Getting Good Sound from MIDI Piano Rolls
(For Free)

by William S. Statler

[work in progress, last updated 15 April 2005]

This article is years out-of-date, and will not be updated.


I recently found some archives of MIDI files produced by optically scanning thousands of old player-piano rolls. Since MIDI is really the computer-era equivalent of a piano roll, this is an ideal format... BUT you still need a good-sounding computer-era player-piano to get the best from these files.

Windows Media Player does, in fact, fill the "player-piano" role, sorta. It will play MIDI files using a batch of sound samples that were considered "high quality" back in the late 90's, it will often chop off the end of the music, and it will faithfully reproduce any errors created in the MIDI file during the scanning process.

I want something a bit better than this: the sound of a real piano, with no glitches. And I want the result recorded onto a CD so that Mom can play it on her stereo. And, of course, I want to do it for free.

This is a bit of a challenge, especially because I am a complete newbie when it comes to computer music. (Well, I did use Deluxe Music Construction Set on the Commodore Amiga, a long LONG time ago...) But it does appear to be possible.

I plan to (eventually) write up a complete "how I did it" explanation here. (For a newbie, it is NOT obvious how to put all the required parts together.) For the moment, I can only offer the following list of links.


Player-piano roll MIDI files:

Terry Smythe's huge archive of over 2600 MIDI files.

Warren Trachtman's smaller archive of yet more MIDI files.


Jeff Glatt's MIDI File Disassembler/Assembler lets you turn MIDI files into easily-editable text files and back again, and can make some changes automatically (e.g., scaling the volume to fix too-loud or too-soft tracks).

ModPlug Tracker (open source version) is "tracker" software for composing, editing, and playing MIDI and other similar music files. Note that the latest stable version (1.17RC1) includes NO documentation or help files. Possibly the docs from the old non-open-source version at would be helpful; I haven't checked yet.

ModPlug Tracker is supposed to be able to handle SoundFont SF2 files (see below). But this part of the software is really buggy, so you will want a "VSTi plugin" to do this job. Get a copy of rgc:audio's sfz freeware sample player.


SoundFont files are a convenient and popular way to obtain high-quality digitized sounds. Here are a couple of free piano SoundFonts:

Soeren Bovbjerg's Steinway Light & Bright Piano 1.2, a bright sound good for typical popular-music player-piano tunes.

Warren Trachtman's 1897 Steinway model-C grand piano, a more "grand" sound worth trying for classical music.

Some SoundFont files are distributed in compressed form and will require sfArk or sfPack software to decompress them.

Contact the author:

I'd be happy to hear suggestions and corrections for this page. Please e-mail me at billstatler(at)bentonrea(dot)com.

Copyright © 2005 William S. Statler. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License, which grants limited rights of non-commercial distribution and reuse. Please read
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