Choosing the right MIDI keyboard

Summary: Essential things to think about before buying a MIDI controller keyboard, Personal Keyboard or Digital Piano

  • Number of keys?
    • 49 key controllers are excellent for entering music and basic or intermediate keyboard learning. They don’t require a lot of space and are quite inexpensive. They will certainly take you up to Grade 3 standard without any problem
    • Larger keyboards are essential if you plan on learning advanced piano techniques or are used to playing on a full size keyboard
    • For composing and sequencing, maybe the number of keys are not so important as the availability of a range of controllers such as knobs and sliders to get more hands-on control of the software control panels
  • Controller or keyboard or piano?
    • A controller doesn’t create any sound on it’s own – it uses the sounds in your computer or sound module. The advantages of controllers are their price and the fact that you can upgrade the sound card without having to buy a new keyboard
    • A personal keyboard doesn’t require a computer or sound module to create sound. Some will also include speakers. Keyboards are generally more expensive than controllers, but they can be used as an instrument on their own.
    • If you really want to play the piano, and have it available without turning on the computer, then a digital piano is also a great option. They all come equipped with MIDI ports to connect up to your PC. The only disadvantage might be the physical set up you can achieve as digital pianos are larger than keyboards, which may make it tricky to site them right next to your computer workstation.
  • Touch sensitive or weighted action?
    • Touch sensitive keyboards will play louder or softer according to the velocity of your playing (how hard you play)
    • Weighted action keyboards imitate the action of a real piano – these keyboards are usually heavier and more expensive. Choose a weighted action keyboard if you want to be as close to real piano action as possible

Key take aways:

The wide range of available keyboard controllers pretty much ensures you’ll be able to find one that meets your needs. You just need to take a little time to ask the following questions, which will help define what you want or need:

What’s your application?
• If live performance is your focus, you’ll want to consider sturdiness and reliability (many controllers are almost entirely made of plastic), along with your preferred action and key count.
• For a club DJ, who often must work in cramped quarters, a compact unit will work best. Remember, the controller still needs plenty of knobs and sliders to control your software parameters!
• If you do a lot of recording in bed (or on a plane, in a car, etc.) portability counts. Also consider whether your controller can run on bus power (usually USB), which can be convenient – you won’t need another power adapter.

How many keys?
Limited space on your desktop or in your live rig? You need a compact controller, with 25 or 37 keys. If you want a piano-style experience go for an 88-key controller. Other options include 61 keys (that’s five octaves) and 76 keys.

What type of action?
Action should be appropriate to your application. If you need piano-style realism, get a weighted action. Semi-weighted keyboards appeal to many players, offering a nice balance between resistance and springiness. Synth-action keyboards are often perceived as easier to play for non-keyboardists, and can also be more economical.

How many/what type of knobs, sliders, and buttons?
What will you control? Synths? Effects? Software? Do you prefer sliders, knobs, or both?

What computer and sound module connectivity do you need?
Do you need USB connection to a computer? Almost all of today’s controllers have a USB MIDI connector. Many include a 5-pin MIDI connector as well, so you can connect an external sound module to your controller.

Do you need a built-in audio interface?
If you want an all-in-one MIDI and audio solution, then select one of the controllers that include an audio interface.

Keyboard Action Types

A vital quality of any keyboard controller is the keyboard action – the manner in which the key responds to playing. You, the player, need to feel comfortable using the controller, whether live on stage or in your songwriting or recording studio. Don’t underestimate the impact of having a less-than-ideal keyboard on your creativity and productivity! The type of action you prefer is usually determined mostly by what you are accustomed to, and also by the particular style of music that you play, which may call for one type of action over another. You can choose from three basic keyboard action types:

Weighted Hammer Action
Many controllers have 88-note keyboards that replicate the mechanical action of a conventional piano keyboard. This is difficult to do because a controller has no strings or hammers. Manufacturers use different methods of applying weights and springs to mimic a piano’s action. Others add a hammer action to more closely replicate a true piano “feel.” For example, the CME UF8 employs a weighted piano-action keyboard with four different velocity curves so you can choose the most comfortable feel. If your primary instrument is piano, or if you compose a lot of piano-oriented music, the realism of a weighted hammer-action keyboard might be ideal for you.
Semi-weighted Action
Similar to a weighted action, but with less key resistance and a slightly springier release, semi-weighted actions are popular with some players. If you don’t need realistic piano response but don’t care for spring-loaded synth actions (see below), try a semi-weighted keyboard. The M-Audio Axiom 61 is a controller with a semi-weighted action and MIDI trigger pads, rotary encoders, and sliders.
Synth Action
A synth-action keyboard, on the other hand, feels more like an electronic organ. The spring-loaded keys are light and capable of being moved very quickly. They also tend to return to their resting position much more quickly. This can be an important advantage when trying to play very fast parts such as lead lines or fast arpeggios. Many keyboard controllers, such as the economical Korg K49 come with synth-action keys. Synth-action keys are perfect for musicians who aren’t pianists by nature, such as guitarists wanting to add MIDI functionality to their setup.
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~ by steelberryclones on August 27, 2008.

One Response to “Choosing the right MIDI keyboard”

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