problems are indicated. The MIDI tab should display what synthesizers are available to you internally, and also reference the MIDI interface to possible external instruments. In my case, when I'm listening to a MIDI file which is driving a synthesizer on my soundboard, I make sure the appropriate synthesizer is selected. If I wish the file to drive my (external) electronic piano, I make sure the MIDI interface to an external instrument is selected.



This sets the levels for the various sound sources (MIDI, Wave/MP3, CD, Line In etc.), as well as the overall volume control. A mixer program generally comes with the various soundboards, but these settings can also be done directly on Windows' own mixer. To access it, double-click on the little speaker icon in the bottom right hand corner of your screen. This allows you to mute or unmute any sound source (or the master volume control), as well as set the individual levels and the Left/Right balance of the stereo sound. Make sure any sound sources you are using are unmuted (MIDI, Wave, CD etc.), and set the various levels. I would set the master level to about 50%, the MIDI and Wave level to close to 100%, the CD level about 75%. This is something you can experiment with, to see how these levels work with your speakers.


Player Programs

This is the software that does the actual playing of the files - much as the old record players played LP's, CD players play CD's, tape recorders play tapes etc. Player software comes with your computer's operating system as well as with your soundboard. There are also many other player program that are available free over the internet. Some of the better known of these are Windows' Media Player, RealPlayer, MusicMatch, and Creative Labs' PlayCenter.

These programs can be used by running the program, and then specifying the file(s) to be played, or one of these can be set up as a default player, and by simply doubleclicking on the file you wish played, that program will automatically start playing it.

To set up a player as the default player for a given file type:
1)Run the player program to make sure it can play the particular file type to be set up.
2)Run Windows Explorer (not Internet Explorer!).
3)Click View, and then click Folder Options.
4)Click the File Types tab.
5)Scroll through the file types until you find what seems to be the file type you want. Click it, and verify that you have the correct extension. If so, click Edit.
6)Under Actions, there are usually both Open and Play. Follow the same procedure for both.
7)Click on the Action. Click Edit. Click Browse, and find the file for the program you want to use as a default player, and select it. (To find out the name of any program, right-click on the icon, and then click Properties). Click OK.


To play MIDI files over the internet, generally you simply click once on the name, and the default player comes up, and starts playing it. To download the file, right-click on the name, click on "Save Target As", and select the location on your computer where you want to save it.
MP3 files can be played Lo-Fi or Hi-Fi. Hi-Fi will only work if you have a fast internet connection. MP3 files are usually streamed. Streaming means that the program starts playing the music after some of the file has been downloaded, and while it is playing, it is downloading the next section. Make sure your default player for this file type can handle streaming.
MIDI background music on a website is frequently played by "Plug In's". These are player programs that your browser will launch (you are requested to download them if they don't exist on your system), and they frequently come with their own set of sounds. This can provide uniformity for the sound of the music on all computers, but sometimes these sounds are considered inferior to the ones that can be produced with one's own hardware. For more information on browsers and plug-ins, click here.