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How To Use Your Keyboard as a MIDI Controller: Step By Step Guidelines

Are you in need of a MIDI controller but don’t have one? Well, don’t worry. If you have a keyboard or digital piano at home – you can make it work as a MIDI controller. Even if the keyboard is old, you can set it up to work as a MIDI with little effort.

Here, we’ll teach you how to use your keyboard as a MIDI controller. But first, we’re going over all the different things you should know first. Below, you’ll find everything you want to know and a little more. Take a look!

What Is A MIDI Controller?

If you need a MIDI controller, you probably already know what it is. But even if you know, it is never a bad idea to explain it in depth.

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. What this means in simple words,  is that a MIDI controller is a piece of hardware that will help you control audio software more creatively and quickly.

You can compare a MIDI controller to a computer mouse.

By itself, the device doesn’t have much to offer. It doesn’t produce sounds or modifies stuff when not hooked to a computer.

But when you pair it up with audio software, it provides exceptional results.

Most MIDI controllers connect to computers via USB and other wires.

Then, they automatically adapt to the audio software on the computer, helping to create and modify audio accordingly.

What is a MIDI Controller For?

Having a better idea of a MIDI controller is, you can guess what it is used for. There are many things you can do with one, such as:

Edition

The most common use for a MIDI controller is to edit songs and sounds. By connecting to audio software, they help to edit and configure different features of music as necessary.

Beginners can use them to edit old music and come up with their own edits.

Production

For more experienced users, a MIDI controller is one of the most useful devices to produce music.

Whether a home or business studio – these devices enhance the process of audio creating. They work alongside a wide array of other instruments, improving and handling the sound in unique ways.

When a MIDI controller is paired with other devices for recording, mastering, and mixing – it reduces production time, increases the depth of quality, and helps achieve higher production capacity.

Mixing

Musicians, DJs, and live performers can use MIDI controllers to modify their work in real-time.

Alongside synthesizers, instruments, software, and other recording/playing devices – a MIDI controller works as a device that mixes songs, edits music, and improves live performances.

Do MIDI Controllers Come with a Keyboard?

Yes, most MIDI controllers boast a keyboard. This keyboard is used to send data through its connection to the software.

Because it is designed to send data, the keyboard on a MIDI controller is not precisely made to produce any sound. Some models may come with a built-in sound system.

At the same time, it won’t send any data unless it is connected to another device (sequencer, VSTi, or computer).

So while MIDI controllers may have a keyboard, the purpose of this keyboard is not to produce sound by itself. So, they can be replaced easily.

Should You Use a MIDI Controller?

So, is a MIDI controller worth your time? Probably – they’re fantastic devices that offer a wide array of advantages. But at the same time, they offer a few disadvantages.

Here, we talk about both:

Advantages of Using a MIDI Controller

  • MIDI controllers are super useful at composing and sequencing. You can use a MIDI controller to resemble a piano (or any other instrument).
  • Allow sound synthetization without using software (most MIDI controller can synthesize audio alone).
  • Are available in a wide array of designs and with different features for all kinds of purposes. From faders to after-touch, pan, and much more – you can find advanced MIDI controllers extra helpful.
  • They are super-cheap, especially regular ones that don’t offer many features.

Disadvantages of Using a MIDI Controller

  • MIDI controllers can be super practical, but they often deliver only a few features. If you want a feature-rich model, you’ll have to spend a lot of money.
  • Without a computer or other similar device, a MIDI controller becomes a useless product.
  • A MIDI controller is not designed to be played once it is connected. You will need to map its keys and other buttons before you can use it.

Can You Use A Keyboard As A MIDI Controller?

Knowing why a MIDI Controller is such a helpful piece will give you an idea of why you need one. But its disadvantages may veer you away from it.

Luckily, if you need what a MIDI controller offers, but without its disadvantages, then you can always use a keyboard instead.

What does this mean? Well, you simply transform a regular digital keyboard into a MIDI controller.

For that to happen, you will need the keyboard to offer a MIDI output. Without this output, no keyboard can be transformed into a MIDI controller.

In case the keyboard doesn’t have the MIDI connection, you need a MIDI interface.

It is the piece that transforms the keyboard data into MIDI data. So your computer can translate everything the keyboard activates into MIDI-controller-like data.

In short, you can use a keyboard as a MIDI controller – but you need the right items.

Why Use a Keyboard as a MIDI Controller?

So, are you sold on the idea of using a keyboard as your MIDI controller? Then you’ll want to know the advantages it offers over a typical MIDI controller. At the same time, you’ll learn its disadvantages.

Below, you’ll find all of that in brief:

Advantages of a Keyboard as MIDI Controller

  • Keyboards offer a wide array of features to create sounds and edit audio. From volume controls to synthesizing, recording, mixing, and much more – a keyboard provides tons of functions.
  • You can create sounds without hooking it up to another device. The inbuilt sound system on most keyboards is practical enough to work as an all-instrument system.
  • The portability of a keyboard is exceptional. Even the largest model can be disassembled and assembled again in minutes.
  • A keyboard offers the chance to create music live without problems. Whether it is a live performance or merely using its inbuilt sound system, they prevent lag and make it easier to practice.

Disadvantages of a Keyboard as MIDI Controller

  • Features like faders, knobs, pads, displays, expression pedal, after-touch, and others that MIDI controllers have are not available on a keyboard. (some keyboards have some of these functions)

Want to know more about MIDI Controllers vs. Keyboards? Then take a look at this video:

How to Use Your Keyboard as a MIDI Controller: Exclusive Guidelines

Step-by-Step Guide: Transform your Keyboard into a MIDI Controller

If you’re entirely sold on the idea of transforming your keyboard into a MIDI controller – then the following guide will help you out.

01. Gather the Devices & Software

So, you want to transform your keyboard into a MIDI controller – what do you need for that? Well, here are some obvious and not-so-obvious items to gather:

  • A keyboard (if it has a MIDI output, then it will be perfect). We recommend electronic music keyboards over classical or standard ones.
  • A USB-to-MIDI adapter. It has a USB end that connects to your computer, and two or three MIDI ends (one goes directly on the MIDI output of your keyboard).
  • A computer, either PC or Mac (it should be powerful enough to run a DAW or MIDI software).
  • A DAW or MIDI software (we recommend general ones like Logic Pro X and Presonus Studio One).

It is important to remember that the higher the quality of the components, the better the performance you’ll receive. This is especially useful when it comes to the USB-to-MIDI adapter.

A cheap adapter will not only wear out faster to the point of not working anymore, but it will also provide a less reliable connection with tons of issues. These include high latencies, loss of connection, and even electrical issues between the devices.

So, for the best experience – go for quality components if possible.

02. Connect the MIDI Output

Once you’ve gathered every item on the above list, it is time to start connecting everything. Here, you should start by hooking up the adapter to the MIDI output on the keyboard. Here’s how:

  • Check the rear part of the keyboard (the opposite to where the keys are located). Look for a circular connection that says MIDI or MIDI Out/In.
  • Now, grab the end of the cable that says “MIDI In” and connect it on the port “MIDI Out” port. That’s all.

Before continuing, make entirely sure it is the right port. So check twice that it says MIDI Out or just MIDI. If it does, then you’re free to proceed.

03. Connect the PC

With the MIDI adapter already hooked to the keyboard, then you should be ready to connect the PC to the instrument. This is also a piece of cake – follow these tips:

  • Search for an available USB port on your computer. We recommend rear USB ports for the best reliability (if it is a 3.0 connection, then that’s even better).
  • Then grab the USB port on the cable that’s connected to the keyboard and hook it up with the PC or Mac.
  • This should send a signal directly to the keyboard, and a MIDI signal should turn on (this usually looks like a small light on the keyboard control deck).
  • In some cases, you will need to wait for the computer to install the keyboard/MIDI driver automatically. If nothing happens when you do this, there’s a chance the keyboard comes with its own driver – install it as necessary. This should recognize the keyboard on the computer.
  • In case nothing happens even after you install the driver manually, then there’s a chance the USB-to-MIDI adapter is faulty. Try with another keyboard (if possible) to test it. Or else, just get a new cable.

This is usually fast (not more than 5 minutes), but in some cases, the process may last longer. Be patient if it extends.

04. Install the DAW Software

After connecting the keyboard to the computer and getting the MIDI signal that everything works well – then you’re ready to install the DAW or MIDI software.

This is what you will use to get the data from the keyboard and produce, mix, or simply edit music as necessary. Follow these tips:

  • If you have a CD or executable for your preferable DAW software, then this is the time to install it. Make sure to finish the whole installation before using the keyboard at all.
  • Once the DAW is installed, launch it. The software should automatically detect the keyboard as a MIDI input or device. If not, you will have to configure it accordingly (read the DAW manual). Otherwise, just reconnect and reinstall the keyboard driver if necessary.

After setting up the DAW software and configuring the keyboard as the MIDI input, then you are ready to test it.

05. Test the Keyboard as MIDI

Open the DAW software, and try starting a new project or sound-mixing feature – this should let you test the keyboard accordingly.

  • Start pressing keys on the instrument. The DAW should detect the keys and respond to each one with a sound and/or data.
  • Check the different features, sounds, and options on the DAW and make sure everything works neatly with the keyboard.

Once you’ve checked that the keyboard works well with the DAW, then you can say you’ve successfully installed a keyboard as a MIDI controller on your computer.

Here’s a briefer and helpful guide to follow:

Conclusion

So, did you learn how to use your keyboard as a MIDI controller? As you can see, it is not rocket science – but it still takes some time and effort.

If you’re eager to learn how a keyboard can be used as a MIDI controller, then don’t hesitate and follow this guide. You won’t regret it.

Hi, I am Sadekul Islam, music enthusiastic. Music is my language & the lyrics are my stories.

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