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MIDI Keyboard or MIDI Controller?

4 min read
MIDI Keyboard or MIDI Controller?

Because of the improved functionality within the home recording studio, midi keyboards have become widely used by electronic musicians, live performers, compositional producers, and hobbyists of all levels. Keyboards provide hands on control over virtual instruments and synthesizers. Keyboards can serve a number of modern recording or performance purposes. They can be used to program sounds, trigger notes, transmit musical data, or create a customized arrangement of samples-onto assigned keys for playback.

In This Article You Will Learn:

  • The difference between a MIDI keyboard and MIDI keyboard controller
  • What to look for in a MIDI Controller
  • How to choose one that is right you
  • What a midi keyboard workstation is
  • Connection options with a computer based DAW

Midi Keyboards and Midi Keyboard Controllers

Midi keyboard controllers communicate with music/DAW software applications through MIDI. (Midi is a standard computer language used for storing performance data into memory for triggering the playback of synthesizers and digital audio. See our Audio and Midi section to learn more.)
Midi controllers can only transmit midi data.

Midi keyboards send notes and/or midi information to a digital recorder, monitors, speakers, or to another compatible device. Musical information is stored into memory, and directs the way a synthesizer or sampler will play back musical notes. Midi keyboards emit sounds from a synthesizer or patch bank, from a sound-generating module within the keyboard. Midi keyboards can transmit midi data and sounds simultaneously.

The Midi Keyboard Controller is the most affordable route within a computer-based recording environment. (Given you have a PC or laptop) A keyboard controller contains no sounds. A controller can have up to 88 hardware keys, (and may have buttons and faders) used to play Virtual Instruments. The controller tells music software what notes to play, when and how to play them, and the velocity for each note you play.

With a library of compatible sounds, samples, and virtual instruments, any instrument you want to play will be triggered from the keyboard controller. Compositional and arrangement options are limited only by the neglect to explore these possibilities. You now have a virtual symphony, jazz ensemble, rock band, and more at your fingertips. You can play/record tracks using all the instruments and very easily correct timing errors, alter pitch, change instruments, and more.

Just as the keys of your keyboard controller send informational data, the rotary knobs, faders, scrolling wheels, and other extras you find on your keyboard – are capable of the same kind of thing. These can be programmed for controlling track volume, panning, automation, and other parts of your music recording/DAW software using the midi protocol. This is an affordable option that gives you hands on access to different parameters that would otherwise require control by a computers’ mouse.

What to make sure a midi keyboard has before being sold on those shiny extras?

  • Polyphony: Allows you to play more than one note at a time.
  • Velocity: Allows you to play the keys softer or louder for more expression.
  • After-touch: Can sustain and slowly release a note, imitating the realism of a live instrument.

Decide what more important, weighted or synthesizer action keys?

Weighted keys feel more like playing on an acoustic piano.
Synthesizer action keys allow you to play the keys faster in repetition, which is helpful for drum programming and similar, but feel like playing plastic keys. There is also semi- weighted which is a compromise to both.
Keyboards come in 88, 76, 61, 49, 37, 25,

Note: If opting for weighted, I would recommend at least 61 keys.

The Keyboard Workstation

The Keyboard Workstation is a midi keyboard that includes its own sequencer, arpeggiators, sound module and patches. This allows you to play, record, edit, and mix-down to a stereo master recording of your song or album from within the keyboard. It is more expensive than a simple midi keyboard controller but offers significantly more options to do it all on the board or use it creatively inside your digital audio workstation. The keyboard workstation generally implies an all-inclusive-package for digital music recording and post production.

Connecting Your Keyboard to Your Computer Based DAW

There are basically 4 ways to connect a midi keyboard to your computer.

USB: Midi controllers can be connected directly to your PC via USB.

Midi Interface: A MIDI Interface uses Midi Cables, and allows as many ports as you want to buy. This will give you the desired amount of channels for recording.

Firewire: You can also connect to your digital audio workstation via Fire-Wire. Given fire-wire connection ports to your computer and interface, you can connect with the appropriate fire-wire cable.

Audio Output: Using an audio output from a your midi keyboard (which has a sound module) and sending that signal into your DAW.

There are many features that manufacturers use to promote their product in this competitive industry; and can be great deals. With a blinding array of flashing lights and product promotion strategies, do not overlook their most essential function… How it feels and plays.

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