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Using Sequencer Methods (The Java™ Tutorials > Sound)
Trail: Sound
Home Page > Sound
Using Sequencer Methods
The Sequencer interface provides methods in several categories:

  • Methods to load sequence data from a MIDI file or a Sequence object, and to save the currently loaded sequence data to a MIDI file.
  • Methods analogous to the transport functions of a tape recorder, for stopping and starting playback and recording, enabling and disabling recording on specific tracks, and shuttling the current playback or recording position in a Sequence.
  • Advanced methods for querying and setting the synchronization and timing parameters of the object. A Sequencer may play at different tempos, with some Tracks muted, and in various synchronization states with other objects.
  • Advanced methods for registering "listener" objects that are notified when the Sequencer processes certain kinds of MIDI events.

Regardless of which Sequencer methods you'll invoke, the first step is to obtain a Sequencer device from the system and reserve it for your program's use.

Obtaining a Sequencer

An application program doesn't instantiate a Sequencer; after all, Sequencer is just an interface. Instead, like all devices in the Java Sound API's MIDI package, a Sequencer is accessed through the static MidiSystem object. As previously mentioned in Accessing MIDI System Resources, the following MidiSystem method can be used to obtain the default Sequencer:

static Sequencer getSequencer()

The following code fragment obtains the default Sequencer, acquires any system resources it needs, and makes it operational:

Sequencer sequencer;
// Get default sequencer.
sequencer = MidiSystem.getSequencer(); 
if (sequencer == null) {
    // Error -- sequencer device is not supported.
    // Inform user and return...
} else {
    // Acquire resources and make operational.

The invocation of open reserves the sequencer device for your program's use. It doesn't make much sense to imagine sharing a sequencer, because it can play only one sequence at a time. When you're done using the sequencer, you can make it available to other programs by invoking close.

Non-default sequencers can be obtained as described in Accessing MIDI System Resources.

Loading a Sequence

Having obtained a sequencer from the system and reserved it, you then need load the data that the sequencer should play. There are three typical ways of accomplishing this:

  • Reading the sequence data from a MIDI file
  • Recording it in real time by receiving MIDI messages from another device, such as a MIDI input port
  • Building it programmatically "from scratch" by adding tracks to an empty sequence and adding MidiEvent objects to those tracks

We'll now look at the first of these ways of getting sequence data. (The other two ways are described below under Recording and Saving Sequences and Editing a Sequence, respectively.) This first way actually encompasses two slightly different approaches. One approach is to feed MIDI file data to an InputStream that you then read directly to the sequencer by means of Sequencer.setSequence(InputStream). With this approach, you don't explicitly create a Sequence object. In fact, the Sequencer implementation might not even create a Sequence behind the scenes, because some sequencers have a built-in mechanism for handling data directly from a file.

The other approach is to create a Sequence explicitly. You'll need to use this approach if you're going to edit the sequence data before playing it. With this approach, you invoke MidiSystem's overloaded method getSequence. The method is able to get the sequence from an InputStream, a File, or a URL. The method returns a Sequence object that can then be loaded into a Sequencer for playback. Expanding on the previous code excerpt, here's an example of obtaining a Sequence object from a File and loading it into our sequencer:

try {
    File myMidiFile = new File("seq1.mid");
    // Construct a Sequence object, and
    // load it into my sequencer.
    Sequence mySeq = MidiSystem.getSequence(myMidiFile);
} catch (Exception e) {
   // Handle error and/or return

Like MidiSystem's getSequence method, setSequence may throw an InvalidMidiDataException—and, in the case of the InputStream variant, an IOException—if it runs into any trouble.

Playing a Sequence

Starting and stopping a Sequencer is accomplished using the following methods:

    void start()


    void stop()

The Sequencer.start method begins playback of the sequence. Note that playback starts at the current position in a sequence. Loading an existing sequence using the setSequence method, described above, initializes the sequencer's current position to the very beginning of the sequence. The stop method stops the sequencer, but it does not automatically rewind the current Sequence. Starting a stopped Sequence without resetting the position simply resumes playback of the sequence from the current position. In this case, the stop method has served as a pause operation. However, there are various Sequencer methods for setting the current sequence position to an arbitrary value before playback is started. (We'll discuss these methods below.)

As mentioned earlier, a Sequencer typically has one or more Transmitter objects, through which it sends MidiMessages to a Receiver. It is through these Transmitters that a Sequencer plays the Sequence, by emitting appropriately timed MidiMessages that correspond to the MidiEvents contained in the current Sequence. Therefore, part of the setup procedure for playing back a Sequence is to invoke the setReceiver method on the Sequencer's Transmitter object, in effect wiring its output to the device that will make use of the played-back data. For more details on Transmitters and Receivers, refer back to Transmitting and Receiving MIDI Messages.

Recording and Saving Sequences

To capture MIDI data to a Sequence, and subsequently to a file, you need to perform some additional steps beyond those described above. The following outline shows the steps necessary to set up for recording to a Track in a Sequence:

  1. Use MidiSystem.getSequencer to get a new sequencer to use for recording, as above.

  2. Set up the "wiring" of the MIDI connections. The object that is transmitting the MIDI data to be recorded should be configured, through its setReceiver method, to send data to a Receiver associated with the recording Sequencer.

  3. Create a new Sequence object, which will store the recorded data. When you create the Sequence object, you must specify the global timing information for the sequence. For example:
          Sequence mySeq;
              mySeq = new Sequence(Sequence.PPQ, 10);
          } catch (Exception ex) { 
    The constructor for Sequence takes as arguments a divisionType and a timing resolution. The divisionType argument specifies the units of the resolution argument. In this case, we've specified that the timing resolution of the Sequence we're creating will be 10 pulses per quarter note. An additional optional argument to the Sequence constructor is a number of tracks argument, which would cause the initial sequence to begin with the specified number of (initially empty) Tracks. Otherwise the Sequence will be created with no initial Tracks; they can be added later as needed.

  4. Create an empty Track in the Sequence, with Sequence.createTrack. This step is unnecessary if the Sequence was created with initial Tracks.

  5. Using Sequencer.setSequence, select our new Sequence to receive the recording. The setSequence method ties together an existing Sequence with the Sequencer, which is somewhat analogous to loading a tape onto a tape recorder.

  6. Invoke Sequencer.recordEnable for each Track to be recorded. If necessary, get a reference to the available Tracks in the Sequence by invoking Sequence.getTracks.

  7. Invoke startRecording on the Sequencer.

  8. When done recording, invoke Sequencer.stop or Sequencer.stopRecording.

  9. Save the recorded Sequence to a MIDI file with MidiSystem.write. The write method of MidiSystem takes a Sequence as one of its arguments, and will write that Sequence to a stream or file.

Editing a Sequence

Many application programs allow a sequence to be created by loading it from a file, and quite a few also allow a sequence to be created by capturing it from live MIDI input (that is, recording). Some programs, however, will need to create MIDI sequences from scratch, whether programmatically or in response to user input. Full-featured sequencer programs permit the user to manually construct new sequences, as well as to edit existing ones.

These data-editing operations are achieved in the Java Sound API not by Sequencer methods, but by methods of the data objects themselves: Sequence, Track, and MidiEvent. You can create an empty sequence using one of the Sequence constructors, and then add tracks to it by invoking the following Sequence method:

    Track createTrack() 

If your program allows the user to edit sequences, you'll need this Sequence method to remove tracks:
    boolean deleteTrack(Track track) 

Once the sequence contains tracks, you can modify the contents of the tracks by invoking methods of the Track class. The MidiEvents contained in the Track are stored as a java.util.Vector in the Track object, and Track provides a set of methods for accessing, adding, and removing the events in the list. The methods add and remove are fairly self-explanatory, adding or removing a specified MidiEvent from a Track. A get method is provided, which takes an index into the Track's event list and returns the MidiEvent stored there. In addition, there are size and tick methods, which respectively return the number of MidiEvents in the track, and the track's duration, expressed as a total number of Ticks.

To create a new event before adding it to the track, you'll of course use the MidiEvent constructor. To specify or modify the MIDI message embedded in the event, you can invoke the setMessage method of the appropriate MidiMessage subclass (ShortMessage, SysexMessage, or MetaMessage). To modify the time that the event should occur, invoke MidiEvent.setTick.

In combination, these low-level methods provide the basis for the editing functionality needed by a full-featured sequencer program.

Previous page: Introduction to Sequencers
Next page: Using Advanced Sequencer Features
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