Piano, keyboard, and midi keyboard; all these three are different from each other, but for today we’ll focus on just one of these and that is the midi keyboard. We’ll get to see what is a Midi keyboard, how does a Midi keyboard work, and how to connect it to external hardware devices.
For a quick context, MIDI Keyboard is popularly used in music production, whether commercial or home-based studio areas and it works almost like a substitute for the real keyboard. The two may not be identical in terms of sound quality, but it comes as closely possible.
What is a MIDI Keyboard?
The full name of this device is the MIDI Controller Keyboard. This is so because a Midi controller often comes with a key segment resembling the layout of an ordinary keyboard. So appearance-wise, you have the pads, keys, all manner of knobs, and buttons at the base level. More advanced controller keyboards will have additional features to them.
The distinguishing characteristic with a MIDI keyboard is that it doesn’t produce sound. It has no sound of its own whatsoever. With conventional keyboards, normally you would only need to plug the instrument into a power source, play a few notes from which you will hear musical sounds but this is not the case with a MIDI.
It is not a standalone instrument instead, it works with the help of an external sound source such as a laptop or tablet. How is this so? The acronym MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, implying that its sole purpose is to generate digital data than can be understood by different music equipment.
So in this context, when using a MIDI keyboard, what you’re doing is feeding musical notes, different volumes, tonation (in the form of a unified language) into your laptop which then interprets the data to produce the created sound. In simpler terms, it is a trigger for communicating information with another device.
Now a MIDI device works both ways in that it can send out and receive data. Usually, the keyboard inputs midi data through recording. In this process, your laptop can hear everything that’s coming from the device, so the keyboard is basically controlling the computer. It can also work the other way round where the computer does the controlling. This is how.
The received data is simply sent back to the keyboard, and by this, it will automatically tell your keyboard what notes to play, without you having to touch it. Both these processes are made audible by inbuilt speakers from the laptop, otherwise, you wouldn’t be hearing any sound at all.
Does a Midi Keyboard Work just as well as a Real Keyboard?
The two vary in terms of functionality. It is probably best to use a keyboard for learning and practice as the other works much better for music production. Similarly, if you are fond of the usual piano you might notice a difference when playing.
MIDI keyboards have their keys designed with lesser resistance so the feel is quite different. Also, sounds subtly vary. When deciding between the two, consider your personal preference and the kind of sound you’re aiming for.
How to Connect a MIDI Keyboard to your Device?
Setting up is an important element with any device, much more if you’re dealing with electronics. There are two ways to go about this step, one with a USB cable or with MIDI connectors. You should know that mixing up the ports will result in zero sound.
It’s nearly impossible to get it wrong with a USB. All you need to do is plug one end of the cable to the keyboard and the other end into your laptop, begin to play and that’s it. A lot of these keyboards come with a cable port so as long as it’s functional, you don’t need to worry about the long process.
For whatever reason, your USB port ceases to function, or if you’re working with an audio interface, you will require MIDI connectors. They are multiple and have a set procedure. Follow the highlighted steps;
- Identify the three ports on your MIDI keyboard labeled THRU, OUT, and IN.
- Connect a singular cable from the MIDI Out port of the keyboard into the MIDI IN slot of the interface.
- Subsequently, run another cable from the MIDI Out port of the audio interface to a MIDI IN port of the keyboard.
NB: if you are connecting more than two devices you will need to use the MIDI THRU port.
- Connect a MIDI cable from the MIDI THRU port on the first device to the MIDI IN port on the next one.
- Proceed to connect the other cable from the MIDI Out port of the last external device to a MIDI IN port to your audio interface.
How to Configure Your DAW?
So far so good, you’re just about done with the setup procedure except for one more important detail, and this is making your MIDI device visible on your software. You will need a DAW when working with a MIDI controller.
DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation which is application software that helps with recording, editing, and producing audio files. A MIDI keyboard will help you create beats from scratch, by offering drums, notes, and other musical ingredients, but it cannot edit or mix down the audio files for you.
So this is where a DAW comes in. You can use it to switch up the tempo, change sounds from one virtual instrument to another, just about anything creative you would like to add or remove from the final mix. Some MIDI keyboards are very specific and may require a custom driver software before it will work on your DAW, to avoid frustration, read your user manual for guidance.
In most cases, after having downloaded the necessary software, it should easily show up on your computer confirming a successful configuration. From this point, you can edit your audio files into complete songs.
A MIDI keyboard is a viable option when working with smaller rooms and a tight budget. It is also convenient in the sense that it doesn’t require an exterior power source to work. Connecting should not be problematic if you chronologically follow the above steps. Lastly, remember to get the ports right for optimum use.