Ultimate Guide: MIDI Keyboard Usage and Tips
I have compiled information on how to use and connect a MIDI keyboard, along with tips for choosing the right one, specifically tailored for beginners.
What exactly is a MIDI keyboard?
A MIDI keyboard is a hardware device that sends MIDI signals to software on a computer, such as a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), allowing you to play and produce sounds. It typically has a keyboard layout with both black and white keys, resembling a traditional piano, making it easy for piano players to operate.
In recent times, despite the name “MIDI keyboard,” many models now use USB cables instead of MIDI cables to connect to a computer. This allows MIDI signals to be transmitted without the need for separate MIDI cables or audio interfaces, as long as the MIDI keyboard supports USB connectivity.
The strengths of MIDI keyboards
The strength of MIDI keyboards lies in their ability to play sound sources in a manner similar to playing a keyboard, which proves advantageous when composing music using software like DAWs. Instead of repeatedly clicking the mouse to trigger sounds, MIDI keyboards allow you to play the keys intuitively. This intuitive approach enhances the music composition process and significantly reduces the workload associated with tasks like note creation.
Moreover, while inputting data, MIDI keyboards allow you to check the sound as you strike the keys, preventing input errors, making them even more appealing.
- Versatility: MIDI keyboards offer a wide range of sounds and instrument possibilities, making them suitable for various music genres and styles.
- Expressive Playing: With velocity-sensitive keys, MIDI keyboards allow musicians to add dynamics and emotion to their performances, enhancing the overall musical expression.
- Seamless Integration: MIDI keyboards seamlessly integrate with music production software, enabling efficient and creative music composition and production processes.
- Real-Time Control: MIDI keyboards allow for real-time control of virtual instruments and effects, giving musicians greater flexibility in shaping their sound.
- Compact and Portable: Many MIDI keyboards are compact and lightweight, making them easy to transport and ideal for on-the-go music production and performances.
Weaknesses of MIDI keyboards
The downside of MIDI keyboards is that they require connection to composition software like DAWs to produce sound. Unlike synthesizers or digital pianos, MIDI keyboards typically cannot produce sound on their own. They act as devices that send signals to generate sound, rather than instruments that produce sound directly. Therefore, when purchasing a MIDI keyboard, it’s essential to pay close attention to whether it meets your intended functionalities.
To use a MIDI keyboard, you will need composition software like DAWs.
Using a MIDI keyboard requires DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software. There are many DAW software options available, and it can be overwhelming for beginners to decide which one to use.
Some MIDI keyboards come with bundled DAW software, which can be a great option, especially for those on a budget. Choosing a MIDI keyboard with included DAW allows you to have the software readily available alongside the hardware.
Remember to consider your needs and budget when selecting a MIDI keyboard and DAW combination. This way, you can find the perfect setup that suits your music production requirements.
Here are some things you can do with a MIDI keyboard
MIDI keyboards are not limited to piano or keyboard-like instruments. With the ability to assign different sound sources to the keys, you can play a wide range of instruments, including drums, strings, brass, and more, all from the same MIDI keyboard.
Furthermore, MIDI keyboards equipped with knobs and sliders provide enhanced control over DAW parameters without relying on a mouse. This allows for precise and real-time adjustments of volume, effects, modulation, and other settings during music production.
MIDI keyboards offer incredible versatility and convenience, making them a powerful tool for musicians and producers to explore and express their creativity across various genres and styles.
How to Choose a MIDI Keyboard
MIDI keyboards with more keys are recommended for those who want a more robust playing experience.
If you are skilled at playing piano or keyboard instruments and want to accurately reflect your keyboard performance in DTM (Desktop Music) production, opting for a MIDI keyboard with a larger number of keys is advisable. By choosing a MIDI keyboard with a solid key feel, you can operate it with a piano-like touch.
88-Key MIDI Keyboard
The 88-key MIDI keyboard is recommended for those with a flexible budget and sufficient space for installation. With a full 88 keys, it allows for both hands to play comfortably and is equivalent to the range of a grand piano or upright piano. If you are already accustomed to playing the piano regularly, a MIDI keyboard with more keys is a great choice.
61-Key MIDI Keyboard
For those who lack the space to accommodate an 88-key MIDI keyboard but still desire a solid two-handed playing experience, the 61-key model is recommended. While it has fewer keys than the 88-key version, it covers up to 5 octaves, providing sufficient range for most compositional needs. If you have limited space and seek stress-free MIDI keyboard playing, opting for a model with 61 keys or more would be ideal.
Compact MIDI keyboards are recommended for those who prefer inputting notes efficiently
If you have limited space for installing a large keyboard and are more focused on efficient note input rather than keyboard performance, models with 49 keys or 32 keys are recommended. Choosing a model with trigger pads allows for intuitive drum and percussion performance.
49-Key MIDI Keyboard
The 49-key MIDI keyboard strikes a good balance between playability and size. It is ideal for users who want to set it up on their computer desk for efficient DTM (Desktop Music) work. While it has fewer keys than the 88-key and 61-key versions, many models are reasonably sized. If you require an even more compact model, options with 32 keys or less are also available.
32-Key MIDI Keyboard
For those who want to focus on intensive note input, the 32-key MIDI keyboard is recommended. While it offers half the range of notes compared to the 49-key version, you can still change the octaves using software, making it suitable for users with limited workspace. Though it may feel slightly smaller when operated as if playing the keyboard, it comfortably fits on a limited workspace, allowing for efficient work even in such spaces.
Simple MIDI keyboards are recommended for those who need frequent portability, such as for live performances.
In addition to compact MIDI keyboards, there are even smaller models available. For users with limited installation space or who prioritize portability, models with fewer keys, such as 25 keys, are recommended.
25-Key MIDI Keyboard
The 25-key MIDI keyboard features a straightforward design with minimal functions, making it ideal for users who frequently need to carry it around for live performances or outdoor use. Its simplicity reduces the risk of damage from impacts during transportation, making it an appealing option.
Many of these keyboards are around 16cm in length, making them highly portable and allowing for more space on your workspace.
Choosing a model with knobs and faders can enhance its performance capabilities during live performances.
Other Considerations When Choosing a MIDI Keyboard
Choosing Based on Connection Method with the Computer
A MIDI keyboard that connects via a USB cable
The most common method of connecting MIDI keyboards to computers is through a USB cable. Many models adopt the bus-powered approach, drawing power from the connected computer or device, eliminating the need for the MIDI keyboard’s separate charging.
Bluetooth Connectivity for MIDI Keyboards
Some MIDI keyboards offer wireless connectivity through Bluetooth. This option is recommended for individuals who dislike tangled wires around their computer desk during DTM (Desktop Music) work and prefer a clean and organized environment for music composition. Additionally, the absence of the need for a separate Lightning adapter allows for smooth music production on devices like iPhones or iPads.
Choosing Based on MIDI Keyboard Features and Performance
MIDI keyboards come with various features, including pads, faders, ribbon controllers, knobs, and more. Many models even allow you to adjust volume, scales, and sound types directly from the MIDI keyboard. For those seeking a more specialized experience, high-spec and multifunctional models are recommended.
Selecting Based on MIDI Keyboard Playing Comfort
The playing comfort of a MIDI keyboard is an essential consideration. Opting for a model with properly balanced key proportions is crucial, as choosing one with too few keys or an inadequate keyboard layout may lead to a cramped and uncomfortable playing experience. Additionally, models with keys that respond similarly to an acoustic piano, providing a satisfying key sinkage when played, offer an enjoyable playing experience akin to playing an actual piano.
Choosing Based on Included Software:
Some MIDI keyboards come with bundled software, such as DAWs, software synthesizers, or even dedicated apps for iPhones and iPads. For those considering starting with DTM, it’s recommended to select a MIDI keyboard that includes relevant software. This way, you can obtain the necessary software simultaneously and avoid additional costs.
Choosing Based on MIDI Keyboard Brands (Manufacturers)
Based in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, Roland is an electronic instrument manufacturer known for producing MIDI keyboards, synths, electronic pianos, rhythm machines, electronic drums, and more. They also operate the “Roland Music School” and engage in various music-related ventures. Roland offers MIDI keyboards with a high number of keys, catering to users who desire the same experience as playing a grand or upright piano while utilizing MIDI input.
An American company specializing in audio equipment for DTM, M-Audio offers a wide range of MIDI keyboard variations, from simple models to those with high-functionality drum pads. Their lineup includes various models with excellent operability, and many of them feature a smaller number of keys, ideal for smooth work processes.
KORG is the manufacturer that developed the first synthesizer in Japan. They are loved by musicians worldwide for producing products with excellent sound quality and functionality. KORG offers a unique, compact model called “NANOKEY2” alongside their regular MIDI keyboards, providing a balance of style and practicality. With a diverse product lineup, users can find the model that best suits their preferences.
4. Native Instruments:
Established in Berlin, Germany, in 1996, Native Instruments aims to democratize real-time sound synthesis technology for general computers. They offer software synthesizers, audio interfaces, PCDJs, and dedicated controllers for music production. Their KOMPLETE KONTROL keyboard controllers incorporate high-quality semi-weighted keyboards and powerful Smart Play functions, allowing intuitive integration with various DAWs.
Known for their legendary MPC series sampler/controllers, Akai has been involved in creating drum machines since the 1980s. Designed with the concept of “easy drum input,” their MPC models have been a significant source of inspiration for house/hip-hop producers due to their unique operability. The knowledge and expertise from their MPC line are condensed into their compact MIDI controllers and keyboards, making them recommended choices for DTM users.
The strengths of MIDI keyboards lie in their ability to play sound sources by simply pressing the keys, mimicking the experience of playing a physical instrument. This intuitive approach allows for efficient music composition and significantly reduces the workload associated with creating musical notes. However, one of the drawbacks is that they require connection to composition software like a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) to produce sound.
For those looking for a comprehensive playing experience, MIDI keyboards with a greater number of keys are recommended. If you prefer a compact design and want to focus on digital composition (“inputting” music), MIDI keyboards with fewer keys are more suitable. Additionally, for those seeking portability for live performances or frequent traveling, simpler MIDI keyboards with easy setup and lightweight design are ideal. MIDI keyboards commonly connect via USB cables, although some models offer Bluetooth connectivity as well. When choosing a MIDI keyboard, it is advisable to consider factors such as its features, performance, playing comfort, bundled software, and reputable brands (manufacturers).