Linux MIDI: A Brief Survey, Part 2

In part two of this ever-expanding MIDI series, a look at various sequencers, from Rosegarden to seq24.

Paul Davis is well known for his Ardour and JACK projects, and he also has made significant contributions to ALSA development. Thus, it should be no surprise to learn that Paul also created one of the coolest Linux MIDI sequencers, called SoftWerk.

SoftWerk's design has been inspired by the Schaltwerk, a hardware analog sequencer built by the Doepfer company. The inspiration is evident if you compare this image with the screenshot in Figure 6. However, SoftWerk can do things quite beyond the capabilities of its hardware ancestor.

In its default configuration, SoftWerk opens with eight sequence tracks, each with 16 steps. Steps can be toggled on or off, the sequence length may be lengthened or shortened at will and additional tracks can be added. No provision for saving performances is supplied, but you can record your SoftWerk's output with the ALSA sequencer interface, or you can capture the audio output from your SoftWerk-driven synths.

Some interesting controls have been added to SoftWerk, including some handy randomization controls. MIDI note numbers may be entered into step positions manually, by way of a MIDI keyboard, or you can have SoftWerk enter random MIDI note values. Sequences can be played forward, backward, end to end or in random order.

Figure 6 demonstrates SoftWerk at work with the Crystal VSTi plugin running under the libfst system. This is another gift from Paul Davis and Torben Hohn that enables the use of VST/VSTi plugins under Linux.

Figure 6. SoftWerk, qjackctl and the Crystal VSTi Synthesizer

SoftWerk essentially is a performance-oriented sequencer, and I must say that I whiled away many hours playing around with it. You can have incredible fun with it, but remember that SoftWerk also is a capable instrument and a welcome addition to any Linux MIDI-based studio.


TiSM is Samuel Dufour-Kowalski's Temporal Information Sequencing Machine, a real-time MIDI sequencing environment based on the Tcl programming language. TiSM differs greatly from the other sequencers presented here, requiring the user to learn how to compose scripts in Tcl (an easy language for beginners) that control the sound production of a MIDI system.

Figure 7 shows off TiSM's various GUI helper panels. Despite these nice graphic displays, program operation absolutely depends on user-supplied Tcl scripts. Fortunately, some example scripts are available from the TiSM Web site (see Resources), along with a PDF document describing the basic use of the program; this document also is readable on-line.

Figure 7. TiSM 0.2.4

TiSM has by far the highest geek appeal of the sequencers presented in this article. The user needs to comprehend TiSM's design structure and the Tcl language, as well as the composition and significance of MIDI data messages. Although these demands may not be amenable to the casual MIDI musician, for those of us who want total control over the MIDI stream, TiSM is a good way to get it.

Next Time

Next time, I'll present some synthesizer editor/librarians and some other useful MIDI utilities. Until then, you can download and try out some of these sequencers. Let me know if you make any music with them, I'll be glad to point people to your efforts. And don't forget to let the developers of this software know what you like about their work and what you'd like to see in future versions. It all works better that way.








Many other MIDI applications for Linux are listed here.

Dave Phillips is a musician, teacher and writer living in Findlay, Ohio. He has been an active member of the Linux audio community since his first contact with Linux in 1995. He is the author of The Book of Linux Music & Sound, as well as numerous articles in Linux Journal.


Similis sum folio de quo ludunt venti.


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vkeybd not vkbd

Anonymous's picture

"Figure 5. seq24 0.5.3 at Play with vkbd, a Virtual Keyboard" After extensive googling, I could not find vkbd. However, the app in the screenshot appears to be vkeybd (


Alain's picture

There is another excellent piece of software that's worth mentioning. Noteedit, a score editor and midi player.


StartCom MultiMedia Edition

StartCom's picture

May I suggest a quite complete Linux OS, with many applications mentioned in this article, build-in? StartCom Linux offers a Addon CD for it's StartCom MultiMedia Edition with lots of applications which lets transform this Linux system into a productive Music Recording Studio. Installation Instructions are here and view also the related press release and screenshots.

Rosegarden authors etc

Chris Cannam's picture

A very nice article!

Just a quick note:

During the late 90s, Chris Cannam and Richard Bown decided to update Rosegarden drastically

Rosegarden has three main authors, and it's primarily the other one, Guillaume Laurent, who deserves the credit for kick-starting the drastic update.

Another couple of additions: Rosegarden also supports the JACK transport synchronisation mechanism (mentioned in connection with MusE in the article); and with the DSSI-VST bridge plugin, you can also use Windows VST effects and instruments as plugins in Rosegarden (mentioned in connection with SoftWerk in the article).

Author's reply

Anonymous's picture

Hi Chris !

Thanks for the additions, and please pass my apologies to Guillaume for my forgetfulness. RG is impressive major Linux software, you guys have all done fantastic work on it. Looking forward to 1.0 !



No problem :-)

Guillaume Laurent's picture

Can I submit a patch to the article ? :-)