Most of the home musicians have MIDI keyboard controller in their home studios. But what actually is a MIDI keyboard controller? Can you make music without it? If you decide to get one, what kind of MIDI keyboard you should get and how much will it cost? Hopefully this article will answer to some of your questions.
So what is a MIDI keyboard controller?
It’s a piano-style keyboard which you attach to your computer – usually via USB cable. Most MIDI keyboards doesn’t make any sound on their own. They just send a MIDI data to your music making software. The actual sound is generated inside your computer by right kind of software like virtual instruments (VSTi) in your music making software.
So basically if you have, lets say some virtual piano VSTi installed in your computer, you can use your MIDI keyboard controller to play it in realtime like you would play a real piano. Only difference is that the sound is generated by a software and you control it via your MIDI keyboard controller.
Most of the regular keyboards and hardware synthesizers can work like a MIDI keyboard controller as well. I have Casio CK-3800 keyboards which I use when I train with my band and it has an option to connect it to computer so I can use it like a MIDI keyboard controller.
Many MIDI keyboard controllers have also additional knobs and sliders wich can be programmed to control a different parameters of your virtual instruments. For example, if you have a volume slider in your virtual synth and you want to control it in real time while you play, you route it to one of your sliders or knobs in your MIDI keyb and voila: you can tweak your synth it in real time. Almost like a real hardware synth. Very cool.
However, many beginners may wonder is it a must have device in home studio.
Can you make music without MIDI keyboard controller?
When I started to make music, I didn’t have anykind of MIDI keyboard controller. Just my computer keyboard, mouse and music software. And with that setup I created “Primo Lux – Turnpoint” which went to top positions in dutch dance charts, and many other songs as well. Most of the DAWs have a somekind of note view (often called as piano roll) where you can place the notes one by one via mouse. Also, many DAWs – like FL Studio for example – have a built-in option to use your regular computer typing keyboard like a virtual piano keyboard. So if you set it on, your computer keyboard Q equals to note C, W is D and so forth, so you can play melodies via it. I used to use this feature a lot before I got my first MIDI keyboard.
With that said, MIDI keyboard controller isn’t necessity for making music with computer. However, hitting a real keyboard gives a whole different feel when you compose music. Playing melodies and basslines live with MIDI keyboard gives more that “human touch” than programming them with mouse and computer keyboard. Also, in time, you’ll most likely learn to play a little. And if you have this skill already, then I would say MIDI keyboard controller is a must for you if you decide to start making music with computer.
But what kind of MIDI keyboard controller you should get and how much do they cost?
It all depends what kind of options you want: how many keys? 25? 49? 61? 88? Do you want the keyws to be weighted (like in real piano), semi weighted or unweighted? How many programmable knobs / buttons / sliders? Do you need aftertouch, etc etc. I make electronic music and I have M-Audio Oxygen 61. It has 61 unweighted keys, 8 knobs, 9 sliders and handful of buttons. It suits perfectly for my electronic music making needs.
What about the price?
Anywhere from $80 to $700 or more. It all depends of the quality and features.
Speaking on my own experience, MIDI keyboard is a great way to get connected with your music making software. And even though you CAN make good music without it, it will definetely give a whole new touch for your music making experience. And your home studio looks more professional and cool 🙂
For more definitive guide to MIDI keyboards, check out the Tweakheads guide.