Is MIDI Keyboard Controller Required To Make Music With Computer?

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midi keyboard controller

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.

(Remember to check out my other tutorial articles as well, such as “How To Make Electronic Music With Computer” and “Trance Song Structure“).

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.

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About Author

Petri Suhonen is an electronic music hobbyist. He has been producing music with computers over a decade on such styles as trance, downtempo, ambient & experimental electronic using FL Studio.

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44 Comments on "Is MIDI Keyboard Controller Required To Make Music With Computer?"

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Ebi
Ebi
5 years 5 months ago

hi, thanks for sharing your knowledge, the structure of your article is very sweet and easy to understand: really thank you so much.

ML
5 years 4 months ago

Your website is awesome! found you in Image Line Forums. I just wanted to say I didn’t have a true midi controller for until about a month ago, and I started writing emusic about 6 years ago. Wrote alot of songs, but now that I got one, I would never go back!

Justin Rowsell
5 years 2 months ago

Great article! Found it after reading your DAW article. I agree with everything you say, especially the “human touch’ aspect of a MIDI keyboard. Personally I have an Axiom 25 and I love it! Regards.

Javier
Javier
5 years 2 months ago

Hi Petri,

Thanks for sharing this article. I am about to buy a keyboard but don’t have any idea of which one I must buy…. so what do you think about the Axiom 61 key (2nd Gen) ? http://www.m-audio.com/products/en_us/Axiom61New.html
Is it good for Fl Studio? I read something about the *directlink but have no idea of how it works…

I really hope you can help me here… thx

P.S I don’t speak english well xd … so I apologize for that .

GreaT Website!

Greetings from Peru. 😀

M
M
5 years 1 month ago

This is likely the most helpful article on keyboard controllers i have found yet. I have a simple question that was not covered in this post. I operate with a mac (with snow leopard) and my programs are garageband and ableton. Are most midi keyboard controllers able to be used on macs and with this software?

last_name_left
last_name_left
5 years 1 month ago
Primo Lux Turnpoint – hey, not bad for a beginner! hehe. It’s very good. I’m not familiar with it, but I like it. I like the very basic early mid 90s trance stuff most – like the age of love(stella), but this is good. Is there much you would change on it if you did it now? Is there anything you really wish you could change about it? On keyboards, my own experience is that getting one makes a great deal of difference. It’s not an absolute necessity, but it’s a big deal. They can be “cheap” – below $100.… Read more »
lil_dj
lil_dj
5 years 22 hours ago

I have a question as a newbie. In regards to a midi-controller and the weighted key issue, does having weighted keys impact your ability to make good electronic music? I ask because weighted keys are really for those use to a piano who wants to play the keyboard much how you would play a piano. I can imagine with electronic music you are striking keys faster and I was wondering if this has any impact. Thanks and great article!

almark
4 years 7 months ago
Hello, nice blog on making electronic music, I’ve been writing since 1999 but officially 2000 I had a keyboard but with 2 knobs and FULL MIDI, still use it to this day, it’s a Yamaha DJX. For a while since I started the whole purely digital sound with soft synths I had this idea to make your PC keyboard your parameter control by pressing two keys left to right to move each knob in a soft synth and assign all the keys to different params and keys. I have looked the web over for it and found nothing even close,… Read more »
Daniel Sinagra
Daniel Sinagra
4 years 7 months ago

Do i need to buy a MIDI interface to have a MIDI keyboard?

Evan Cooper
Evan Cooper
4 years 6 months ago

Hey Petri I have so many questions I’d like to ask. First, if i get the oxygen 61 would I need the drum pads? Like I was looking at midi pads like the trigger finger. Would having both be okay?

Luka M
Luka M
4 years 5 months ago

Petri please can you help me, i have Oxygen 49 3rd but i don’t know how to get ” DirectLink ” for Fl studio. Do you have any idea please? I was searching everywhere but i can’t find it even on http://www.m-audio.com!

Nichlas Hendriksen
Nichlas Hendriksen
4 years 5 months ago

Hi There!

I really like your webpage, it’s a big help! I took your advise and bought myself a M-Audio Oxygen49 MIDI-keyboard and it’s really great! But now i have looked after tons of tutorials on the net, and i can’t figure out how to enable/attach all the sliders/knobs/controllers into FL Studio 10 and all of the plugins/VST’s .. Any idea how to easy set them up? I tried to right click a function and then choose “Link to controller” and select a port number. But nothing helps? 🙁

Greetings from Denmark!

niGeLL
niGeLL
4 years 5 months ago

Hey man just found your site, great info! I agree that you don’t NEED a midi keyboard to make music, but at the price you can get one I don’t really see why not. A midi keyboard makes music production a lot more fun, and also easier since you can test out melodies a lot faster that by making them in the piano roll. I myself have been very satisfied with the M-Audio Oxygen 49, you can find my review of it at http://midi-controller-reviews.com/m-audio-oxygen-49-review/

Thanks again, will be checking your site regularily.

Gaurav
Gaurav
4 years 5 months ago

hey.. im an upcoming dj from Mumbai, India.. thank you so much for imparting your knowledge.. i have been looking for guidance regarding poduction from other djs here and i must say none of them seem to want to help out budding dj’s.. hence your article is a godsend ! thanks again.. btw checking out ur track.. classic trance tune 😉

Nikhil
Nikhil
4 years 4 months ago

Hey man, relly love your work..Juss dropped by your youtube channel recently and a whole night passed off as i learned from a couple of your video’s. so i was just wondering if i could use my Yamaha psr-295 as a midi keyboard, As it says General Midi on the keyboard.

would be really grate full if you could help me out on this one, as it may save me the burden of buying a midi keyboard.

will await your reply.

mark
mark
4 years 4 months ago

Thank you! I want stay the midi.

arun
arun
4 years 3 months ago

Hi Petri, your website is awesome. your tutorial videos are incredible. i am new to this field, learning FL studio for last 2 months and found your website quite helpful..
thanx a lot.

Pranit Khedekar
Pranit Khedekar
3 years 4 months ago

Hi Petri Suhonen
I want To buy a midi controller…and my budget is 80$ to 100$…please suggest me…can i get it in available money…and also ive a yamaha e223 keyboard..but for conecting keyboard to computer we need usb to midi cable and its too costly,…L(

daniel garcia
daniel garcia
3 years 3 months ago
Hi Petri, I actually wanted a midi piano but since they are way too expensive and even more on my country (third world country problems) I decided to build my own midi piano and mi midi controller just like the ableton live launchpad using a micro-controller called arduino uno r3 and by simple buttons and potentiometers, it actually works (both of them) and I am going to make a video on YouTube explaining step by step the entire process of building it and installing/programming it for musicians so when I finish it I will post it around here and hopefully… Read more »
JAGS
JAGS
3 years 1 month ago
hello Petri i’ve been visiting ur website vei often since last 6 mnths n thnx for evry info n tutorials, jus coz of dat i was able to make my own track which was nearly immpossible for me unless i saw ur vids so nw the time to ask u for one more help or suggestion for midi KEYBOARD – r the knobs n faders so very usefull for fl studio or the simple unit with keybed is jus fine – plz recommend, shld i purchase alesis qx49 (http://www.alesis.com/qx49) or any other brand coz i have a limited budget n… Read more »
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