I want to make music on my PC by plugging in a keyboard. How do I do it?
November 22, 2004 5:43 PM   Subscribe

[KeyboardFilter] I want to make music on my PC by plugging in a keyboard. What should I be looking for? [MI, of course]

I like to tool around on my PC making music. I have been investigating the possibility of buying a keyboard to assist with composition. What does a MIDI keyboard do exactly? Why are some vastly more expensive than others? I have some neato VST plugins that emulate various synths and keyboards and I can use my qwerty keyboard to make sounds. Do I want one of these? I don't mind spending some money but if I can get a good result from a cheaper piece of hardware that would of course be better. And is it possible to get ones that are pressure sensitive? Thanks in advance.
posted by bdave to Technology (12 answers total)
Pardon the off topic nature of this, but I read the Wiki FAQ on Metafilterisms... but I just can't figure out what [MI] means. I assumed that it might mean "More Inside"... but there's not more inside for this thread. What's it mean?
posted by Plinko at 5:53 PM on November 22, 2004

Oh god dammit. There was "more inside", but it didn't display for me for some unknown reason. Please disregard my above, and entirely moot, comment.
posted by Plinko at 5:54 PM on November 22, 2004

Oh, I am using a Sound Blaster Audigy 2 Platinum soundcard (which apparently has synths in it) and I like to play with FruityLoops, ecpecially the SoundFonts.
posted by bdave at 5:58 PM on November 22, 2004

What does a MIDI keyboard do exactly?

Generates and sends MIDI information.

Why are some vastly more expensive than others?

Some are also syths. Some have CC (continuous controller) knobs or faders. Some have much better key actions. Some have none of these things, and are thus a lot cheaper.

Do I want one of these?


And is it possible to get ones that are pressure sensitive?

It's generally called "velocity sensitivity". There's also "aftertouch" to consider. Velocity sensitivity generates a 0-127 value for how hard you've hit the key... aftertouch sends aftertouch messages which tell how you've been pushing the key after the initial note.

In summary: you want "velocity sensitivity", you want USB (or you'll need to get a midi interface or joystick-to-midi cable if you've got a joystick port somewhere), and you want a nice key action. The key action will probably account for a lot of the price. I'd also spring for one with a few knobs on, so you can fiddle with all the lovely knobs on your VSTi's & VSTfx.

(on preview: if you're using Floops, you'll definitely want something with CC knobs on).
posted by pompomtom at 6:02 PM on November 22, 2004

PS: Don't buy one online unless you've already played it. Go into a shop, and try out the keyboard actions, and get the one that feels comfortable and expressive.
posted by pompomtom at 6:07 PM on November 22, 2004

Number of keys is definitely a consideration as well. If you just want to bang out short synth lines, this seems to be rather popular. But when I was in your situation, I knew I'd want to learn to play piano for real eventually, so I opted for this instead, which also has all the sliders and knobs one realistically needs. I'm quite pleased with it so far.

My first post! *waves to everyone*
posted by squidlarkin at 6:14 PM on November 22, 2004

For controller only( no synth / PCM ) keyboards there are USB keyboard controllers. This for example has plenty of controller knobs, is USB and compact. Here's a search to get you started.
posted by mnology at 6:21 PM on November 22, 2004

Squidlarkin's answer is good. I use the Oxygen8 (squid's first link), and am very happy with it, but it is a very short keyboard, and much better for composing / entering music into a program than playing in real time (in that, if you reach the end of the scale, you have to hit a button to make the whole keyboard scale one octave higher, which is impossible while actual playing something in real time). I like the M-Audio keyboards, BUT!!!! they have lousy quality control, meaning that there is a high likelihood of things not functioning right from the start. When I got my Oxygen8, I found it had a sticky knob, which I got repaired, only to find a key that didn't work, and then got the whole thing replaced. Under warranty, and in Japan, so the service was fast and good, but I recommend thoroughly testing it out instore to make sure everything works right. That said, I've had no problems in the 2 or so years since then.

Oh, and I use Fruityloops too. The assignable knobs on USB MIDI keyboards are a godsend.
posted by Bugbread at 6:26 PM on November 22, 2004

Woah, thanks.

squidlarkin, I've seen the keyboard you referred to at my local music shop but the kids who work there on the weekends aren't exactly helpful. This is exactly the advice I need. Thanks all, and a worthy first post squidlarkin.

*Waves back*

On preview: thank you too to mnology and bugbread, nice.
posted by bdave at 6:36 PM on November 22, 2004

if you want to control vsts and stuff all you need is a keyboard with midi (pretty much any keyboard these days...even cheap ones from radio shack). Midi controls that you have linked to ONLY send midi information (midi tells the vst module what pitch to play with what velocity etc), the midi controller itself does not generate sound. If you want a keyboard that generates sound and has midi you can go to radio shack or something. If you're using FL buy a midi controller (anything pretty much with midi out) and you may want a phatboy (go google it, its basically a box with like 30 knobs that send midi info).

Alternatively you could actually buy sound modules (rack mounts/keyboard synths). It's actually nice to have physical hardware, and if you have a vintage synth like a Roland Juno 106 it's very easy to program (and very easy to learn programming synths if you're a beginner).
posted by EvilKenji at 8:31 PM on November 22, 2004

I used to be able to program my cousin's old Korg Poly 800 with sequencing and everything... I'm pretty happy with what the plugins do as far as making sounds go. I want something that frees me up to play and not 'play around'.

And thankyou EvilKenji, nice first post. I like the aksme :)
posted by bdave at 8:45 PM on November 22, 2004

I have to agree with pompomtom about trying it out first. This goes for any musical instrument. Your local Apple store should have a few models on display that you can tool around with. Any of them should work fine with your PC. Also, I have noticed that the Apple stores (both "brick" and "click" storefronts) usually undercut the MSRP on these items by 25% or so.

The Ozone is a good choice, but there are cheaper options, too. I myself use this one, and I am very happy with it. I'm no pro, but I am able to do some fairly decent stuff in GarageBand with the Keystation 49e. It has a simple interface and a good feel to it.

Also, a good friend of mine uses this little bugger with Reason and he is pretty happy with it, even if it is a bit short.
posted by mds35 at 9:46 AM on November 23, 2004

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