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What is a MIDI Keyboard?

A MIDI keyboard is an electronic device that musicians use to send performance data to computers and synthesizers. It resembles a piano but instead of producing sound, it sends signals that can trigger a vast array of digital instruments. This versatility makes it a staple in modern music production. Curious about how a MIDI keyboard can enhance your musical creations? Let's dive deeper.
John Sunshine
John Sunshine

A Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) keyboard is a musical instrument like a piano keyboard. The MIDI portion indicates that the instrument has a communication protocol built in that allows it to communicate with a computer or other MIDI-equipped instrument.

The MIDI interface is now so easy to implement that almost all keyboards sold today are some type of MIDI keyboard. This ranges from a simple 100 US dollar (USD) MIDI keyboard sold at the local department store to a 30,000 USD grand piano with a built-in controller. Every type can connect to any other type of musical instrument that sports a MIDI interface. The 30,000 USD instrument will sound much better than the 100 USD instrument, but both can be controlled by the computer or other instrument in the same way.

A regular keyboard can be used as a MIDI keyboard.
A regular keyboard can be used as a MIDI keyboard.

It is also possible to purchase a MIDI keyboard with no sound capabilities at all. This device requires the musician to have some other MIDI device that is capable of understanding the MIDI messages and generating the correct sounds. This other instrument may be a computer or a dedicated sound box with a number of different instruments programmed into it. This approach allows one company to concentrate on making the keyboard and another to specialize in recreating instruments electronically. It also allows the musician to upgrade the instrument without losing the familiarity of the keyboard.

When purchasing a MIDI keyboard, there are several things to consider. The two most important are your budget and your level of comfort with the keyboard itself. If you have an unlimited budget, the choice is easier; simply buy the best MIDI keyboard that feels good to you.

If your budget is more constrained, then concentrate on getting the keyboard with the best feel. You can always upgrade the sound quality at a later date. To upgrade the feel, you will need to get a new keyboard and learn to become comfortable with the feel all over again.

MIDI keyboards can have different amounts of keys. Classical musicians and purists will insist on all 88 keys being present. Keyboards with 76 keys are also popular. Keyboards with fewer keys are used when space is at a premium or for amateurs with a very limited budget.

MIDI keyboards come with a range of different feels. Some attempt to recreate the feel and action of a classic piano, while others have more of an electronic feel. Some are velocity sensitive, so that the faster the key is pressed, the louder the note sounds. Some are touch sensitive, so that the note sounds different depending on how hard the key is pressed. An inexpensive MIDI keyboard has neither effect.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a MIDI keyboard and how does it work?

A MIDI keyboard is an electronic musical device that acts as a piano-style interface for triggering sounds from other devices or software. It sends MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) signals to connected instruments or computers, which interpret these signals to produce music. The keyboard itself doesn't generate sound; instead, it relies on external sound modules, synthesizers, or computer software to create audio based on the notes and expressions played.

Can you use a MIDI keyboard without a computer?

Yes, a MIDI keyboard can be used without a computer if it's connected to a standalone sound module, synthesizer, or another MIDI-equipped hardware device that can generate sound. However, the versatility and range of sounds available are often expanded when using a computer with digital audio workstation (DAW) software, which provides access to a vast array of virtual instruments and effects.

Do MIDI keyboards have built-in sounds?

Traditional MIDI keyboards do not have built-in sounds as they are controllers designed to trigger sounds from external sources. However, some modern MIDI keyboards come with integrated sound libraries and can operate as standalone instruments. These hybrid keyboards offer the convenience of portability and ease of use without the need for additional sound-generating devices.

What should I look for when choosing a MIDI keyboard?

When choosing a MIDI keyboard, consider the number of keys and their action (weighted, semi-weighted, or synth-action), which affects playability. Look for features like aftertouch, pitch bend and modulation wheels, and additional control options such as pads, knobs, and faders for manipulating sounds. Connectivity is also crucial; ensure it has the necessary ports for your setup (USB, MIDI out, etc.). Lastly, consider the software compatibility and whether it comes with bundled DAWs or virtual instruments.

How does a MIDI keyboard differ from a digital piano?

A MIDI keyboard primarily serves as a controller to send MIDI data to other devices, focusing on flexibility and control over various parameters. In contrast, a digital piano aims to replicate the feel and sound of an acoustic piano, with built-in sounds and speakers, and typically features fully weighted keys. Digital pianos are often used for performance and practice, while MIDI keyboards are more suited for music production and composition.

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Discussion Comments


My Casio keyboard is an 16 multi-timbre received, GM level 1 standard.


Is the MIDI keyboard an input or output device?

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    • A regular keyboard can be used as a MIDI keyboard.
      By: Maksim Nikalayenka
      A regular keyboard can be used as a MIDI keyboard.