Midi keyboards - whats the deal?

everyone seems to agree that for a composition with any complexity, the piano-roll is a bit hard to use. Therefore, I assume the other option to driving a VSTi is a midi keyboard. Right?

I have had a look at dedicated midi keyboards and they are not cheap! I have an old keyboard (100 instruments + beats etc…) that ‘supports’ midi (according to the manual). Assuming this kb has a midi-out, is this just as good as a dedicated midi KB?

THanks again for your expertise


As long as it has a midi out I can’t see why it wouldn’t work. I have a midi keyboard that cost £60 so I’d say they we’re pretty cheap.

Is it a velocity sensitive keyboard ?

If it is it should be fine.

If not you might want to look at the edirol range.


Anthing with a MIDI out will do.

When I was on a couple of 4,000 mile trips last year I wanted something to take along and bought an M-Audio Keystation49

$100 and connects via USB, so I didn’t have to cart my MIDI interface along (and the box worked great as a carrying case once I wrapped it in black duct tape!) Works great.

i use an old, old yamaha that came out when MIDI came out. it works fine, although the keys are not velocity sensitive (or i don’t know how to make them that way). but still, it works great. if i’m not mistaken, and i could be cuz i’m a MIDI novice, i think the quality of the vst or soundfont is what really matters the most as far as the sound quality is concerned.


If you are a reasonably proficient keyboard player and particularly a piano player than you would probably benefit from a velocity sensitive keyboard. If, like me, it’s enough of a challenge to hit most of the right notes in approximately the right order then any old MIDI keyboard will do. I use an old Yamaha keyboard I bought years ago and it works fine for my purposes. In fact, for me it is better than a dedicated MIDI keyboard as the inbuilt sounds are useful when I am tracking as I can listen to them with zero latency and then map the finished part to my soft synth afterwards. There are enough sounds to choose from that I can find something close enough to track with.


If, like me, it’s enough of a challenge to hit most of the right notes in approximately the right order then any old MIDI keyboard will do.

Yep. that’s me!

But the great thing about MIDI is being able to go back later and tweak the dodgy notes. It enables me to concentrate on the performance rather the need to get through the entire song without making a simple mistake.

Right – any MIDI keyboard will do. However, I find that velocity is very important for producing a sound that’s not mechanical, far more important than timing. In other words, if I take a good performance and quantize the timing, it sounds like a good performance with perfect timing. (There are some important exceptions but never mind that for the moment.) If I take the same performance and quantize the velocity, it sucks the life right out of it, and the timing errors sound worse! Fix the timing and it sounds even more mechanical. Of course, for some styles of music, mechanical is fine.

Use what ya got and be happy, but meanwhile keep your eyes open for a velocity sensitive keyboard, and better yet, a weighted or semi-weighted one. Especially used, maybe something that’s past its prime as an instrument (sounds aren’t so great) but still good as a keyboard. If your budget climbs as high as $600, there are a number of excellent choices, not least the Casio Privia which even has a half-decent piano sound built in, among others.

Use both keyboards and LEARN to play the weighted, velocity sensitive one by playing it as much as possible. After a while, you’ll be able to make MUCH better parts using the keyboard, and you’ll even be able to play a piano if you bump into one somewhere!

Start out with drum parts (on the velocity sensitive keyboard). It’s way cool recording them on a dynamic keyboard. I usually start out playing kick & snare with left hand and hihat with right, but feel free to start simpler: bass with left hand and snare with right, and add hihat on a second pass. The point is, you’ll be playing harder or softer based on the actual dynamics of the song. Way easier than tediously programming velocities! And fun, too. Just say NO to loops and breathe more life into your music. (Well, use loops to record the rhythm parts, and then go back and tap in drum parts similar but more interesting and with more variety than the loops.)

Sometimes I’ll do a recording pass where the only thing I’ll add is ride cymbal. The fact that I’m tapping softer or harder in different parts, and in different beats in a given measure, and often somewhat randomly but not completely, makes the whole drum part sound considerably better and more realistic.

And you don’t need to be any kind of keyboard wizard to do this: the keys don’t move so you can dedicate a given finger (or hand) to a single instrument and focus entirely on dynamics. I don’t even sweat the timing too much, because I’ll often quantize the timing in a part I tap in this way. That or just edit by hand to fix the goofs, depending on how tight or loose a feel I want.

Really, this is big fun. Also, it’s a good way to start learning how a drummer thinks, and that’s really the hard part. (Drummers think? Is that an oxymoron? :;): )