Generating MIDI events with JACK and Python

I had a go at trying to figure out how to generate arbitrary MIDI events and send them out over a JACK MIDI channel.

Setting up JACK and Pipewire

Pipewire has a JACK interface, which in theory means one could use JACK clients out of the box without extra setup.

In practice, one need to tell JACK clients which set of libraries to use to communicate to servers, and Pipewire's JACK server is not the default choice.

To tell JACK clients to use Pipewire's server, you can either:

Programming with JACK

Python has a JACK client library that worked flawlessly for me so far.

Everything with JACK is designed around minimizing latency. Everything happens around a callback that gets called form a separate thread, and which gets a buffer to fill with events.

All the heavy processing needs to happen outside the callback, and the callback is only there to do the minimal amount of work needed to shovel the data your application produced into JACK channels.

Generating MIDI messages

The Mido library can be used to parse and create MIDI messages and it also worked flawlessly for me so far.

One needs to study a bit what kind of MIDI message one needs to generate (like "note on", "note off", "program change") and what arguments they get.

It also helps to read about the General MIDI standard which defines mappings between well-known instruments and channels and instrument numbers in MIDI messages.

A timed message queue

To keep a queue of events that happen over time, I implemented a Delta List that indexes events by their future frame number.

I called the humble container for my audio experiments pyeep and here's my delta list implementation.

A JACK player

The simple JACK MIDI player backend is also in pyeep.

It needs to protect the delta list with a mutex since we are working across thread boundaries, but it tries to do as little work under lock as possible, to minimize the risk of locking the realtime thread for too long.

The play method converts delays in seconds to frame counts, and the on_process callback moves events from the queue to the jack output.

Here's an example script that plays a simple drum pattern:


# Example JACK midi event generator
# Play a drum pattern over JACK

import time

from pyeep.jackmidi import MidiPlayer

# See:


with MidiPlayer("pyeep drums") as player:
    beat: int = 0
    while True:"note_on", velocity=64, note=35, channel=DRUM_CHANNEL)"note_off", note=38, channel=DRUM_CHANNEL, delay_sec=0.5)
        if beat == 0:
  "note_on", velocity=100, note=38, channel=DRUM_CHANNEL)
  "note_off", note=36, channel=DRUM_CHANNEL, delay_sec=0.3)
        if beat + 1 == 2:
  "note_on", velocity=100, note=42, channel=DRUM_CHANNEL)
  "note_off", note=42, channel=DRUM_CHANNEL, delay_sec=0.3)

        beat = (beat + 1) % 4

Running the example

I ran the jack_drums script, and of course not much happened.

First I needed a MIDI synthesizer. I installed fluidsynth, and ran it on the command line with no arguments. it registered with JACK, ready to do its thing.

Then I connected things together. I used qjackctl, opened the graph view, and connected the MIDI output of "pyeep drums" to the "FLUID Synth input port".

fluidsynth's output was already automatically connected to the audio card and I started hearing the drums playing! 🥁️🎉️