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A beginner's guide to MIDI keyboards

What is a MIDI Keyboard?

MIDI keyboards are digital music instruments that utilise a piano-style keyboard. Unlike synthesizers, which are similar in appearance, they do not generate any sound themselves and instead create music through external devices. When the keys are pressed, information is sent via the MIDI (musical instrument digital interface protocol) format to an electronic module or another musical device, which produces the sound. MIDI basically works in a similar way to a USB cable, acting as a networking tool between instruments, for example a synthesizer and a drum machine.

Many MIDI keyboards themselves come with USB connections that allow them to be connected directly to a computer for recording and composition purposes. It would typically connect to other instruments via cables between its MIDI out ports and their MIDI in ports, allowing the keyboard player to control a vast array of sounds at just the touch of button. Many MIDI keyboards also allow the users to control note duration, modulation and volume, as well as featuring pitch bending functions.

MIDI keyboards are essentially used to control music software or are used in conjunction with synth modules. They are viewed as appealing for music beginners due to their relative size and portability, the low cost and easy availability of software and the general inexpensiveness of the keyboards themselves, as well as their simplicity.

MIDI Keyboards on the market

A basic controller keyboard, such as the Evolution eKeys37 Controller Keyboard, can be bought for £32.99. With 37 mini-keys, the instrument is designed to make it easy for home computer users to get started on creating and playing music. Its size makes it a problem-free fit for any computer set-up and it plugs in simply via a USB cable, allowing it to be used for composition and playing in conjunction with any standard music package or the Music Teacher, Picture Board and Sound Studio II software that comes with it.

Almost twice the price of the Evolution keyboard is the Behringer UMX49 U-Control MIDI Keyboard for £74.99. It is larger with 49 keys and comes with 50 virtual instruments and the Ableton Live Lite Behringer Edition software package. A USB / audio interface allows the software instruments - or MP3 tracks - to be plugged directly into a sound system, while a dedicated download website allows users to obtain more sound effects free of charge.

In the next price bracket is the M-Audio Axiom 49 MIDI Keyboard for £179. It also has 49 keys but boasts a larger number of programming functions and features eight rubberised trigger pads to give easy access to drums. It also comes with a wide-variety of mixer controls and effects, giving users a large degree of control over their sounds.

Towards the top of the price range is the CME VX8 MIDI Controller Keyboard for £789. The CME VX range claims to be the first controller keyboards in the world to feature 12 programmable trigger pads and motorised faders. The trigger pads themselves are velocity sensitive, while there are nine motorized faders, nine endless encoder knob controllers and eight pontentiometer knob controllers. It also has six sequencer transport buttons, four MIDI out ports, two microphone inputs, two line outputs and two headphone outputs.

How can I save money on a MIDI keyboard?

When choosing a MIDI keyboard, people are most likely to compromise on touch controls - such as the velocity sensitivity, weight sensitivity and aftertouch - when it comes to price. The size of the keyboard itself also often factors into the decision-making process and buyers should probably think about how much space they have before deciding which size they would like to purchase.

Posted on 27 Mar 2009 17:11 to category : Tips and advice

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