When producers get started in music production, the question of whether using a MIDI keyboard is necessary or not is a common one. If you are in the same situation, below are some explanations of MIDI keyboards and whether you really need one or not.
What is a MIDI keyboard?
A MIDI keyboard looks exactly like a piano’s keyboard which attach via USB to your computer. They don’t have their own sound as all they do is send MIDI data to your music production software. The sounds you make are actually produced from your computer through VSTs or virtual instruments. The keyboard only controls the notes and how loud the note is depending on how hard you hit the keys.
For example, if you want to play strings, you need to have a VST that produces string sounds. Same goes with any other instrument. Even drums. The sound is produced by the computer, and not from the keyboard itself.
A lot of keyboards and synthesizers can work as a MIDI controller if they have a USB connection or MIDI in/out ports. However, the differences between regular keyboards and MIDI keyboards is that actual MIDI keyboards come with more controls such as knobs and sliders. Each of these controls can be mapped to certain parameters of your VST. For example if you have a filter knob on your VST, you can map it to a knob on your MIDI controller and control and tweak the filter in real time.
However, is it really necessary to have one? Can you produce a song without MIDI keyboards?
Most people who learn how to make electronic music tend to say no because mapping notes on that genre is easy to do with a mouse. However, if you plan on composing by pressing actual buttons and not just a mouse, it would be a good idea to get a MIDI controller. Some programs however such as FL Studio allow you to map keys on your computer’s keyboard to different notes and from there you can play around with melodies.
MIDI isn’t a must to have when you want to produce music on the computer but hitting keys on a keyboard gives a completely different feel when you make music. It is easier to play around to find melodies when you start from scratch and you can get timing they way you want it without having to play around with note length in your music software. You also will probably develop a skill to play stuff on an actual keyboard/piano. If you already have some skills, then in my opinion, it is absolutely worth it to get a MIDI controller.
So what MIDI keyboard should I get and how much are they?
There are many factors to choosing what to get.
How many keys do you want? Do you want weighted keys? Do you want addition controls? Do you want built in drum pads? Do you need aftertouch?
All these factors play a role on how much a controller will cost and whether it will fit your needs.Depending on what you actually need or want, they can cost as low as $50 and as high as over $1000. The most common MIDI keyboard I’ve noticed is the M-Audio Axiom. It comes in different amounts of keys and includes sliders, knobs, mod wheels and drum pads. For they price, they are really good in value. They average at around $150 – $500 depending on how big you plan to get it and where you get it.
Although this doesn’t say you should get a MIDI controller or not, it should help you decide whether you get one or not. Genre can also be a factor whether you need it or not. For example learning how to make electronic music vs. learning how to create movie scores vs playing classical type music, etc… You can make great music with or without it but making great music is all up to you and your understanding of music and creativity.
But in my honest opinion…. buy one. Making music with a physical keyboard feels so much better than clicking notes on a piano roll.