Do you need a MIDI keyboard for producing music? (2023)

Do you need a MIDI keyboard for producing music? (1)

Getting started with making electronic music can be expensive and you may ask yourself whether you actually need a MIDI keyboard to make electronic music at home.

I want to get straight to the point and say that a MIDI keyboard is not essential for producing music, but there are a number of reasons why it is great…as well as a few alternatives you may want to consider!

For those of you very new to music production, a MIDI keyboard is generally a keyboard that you can plug into a computer or synth. It won’t make any noises by itself – unlike electric pianos – but it has a huge amount of versatility because it can control anything in a computer.

READ MORE: How to become a power user of your favourite DAW

MIDI keyboards send MIDI messages to the computer which can control pretty much any software instrument (or VST). Whether you have loaded a piano instrument or a dubstep synth, or even an orchestral ensemble, it can be controlled via your MIDI keyboard.

Alongside notes, they can also send other control signals such as faders and playback controls. As you’ll see further down, these can come at a premium, but not a drastic one.

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While all good music software allows you to draw in the notes you need with a mouse, having a MIDI keyboard allows you to perform the melodies into the computer and record the grooves more naturally. When playing on a keyboard, you are jamming or performing ideas in real time.

Compare that to inputting the notes manually with a mouse, you can’t do it as the song is playing, so have much less of a feel for the music.

Do you need to know how to play piano to produce music?

No. In fact, almost all of the producers I know aren’t trained pianists. What you will find is that as you produce more and more, you do get better at playing the piano. That is, of course, provided you have been using a MIDI keyboard to record your melodies.

I am by no means any good at piano, but having spent so much of my spare time making music, I am able to play and compose things more or less on the fly with my keyboard. I can’t do anything too technical, but I can lay down the chords needed with not too much trouble.

What you will get good at (quickly) is chords and simple melodies. It is then on to you to determine how much you want to learn. Many producers go their whole lives being unable to perform back their songs on a keyboard, because the computer assistance is so great it means they can get by with minimal skill. (I’m not saying producers aren’t skilled – you still need to be musically talented – you just don’t have to be a proficient pianist to make great songs)

What MIDI keyboard should I get for music production?

I’m going to be really budget friendly with this section, because I know what it was like getting into music little money to waste on frivolities.

Basically, any MIDI keyboard that connects via USB will be best for most producers. There are a few things to consider such as size and the number of keys, and after that, you are just looking at nice-to-haves which will be a case of balancing your budget.

(Video) Do I Need A Midi Keyboard in music production?

– Mini & Budget

If you aren’t too fussed about the “legitimate” piano experience, you may be good for a “mini” keyboard. These are cheap and compact and have small keys, but they are more than enough to record in the melodies and jam out ideas.

They generally only have a few octaves at most, so don’t expect to play two-handed. But this is good because it keeps size down.

Generally these come with “no frills” but some also have additional knobs or pads to add extra control.

– Normal-sized & Budget

These keyboards generally have 49 keys or more and use the standard key size. Because they are larger units, they are generally more expensive, but have more room for extra controls and even screens.

This is probably the best place to start if you are planning on setting up a space in your house/room for music production. The keyboards aren’t very portable and take up space on the desk, which is something worth considering if you are in a small room.

Generally you will be getting a unit for under £100 and maybe a few nice-to-haves such as pads or knobs, but it will be a simple, basic controller. You may also get some software bundled with some models, which is a very big plus when deciding on what product to buy.

– The Nice-to-haves models

These models are generally a bit more expensive and have a large range of extras on them, from screens to plenty of extra buttons, knobs, and pads.

(Video) Making Music With MIDI | Music Production For Beginners

These are good for if you want extra DAW control and can afford it, but in my honest opinion, they don’t necessarily add much.

I have a MIDI keyboard in this “tier” and I bought it for all the faders and knobs, but I probably use them <5% of the time. If you think they are something you will make use of though, they are definitely worthwhile.

Alternatives to MIDI controllers for music production

One of the best things about making music on a computer is that you aren’t limited. There are many ways to go about the same task, none of which are right.

This is true for controllers too. The main alternative is probably pad controllers such as the Maschine and the Push.

These work with drum pads and have the benefit of being better at drum programming than a MIDI keyboard. You can also assign the pads to musical notes and ply like that.

This has its benefits for those who aren’t keen at the piano and there are many ways to set pad controllers up to lock the player in a single key signature so they’ll never play out of tune.

Pad controllers tend to be pricey, but can also come with their own software. If you are into hip-hop and minimalist electronic genres such as techno and tech house, these may be more suited to you. If you are into more complex melodic compositions, then you may prefer a keyboard controller.

(Video) How to connect HOME STUDIO Equipment

FAQs

Is MIDI keyboard necessary for music production? ›

But are MIDI keyboards and controllers necessary? Although there are still many ways to create music without a MIDI keyboard or controller they now considered a necessary tool for modern music production due to their ability to enhance creativity and improve workflow in any music studio.

Do you really need a MIDI? ›

As a general rule, it is worth having a MIDI keyboard in your home studio. Recording MIDI parts played on a keyboard is far easier than entering them in a piano roll editor or on-screen keyboard. Parts recorded from a keyboard also avoid sounding robotic, having been played by an actual human being.

Can you use normal keyboard as MIDI? ›

Though you can use your computer keyboard as a MIDI controller, this would be bad practice, as you won't be able to play naturally. You'll find that inputting and adjusting MIDI notes on a musical keyboard—as opposed to a QWERTY one—is so much more natural and intuitive.

Should I buy a MIDI keyboard or a normal keyboard? ›

Generally speaking, a MIDI keyboard is not better than a normal keyboard because they're designed for different purposes. A MIDI keyboard is a device used to control MIDI information in a studio setting, whereas a keyboard is a stand-alone instrument that's better served for live performances.

Is MIDI better than digital audio? ›

MIDI files are much more compact than digital audio files, and the size of a MIDI file is completely independent of playback quality. In general, MIDI files will be 200 to 1,000 times smaller than CD-quality digital audio files. Because MIDI files are small, they don't take up as much memory, disk space, or bandwidth.

What are the disadvantages of using MIDI? ›

Disadvantages of MIDI over digital audio: – Because MIDI data does not represent the sound but musical instruments, playback will be accurate only if the MIDI playback (instrument) is identical to the device used in the production. – Higher cost and requires skill to edit. – Cannot emulate voice, other effects.

What can I use instead of a MIDI keyboard? ›

MIDI keyboards are the standard way to play and record MIDI data, but they're not the only method, Here are 5 alternatives that can give you different results.
...
5 Alternatives To Using A MIDI Keyboard
  1. Try A MIDI Guitar. ...
  2. Use MIDI Pads. ...
  3. Generate MIDI With A Plug-In. ...
  4. Import And Edit MIDI Loops. ...
  5. Use A Touchless Controller.

Should I buy piano or MIDI? ›

If you are a pianist who isn't looking to create beats or produce music, a digital piano is what you will need. If you are someone who has an interest in producing music more so than just learning to play the piano, a MIDI controller is the pick.

What are the pros and cons of MIDI? ›

The advantage of MIDI audio files is its smaller file size, easier and quicker playback capabilities, and its better sound quality, depending on the instrument inputs. The disadvantage of MIDI is also its strength because it's just a set of instructions for software and computers.

Can I use my phone as a MIDI device? ›

With the advent of smartphones and the widespread use of 3rd party apps, we are now able to use an app to allow our phone to communicate via MIDI protocol to our DAW. This essentially turns our smartphone or Android device into a MIDI controller.

Is USB or MIDI better? ›

MIDI is a standardized system of computer protocols and electrical connectors primarily used for musical equipment, whereas USB is a universal connector for all kinds of equipment. Both are systems of interconnectivity between protocols, digital information, and hardware but USB is more versatile.

Should I use USB or MIDI? ›

A USB connection has much higher bandwidth than a DIN-MIDI connection, which means that instead of each cable having just one physical port with 16 channels, a single USB cable can support 16 virtual MIDI ports each with 16 channels, for a total of 256 MIDI channels down one cable!

What is the benefit of MIDI keyboard? ›

The biggest benefit of MIDI is that you can easily edit performances note by note, change their articulation, or even alter or replace the sound that plays them! They carry information about which parameters to change, how the system should behave or which notes to play—and how they should be played.

Is a 61 key MIDI keyboard enough? ›

61-key MIDI keyboard controllers are the sweet spot between 49 keys and 88 keys. They are big enough to play complex and interesting parts with both hands, but small enough to be portable.

Is a 49 key MIDI keyboard enough? ›

If you're looking to play piano arrangements, you'll want 61, 76 or possibly all 88 keys. The most popular size for MIDI controllers is 49 keys -- big enough to play two-handed, but not too big to fit on your studio desk.

Do musicians still use MIDI? ›

Most music is either recorded in a professional studio or performed live. However, MIDI is still used for music creation. It's a great tool for composition since it takes some of the tedium out of writing notes and playing them back to hear how they sound.

Is MIDI good for beginners? ›

If you are starting to make music, especially if you plan to do so for a living, having the best MIDI controllers for beginners is essential. A MIDI keyboard is a piece of music gear that should be in your studio. A MIDI controller might admittedly look and feel complicated.

Is MIDI still popular? ›

Today, MIDI is used all the time, both on stage during live performances and under the hood of digital audio workstations and virtual instruments.

Which is better MIDI or mp3? ›

While MP3s are limited to the original instrument that was recorded, MIDI is far more versatile. For example, a guitar recording can't be changed to a synthesizer or a violin. But a MIDI composition that was originally written for guitar could also be played on a flute or an entire woodwind orchestra.

Why do musicians use MIDI? ›

MIDI gives musicians the chance to edit performances note-by-note or entire sections of music through features like quantizing. MIDI can be used as a versatile tool for writing, recording, and performing. It gives musicians instant access to a universe of sounds they wouldn't have had access to before.

How long can you run MIDI? ›

DIN-MIDI cables theoretically have a maximum cable length of 50 feet, but many people find that going over 20-30 feet can lead to intermittent signal loss and even hanging notes!

Can I use laptop keyboard as MIDI controller? ›

All you need is for your keyboard to have a MIDI OUT port to use it as a MIDI controller.

How can I get a free MIDI keyboard? ›

What Is The Best Free MIDI Keyboard Software In 2022?
  1. GarageBand by Apple (Our Pick For Apple users)
  2. BandLab CakeWalk (Our Pick For PC users)
  3. MidiEditor.
  4. Pianu.com.
  5. Perfect Piano.
  6. Piano Time.

Is it hard to learn MIDI keyboard? ›

You can learn very easily on a midi keyboard. The experience will be different than using a piano, but that's neither good or bad. I'd suggest a keyboard with full size, preferably weighted, keys, no less than 61 keys ... more is obviously better.

Do you need a laptop to use a MIDI? ›

As a result, there are plenty of people who wish to utilize their MIDI keyboard without the hassle of booting up their computer. So, do you need a computer to use a MIDI keyboard? No, a personal computer is not a necessity for playing and practising on a MIDI keyboard.

Can I use my voice as a MIDI controller? ›

Turn your voice into MIDI, instantly.

Dubler 2 transforms your voice into a real-time MIDI controller, allowing you to write music at the speed of thought. If you can sing it, beatbox it, hum it, or whistle it— now you can play it.

Can I use my iPhone as a MIDI keyboard? ›

MidiController turns your iPhone/iPad into a complete MIDI controller, that works over USB, WLAN or Bluetooth. No additional software needed! Send all possible Notes, Continuous Controller / Control Change and Program Change values to the connected device.

Is there a MIDI app? ›

Midi Commander is an app we think should be an essential for any Android based musician. Turn your Android device into customisable MIDI controller.

Is Bluetooth MIDI good? ›

It handles a few megabits per seconds easily. That is why it is easy to say that MIDI over Bluetooth is capable of offering a professional low latency solution for musicians and producers. Both on stage and in the studio. It is even more easy to say this as a manufacturer.

Is audio better through USB? ›

USB headsets bypass your computer's sound card and use their own sound processing system, for better sound quality than 3.5mm headsets. USB headsets benefit from digital-to-analog processing outside of the computer.

Why do producers have so many keyboards? ›

To get different sounds - simple! They may also gig some of the songs. It's normal for a pro keyboard player to play 2 different keyboards at once.

Should a beginner get a 61 or 88 key keyboard? ›

For a beginner, 66 keys are sufficient for learning to play, and you can play most music on a 72-key instrument. For anyone interested in playing classical piano, however, a full 88 keys are recommended, especially if you plan on one day playing a traditional piano. Many keyboards have fewer than 66 keys.

What's the difference between 88 key and 61? ›

One of the many choices you'll be confronted with is key, or note, configuration. A full-size keyboard has 88 keys, but 76- and 61-note keyboards are popular. They have the same notes as an 88-key keyboard, just a shorter range (five octaves instead of seven with 88 keys.

Can you play alot of songs with a 61 key keyboard? ›

For most modern styles of music such as pop, rock, folk, etc. a keyboard/digital piano with 61 keys should be enough most of the time. Since the majority of the contemporary songs do not use more than 5 octaves, it should get you covered.

Is a 60% keyboard useful? ›

Even for gamers, getting a 60% keyboard can be highly beneficial. You'll instantly get a lot more mouse real estate, which lets you work with more muscle memory and lower sensitivities. There are only a few games that use the numpad these days, and most games let you rebind keys anyway.

How many keys does a 75% need? ›

You may be familiar with the 75% keyboard because most laptops come with a 75% keyboard. The 84 keys layout streamlined the function keys, but kept the commonly used directional keys and F keys.

Why is the number 128 important to MIDI? ›

Because data bytes define which note is played, and the velocity at which it is played, there are 128 possible MIDI notes – more than a piano – and 127 possible key velocities (0 velocity is a special case). Change each number in a MIDI command and a different musical result occurs.

Is MIDI keyboard necessary for FL Studio? ›

Yes, you can use FL Studio several ways without a keyboard, including using the pencil, paint brush and stamp tools to create notes and chords in the piano roll, as well as utilizing your computer keyboard to substitute as a midi keyboard.

Do you need a MIDI for a DAW? ›

Don't have a MIDI controller but still want to do MIDI programming on your DAW? Perhaps you don't have the budget to buy a MIDI controller yet or saving up for a better one. Well, it's still possible to make music with MIDI without a MIDI controller. DJs like Skrillex does not need any MIDI controller to compose music.

Is a MIDI keyboard better than a piano? ›

If you are a pianist who isn't looking to create beats or produce music, a digital piano is what you will need. If you are someone who has an interest in producing music more so than just learning to play the piano, a MIDI controller is the pick.

Can I use phone as MIDI? ›

With the advent of smartphones and the widespread use of 3rd party apps, we are now able to use an app to allow our phone to communicate via MIDI protocol to our DAW. This essentially turns our smartphone or Android device into a MIDI controller.

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