Visualising MIDI files with Python

Colin Wren
3 min readMay 21, 2017

Plug — I’ve since done even more work with MIDI and created a MIDI to LSDJ app in Python

I’m really into music, If you spend 5 minutes talking to me you’ll probably realise that I care a little too much about how particular songs, albums and bands make me feel when I listen to them and why other bands just don’t cut the audio mustard.

I have a growing collection of notation files on my computer for my favourite songs, these are often in Guitar Pro (me being a guitar player) or in MIDI. The latter comes in very handy when I want to record myself playing the guitar parts as I can just import the drum track and the tempo and time signature changes are brought in with it.

I found this awesome Python library for parsing MIDI files and decided to hook it up to Matplotlib to see if I could visualise the notes in the file to make a nifty little representation of the song.

I’d used Matplotlib before at a hack day where we were parsing DICOM files and using Matplotlib to plot the x, y and z values we were able to build a 3D representation of the data in the file relatively easy.

Converting MIDI to a line

The python-midi library gives you a really helpful method called read_midifile which handles the loading and parsing of the MIDI file.

The result of the read_midifile method is a list of MIDI tracks which each contain a list of MIDI events such as:

  • Setting the tempo — midi.SetTempoEvent
  • Setting the time signature — midi.TimeSignatureEvent
  • Starting and ending notes — midi.NoteOnEvent and midi.NoteOffEvent respectively
  • Pitch Bending — midi.PitchWheelEvent
  • End of the Track — midi.EndOfTrackEvent

All of the events have a tick associated with it, this is relative by default but if you call make_ticks_abs() on the loaded file it will return the ticks as absolute values. It can be a little confusing when looking at the events with relative ticks as you’ll see loads of a 0 ticks followed by high number ones, for the sake of plotting notes on a chart I used absolute ticks.

To get the pitch of the note in midi.NoteOnEvents there’s a .pitch property so by collecting these NoteOnEvents and collecting the absolute tick and pitch values for each note we then have data to draw.

Colin Wren

Currently building Interested in building shared understanding, Automated Testing, Dev practises, Metal, Chiptune. All views my own.