If you’re producing your own music on your computer, a MIDI keyboard is a mandatory addition to your setup. Usually styled like a small piano, a MIDI keyboard connects to your PC or soundboard in order to play and record sounds from basically any instrument you can imagine. While there are full-sized 88-key models available, most budding musicians will be plenty served by a smaller keyboard, especially if portability is a concern. Keep reading for a better idea of how to pick the perfect MIDI keyboard for you.
What to Know About MIDI Keyboards
If you want to make an informed decision with your MIDI keyboard, you need to look at the features which are most important. In some cases, you might even need to consider smaller details such as extra buttons, keys, or simply a more appealing design. Here is what you need to consider.
Number of Keys
The number of keys is crucial. While finding a budget 61-key design can be a challenge, you can certainly find plenty of great solutions in the 25-32 range. It is also why you need to consider the possible limitations you have with such solutions. In many cases, it is recommended to purchase the controller right for your skill level, and both the 25-key and the 32-key designs represent an interesting solution.
The number of keys can be strictly related to their size. It is why you will find different key sizes. While most people are fine with the key designs on the market, you may find that many of them are actually narrow for your fingers. It is why you need to consider the options you have when it comes to proper functionality, even with more complex songs.
The portability of the MIDI keyboard is always an important topic. Simply loading the keyboards with buttons and keys is not the way to go for many brands as it puts extra weight on the device. It is why you will find plenty of popular solutions within the 1kg range.
While there is no ideal weight, it is also important to consider that you might be bringing your keyboard to a studio, together with cables, headphones, tablets or other devices. All this weight can quickly become a problem, and this is why you need to balance functionality with weight.
But this doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice looks. For example, the Worlde 25 Key USB Portable Tuna Mini is among the most interesting solutions when it comes to the ultimate freedom but with impressive aesthetics as well. Most designs are also made to fit a backpack for a reason. So make sure you have the strength to carry all your production gear when needed.
The feel of the MIDI keyboard can be quite different from design to design. The technologies behind the keys make the experience so different:
- Synth-action – these types of keys are seen on most MIDI keyboards, especially in budget solutions. The keys are made from plastic, and they use springs to return the key when pressed.
- Semi-weighted – lightweight and spring-loaded, these keys are the in-between solution for many controllers when compared to synth and weight alternatives.
- Fully-weighted – With fully weighted keys, you get the experience you would normally have with a piano. These keys are rare in affordable designs.
The feel of the MIDI keyboards is very different. But since you will find most designs on the market are actually synth-action, it is better to compare other functionalities if you are undecided when it comes to your preferred product.
Extra controls can go a long way. Once you finish the initial learning stages, you will be able to see the benefit that extra controls bring. It is why you have the capacity to use the devices which come with drum pads, adjustment knobs, and programmable knobs.
But not all solutions are the same. While some devices offer four drum pads, another offer eight. Some devices offer no drum pads at all. If you are a fan of customized experiences and if you want to make your production more than just a sporadic activity, added controls can improve your overall experience. At the same time, some controls are made for functionality purposes, such as those for power. But since, in many cases, the devices are USB-connected, this can be less of an issue. At the same time, you have the ability to choose the design which works for your style of playing.
Most MIDI keyboards are compatible with popular operating systems. However, some devices do not have the needed drivers to run on operating systems such as Windows or Apple. Furthermore, you should also consider the compatibility with mobile devices. It is often necessary to purchase additional adapters if you plan to connect your controller to your mobile devices.
Compatibility should not be an issue with modern products. All of them should come with USB data transfer, which has already proven to be reliable. Even more, having the ability to connect the device to a tablet can come with added freedom when playing away from home.
The functionality of the MIDI keyboard is influenced by its design. For example, the Ammoon Worlde Panda Mini has a design that is very familiar in the class. With keys and controllers which are positioned for maximum practicality, these designs are seen across various brands. While they are not innovative anymore, they are still enough for the compact 25-key solutions. Control buttons also tend to be in close proximity to the keys so that you can reach them with little effort. But at the same time, the design of the keyboard also needs to fit your own working space. Since you need to reduce mouse interaction as much as possible, keeping the MIDI keyboard in a location that allows you unrestricted access is often a matter of design.
There are various types of product warranties on the market. The standard solution can come with coverage of 1-2 years. In some cases, you can also purchase an extended warranty from the manufacturer. It is also why you have the ability to think of your production on a wider scale.
If you plan to invest and make music production more than a hobby, it is often recommended to purchase a device that is made for durability, at least until you become fully accustomed to the various functions of a keyboard. Bank, prog, pitch down, and pitch up might take some time to master. It is why the proper warranty is the policy that covers your own needs.
Most new producers are looking to work with Pro Tools. The Lite version is basically a stripped version of the solution which even professional artists use in music production. It represents a great start to your music-making projects, and it is also one of the programs which are highly compatible with most of the keyboards in this class.
Ableton Live is another popular choice. It is sometimes included in the pack, and it offers a selection of instruments and effects. With all the essential workflow taken care of, it can be among the solutions which you use in combination with other programs for the ultimate results.
Eleven Lite offers a selection of interesting vintage amps and cabs for a modern approach to some of the most recognized sounds. Xpand 2 is recommended for its four active slots per patch. Each part is recommended for its own MIDI channel, and it represents a great tool for creating individual parts.
User Profiles and Memory
User profiles are important, especially when it comes to saving your own work and settings. You should always look for the keyboard which actually remembers your preferences after you turn it off. At the same time, the memory of the device is closely tied to the number of options you have. Even an affordable MIDI keyboard can come with 2GB of sounds, which means that you should be able to create your own profile with everything you need to get started.
How to Master Your MIDI Keyboard
If you are new to MIDI keyboards, there are a few ways to get familiar with them. Apart from taking a class, you can learn to play on your own. Online videos and tutorials are a good place to consider. But many manufacturers now offer complex training manuals that allow you to play the simplest songs.
Once you are familiar with the basics, you can also adhere to online communities such as the VIP platform to share your experience with other players as well. In most cases, it is indicated to learn the basics on a simplistic keyboard, even if it is spring-loaded. This is true to a certain degree as, at least at the beginning, you do not need complex solutions. Another way to ensure you have a short learning curve is with the design of the drum pads. With various illumination colors, you can quickly access your own pre-defined control without having to worry about each individual drum pad. This option is available with many entry-level MIDI keyboards as well.
Finding the best cheap MIDI keyboard is not as easy if you are a beginner. You might even feel overwhelmed with all the options you have and you would also need to learn the basic characteristics of a keyboard before making the purchase.
However, there are many user-friendly options to consider. Playing various digital sounds is not easy, but you can take advantage of the simplicity these keyboards come with. Proper software choices are recommended as well. Nothing can influence your projects negatively faster than using the wrong software, which can be too complicated for your needs.
The best MIDI keyboards are also made to be portable. It is always a good idea to get in contact with studios or people who are already in music production. This is why you should look for a keyboard which comes with all the keys you need, all the controls you want and the weight which allows you to quickly place it in a backpack. At the same time, it is also unlikely you will remain with just a keyboard if you are serious about your music and having the right workstation space becomes a matter of urgency. Whichever options you choose, there is plenty to learn with each keyboard.