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What Is a MIDI Controller? Do You Need One (The Truth)

I often get asked, "What is a MIDI controller?" In this article, I will answer your questions about MIDI controllers and whether you need one.

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If you have been in music production for any amount of time, you have probably heard of MIDI controllers. But what exactly are MIDI controllers, and do you really need one in your home recording studio?

This article will answer your questions about MIDI controllers and whether you should invest in one. We will also explore the different types of MIDI controllers on the market, what they are used for, and how to choose the right one for your needs. So whether you’re a musician looking for a new way to work or an engineer trying to customize your music production workflow, this article is for you!

Image of someone using a portable midi controller at their home. Source: karolina grabowska, pexels
Image of someone using a portable midi controller at their home. Source: Karolina Grabowska, Pexels

What is a MIDI controller? A MIDI controller is a musical instrument that allows you to control electronic music instruments using your computer. They usually don’t have an onboard speaker, so they need to be connected to an external speaker.

What is a MIDI controller?

A MIDI controller is any piece of hardware or software that can send and receive Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) data, which is used to trigger sounds and modify other performance characteristics in electronic music. A MIDI controller can turn on lights and other effects.

Most MIDI controllers offer controller knobs and drum pads, while the larger ones have an additional bank of sliders. In addition, certain digital audio workstation programs require using certain MIDI controllers. Most layouts have different key combinations, so you can change them to fit your needs and tastes. The majority of keyboards also provide free downloadable applications.

What is a MIDI keyboard?

Keyboard controllers are usually used to send information about the pitches of notes. Their main job is to send MIDI data to sound sources outside the computer. You may get controller keyboards with anything from 25 keys up to 88 keys. Some even provide a port for a footswitch and an expression pedal.

MIDI keyboards have keys and other controls. For instance, most MIDI controller keyboards have knobs and sliders that can be set up to change different settings. Also, many have a drum or sample pad that they play with their fingers to imitate a drum kit or trigger samples in the studio or onstage. Keep an eye out for the pitch and modulation wheels.

It is important to remember that a controller keyboard doesn’t make any sound. So, if you buy one thinking it will work like a standard keyboard or synthesizer, you will be very disappointed.

What is a MIDI controller used for?

MIDI controllers are commonly used to send information to a computer. Using a MIDI controller, one synthesizer may talk to another or a computer.

How does a MIDI controller work?

A USB Type B cable connects a MIDI signal chain to a computer. This is often called a “MIDI over USB” connection. The Universal Serial Bus (USB) cables are digital cables that allow MIDI devices to talk to computers. MIDI messages, which are data packets with instructions, are sent to our software

MIDI files are not only a way to store music but also a way to communicate with our virtual instrument or digital audio workstation. The only data included in a MIDI file is the user’s interaction with the MIDI hardware, such as the notes played, the values of any parameters changed, and the intensity with which those changes were made. But there is no way to know how a particular track, channel, or instrument sounds in a MIDI file. So, you need to use a DAW with MIDI files.

Finally, based on what’s written in these files, a computer plays the right notes or makes the right changes. MIDI controllers get information about changing parameters from MIDI files, while analog equipment gets that information from an electrical current.

Why should you own a MIDI controller in your home recording studio?

Even though it’s possible to use a mouse to write and record music, it isn’t always a good idea. Using a MIDI keyboard instead of a mouse has more benefits. In most cases, controller keyboards won’t weigh you down too much, so your setup can go wherever you go. A MIDI keyboard can be used to create a feel that is more musical and organic.

Remember that it’s not enough to hit the right notes; your execution matters too. It has to be played right for the performance’s depth and feeling to come through. If you manually drew every nuance of dynamics and emotion with a mouse and keyboard, it wouldn’t sound as natural and would take a lot of time.

Assignable controllers allow for even more expressiveness during performances. Faders and knobs can be used in many ways, such as with virtual symphonic instruments.

Consider recording a string quartet where each person’s part is recorded separately. If you’re going for maximum authenticity, the volume should vary throughout the piece. When playing a stringed instrument, the attack and velocity rates are also affected by how the bow is used. Faders can make a recording sound more real by simulating how the bow’s speed changes as it moves over the strings. Because of this, many Hollywood composers use MIDI keyboards to make their music.

Image of a someone using a midi controller with a laptop. Source: erik mclean, pexels
Image of someone using a midi controller with a laptop. Source: Erik Mclean, Pexels

A MIDI keyboard allows you to be more mobile. Thus, a producer can create music anywhere. You probably don’t want to carry a bulky workstation or piano onto the stage. It’s better to use a laptop computer and a MIDI keyboard.

Additionally, you can access various sounds that have never been heard before if you use virtual instruments in your live performance. You can now get a variety of high-quality instrument sounds, including piano, synth, symphony, and more, in a small package.

If you are a performer who needs as many tools as possible, you should consider how important a MIDI controller keyboard is. For example, if you have a Moog, a Prophet, and a Nord Lead module, you may get the same MIDI data from your controller. So, you can make the same sounds with less clunky gear.

If you want even more tips and insights, watch this video called “MIDI Explained for Beginners” from the Music Sequencing YouTube channel.

A video called “MIDI Explained for Beginners” from the Music Sequencing YouTube channel.
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Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about what a MIDI keyboard is.

What is a MIDI controller used for?

With a MIDI controller, you can easily play virtual instruments and sequence music on a computer. It makes music by sending MIDI data (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) to a computer or synthesizer.

Which is better, MIDI or USB

The bandwidth of a USB connection is much higher than that of a DIN-MIDI connection. This means that a single USB cable can connect 16 virtual MIDI ports, each with 16 channels, for 256 MIDI channels.

Should a beginner get a MIDI keyboard?

If you want to learn to play the piano from the ground up, you shouldn’t feel bad about picking up a MIDI keyboard as your first instrument. It’ll help you free up room, plus it’s lightweight and easy to transport. There are variations, but if you can get an 88-key weighted keyboard, you will be quite close.

Conclusion

MIDI controllers are more than just a simple upgrade to your studio. They add so much functionality and ease to your work that it’s hard not to get one. Moreover, they’re also affordable enough for most people to try them out without worrying about breaking the bank! If you haven’t used one yet, there is no better time than now to buy one.

This article covered what a MIDI controller is, what a MIDI keyboard is, and what a MIDI controller is used for. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • A MIDI controller is any piece of hardware or software that can send and receive Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) data, which is used to trigger sounds and modify other performance characteristics in electronic music.
  • It is important to remember that a controller keyboard doesn’t make any sounds.
  • Using a MIDI controller, like a keyboard, one synthesizer may talk to another or a computer.
  • Extra tips:
    • When we connect any midi device, such as a synth, sequencer, drum machine, or all of the above, a midi interface serves as the primary communication hub for all of these devices.
    • Pad controllers like the Akai MPC and MPD are fantastic for drum programming and composing electronic music.
    • In certain cases, drum pads and controls are also provided to manipulate the recording software’s settings.
    • Having additional keys allows for more chordal complexity and longer melodies.
    • Any program with a wide variety of synthesizers, drum kits, and samplers is a bonus.

So, do you usually use your MIDI controller? And did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below (I read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on music production. Thanks for reading, and never stop making music.

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Audio Apartment Author
Written By Andrew Ash
Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I've been making music since I was a kid. I now run this blog all about home studios and music production. If you want to improve your home studio setup, this is the place for you!

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