Teachers' Introduction to MIDIgrid

and some music education examples (more general information will be found at


MIDIgrid is a powerful music program that provides new ways to explore, perform and therefore compose music. Although initially developed as a tool for professional composers, it has a simple enough interface to be used by young children. The current version, MIDIgrid for Windows, is a cut-down version that includes only those features most useful in the classroom and comes with a slim and extremely user-friendly manual and sample grids with teaching notes for KS1 and KS2. (The Full Pitcher has also harnessed the power of MIDIgrid's Performance mode features to create the GridPlay software, which supports improvisation and composition activities from pre-school to adult. )

Improvising & Composing - Key Stage 1

with MIDIgrid & GridPlay resources

Project 1: "Bird-songs" 

The grid is divided into areas containing 1, 2, 3 or 4 pitches labelled with sol-fa syllables or note names. The pupils can play the notes by moving the cursor with a mouse or trackerball. They make use of these notes, played back through a gentle flute sound, to invent little "bird-call" tunes. These pupils are familiar with simple sol-fa notation and enjoy singing and signing their own tunes. One cell contains a recorded sequence and pupils can play this as a backing track to their improvised melodies. 


Project 2: Composing tunes that move up or down by step. 

This grid, accompanied by worksheets and teacher's notes, is used to create a simple 'graphic score' of a tune which moves up and down by step. Pupils can play the score by following the shape of the melody and clicking on the cells. It is very easy to vary the tune on a number of ways, e.g., by playing it upside down or back to front.


Improvising & Composing - Key Stage 2

with MIDIgrid & GridPlay resources

Project 1: Pentatonic Fun 

This versatile grid contains several elements - notes of the pentatonic scale, three chords, a range of percussion sounds and two recordings of rhythm tracks. Pupils can use it for a range of improvisational activities. Some use the percussion sounds to invent and record their own rhythm tracks. Others use the pre-recorded rhythms as backing tracks, over which they improvise on the notes of the scale. A few play the chords in various orders and rhythms to create their own chord sequences.


Project 2: Composing Melodies 

Here, pupils can play the notes of C, D, F or G major scales, even if they have no instrumental experience or theoretical knowledge. A worksheet and teacher's notes help them to use these resources for creative exploration and to compose their own melodies. 

Improvising & Composing - Key Stage 3

with MIDIgrid & GridPlay resources

Project 1: The Whole-tone Scale

Cells at the top of the grid contain notes from the whole-tone scale, while those at the bottom have been assigned augmented chords. Pupils use these to create a music track for a video, after the style of a pianist at the silent movies.

Improvising & Composing - Key Stage 4 /Adult

"The student asked if he could write a piece on Midigrid. I suggested that, as this was a one-off opportunity, he should aim for a small-scale grid that he had some hope of completing in an afternoon. After much deliberation, he chose to set up an instrument that would play with a piano sound. He wanted one row, made up of sixteen cells. He selected notes and placed them in the sixteen boxes. Gradually he built up a chord in each box. He would listen to the notes already entered in a box and then add another one. In this way he built up some very unusual chords. It would have been impossible, for any pianist, to play them because they were extremely widely spaced and some had twelve notes... 

Once he had entered all his notes, he began to improvise. He could move the cursor, silently, from cell to cell and press the foot switch to sound a cell or he could hold down the foot switch, with one foot, while moving the trackerball with the other. In this instance, each cell would sound as the cursor entered it. When he felt ready, I switched on the Midigrid record function and recorded his performance."

Teaching Music Concepts with MIDIgrid

MIDIgrid's author, Andy Hunt, developed his software in conjunction with the Music Technology Group, University of York, and the Composers' Desktop Project. It was designed to meet the composer's need to explore sounds and to combine them in innovative ways. The unstructured plethora of facilities and un-prescriptive presentation of the package, engendered by this design philosophy, makes it a most flexible authoring system for the production of music education resources, in addition to its intended function as a 'composer's toolkit, it has been used to prepare teaching resources, supporting concept development at varying levels:

Nursery/ Key Stage 1

Teaching with MIDIgrid & GridPlay resources

A nursery/ Key Stage 1 class has been exploring 'high' and 'low'; 'up' and 'down'. They have stretched up on tiptoe to be 'birds' flying, high up, in the sky and have crouched down, low, to see the slug in the fallen leaves. They have listened to recordings of high and low sounds, trying to identify them. Now, they are singing "Hickory, Dickory, Dock". Their hand movements describe the mouse, running up and down the clock. On the computer monitor, there is a column of boxes, each containing a square. Each square represents a musical pitch and, when the pointer (cursor) is moved up or down the column, the notes are sounded in ascending or descending order. Instead of controlling the pointer with a mouse, the children use a "Joypad". This is a yellow plastic box with red arrow-shaped switches which move the pointer up, down, left or right. The plastic box has been stood up, vertically, so that the up arrow points upwards, etc.. The children take turns to sound the ascending or descending scale, as the mouse runs up and down the clock. A severely disabled child, unable to use the Joypad, can trigger the rising scale by brushing a touch-sensitive switch. As the teacher wearies of this wretched, hyper-active mouse, she comforts herself with the thought of all the reinforcement of the concept that her little pupils are experiencing!

This grid will be used in many similar situations. Key Stage 1 pupils, for example, have been composing their own tunes. Again, a rise or fall in pitch is associated with movement of the pointer, in the appropriate direction. Some children are working, with their teacher, on another grid. This contains a number of assorted high and low pitch recordings. They have to assemble all the high sounds at the top of the grid and all the low sounds at the bottom. contains 

Key Stage 2

Teaching with MIDIgrid & GridPlay resources

At the computer, some nine year olds are working on an assignment. This MIDIgrid screen contains two columns, each of six rows. Each box in the left hand column has its own colour, while those in the right hand column are all white. Each box contains a recorded sequence. The group's task is to match up each 'head', in the left hand column, with its 'tail', played by the same 'instrument', in the right. As they find each 'tail', they use the text editor to shade it, in the same 'fill pattern' as its 'head'. Depending on the abilities of the group, many extension activities can follow on from this initial task. Some will make further use of the grid, while others will involve the group in practical music-making, in more traditional ways. At the simplest level, the exercise can be completed by matching timbres alone. More able groups are asked to compare each 'head' and 'tail', identifying further similarities and differences. Do the little tunes work equally well if the order of the phrases is reversed? If not, can the children account for this? 

Key Stage 4

Teaching with MIDIgrid & GridPlay resources

Julie, one of the GCSE group is making her own 'jam track' with which to practise improvisation over a chord sequence. Her teacher has set up a grid of 'goodies' from which she can make a customized recording to cassette. Some boxes contain 'real-time' recordings of one bar riffs, each built on a different major or minor chord. Others contain the single sounds, each of a different instrument from the drum-kit. Julie moves the cursor around the grid with the mouse. A click on the left button over a recorded riff plays that one bar, which can be repeated, as often as desired. Once she has found a satisfactory chord sequence, she can record it, within the program,  triggering the appropriate series of boxes. If she wishes, she can also record a drum track by playing the percussion boxes, in 'real-time'. Normally, the drum track would be recorded first but she has discovered, by trial and error, that this doesn't feel quite right, in this instance. She is puzzling over why this should be and intends to ask her class-mates if they feel the same way. 

How It Works

MIDIgrid displays an array of cells, each of which can contain a single note, a chord or a musical sequence or percussion pattern.The cells in the grid can be played using a mouse, trackerball, etc., or triggered from a MIDI instrument. Chords and notes can be played once or sustained, sequences can be played once, repeated and looped.

The grid size and display can be changed to suit the style of the music and the needs of the composer and performer. This means that MIDIgrid can be used as a musical instrument, which can be designed and used to suit almost any musical style and structure.

As well as supporting live performance and exploration, MIDIgrid allows you to compose music by creating your own contents for the cells and by using MIDIgrid's Record mode.

The MIDIgrid software comes with a number of grid files covering different musical styles and structures. They also illustrate the many ways that the layout and contents of the cells can be defined. They can be used to support music education as well as live performance.



More About Midigrid

Widening Access with MIDIgrid & GridPlay

MIDI Pages