What Does a MIDI Keyboard Do?

What Does a MIDI Keyboard Do
Written by Bilal Munsif

A MIDI keyboard is a controller for playing electronic music. It has a keyboard which, when played in sync with the computer, causes the computer to play a sound. The keyboard can have more than one key on it; some keyboards have multiple keys, each assigned to one of the notes on the piano.

It’s used mostly in DJing and Electronic music production, but also in other types of music production too.

After all, if you can’t tell what a MIDI keyboard does, you can’t tell why it is necessary. The answer often comes down to: “I need that for my job.”

The reason for this is twofold:

  1. People often say they use a MIDI controller for their job, but they don’t really know what it does. And may not even be aware of its existence.
  2. If your job is producing music in any way. (whether you realize it or not), then MIDI controllers are required to control your product. You need to have the right controls at your disposal (read: the right tools).

In this article, I would like to describe why MIDI controllers are required. And describe some of the ways in which they can be used to accomplish certain tasks. I will do so with reference to some common consumer products that has been seen in the music industry over recent years: keyboards and drum machines.

For example, there are several very popular consumer products that are used as MIDI controllers.

Such as the Roland RD-300 ($199), the Korg M1 ($420), and Yamaha’s R-series ($249). The aforementioned products are great keyboards for music production. However, I would like to discuss some of the ways these products are used as MIDI controllers. And show how these devices can be used to complete certain tasks in music production.

In order for us to understand how we might use these devices as MIDI controllers, we must first understand what a midi keyboard actually does. What functions it provides at the keyboard end of the signal chain and how these functions relate to those provided by any other device with a keyboard attached (such as a computer or phone).

At this point readers who aren’t musicians

Might find themselves confused by my descriptions of current commercial products. However, this article is intended not only for musicians but also for others. Who will find themselves using one or more of these devices in their day-to-day lives in music production — especially since many electronic musicians now take great pride in playing their instruments on an iPad using an app made specifically for use with such instruments (iPad Music).

You may also like reading: Ether vs Weth

Fortunately, I think we can make an educated guess about which midi keyboards will perform best among all available ones according to various criteria that include functionality, portability, price, ergonomics, and aesthetics. But before we get into any analysis let me first provide some background information about MIDI technology itself so as not only to give a general overview.

How to Use a MIDI Keyboard

This is a question I get often from people who have never heard of MIDI. A MIDI keyboard is a computer-controlled device (a controller) that is physically attached to the computer and can control an electric guitar or synthesizer (or any other musical instrument) with its buttons and knobs.

A MIDI keyboard consists of two or more keypads, each having at least one key, a set of buttons, and a set of knobs.

The buttons are usually assigned to keys on the player’s instrument (the keyboards themselves are called controllers). The knobs are usually assigned to control parameters of the instrument, such as pitch (the pitch), volume (the volume), pan (the pan), or filter. The buttons may be assigned to keys on another device that is used to control the real-world device through which information travels.

A MIDI keyboard can be thought of as a collection of devices

That are connected by cables and/or wireless connections. In this book, we focus only on keyboards which give you quick access to your own equipment; however, many modern laptops also have built-in MIDI controllers—known as MIDI ports—that can be used for connection to external devices like midi keyboards and digital pianos.

Is a MIDI Keyboard Necessary for Music Production?

There is a lot of misinformation floating around about MIDI controllers and keyboards, specifically what they do. On the one hand, it is popular to blame them as the root of all music production problems. (“you can’t make music with a keyboard”). On the other, it is common to claim that MIDI controllers are necessary for making music.

The truth is that there are a number of different kinds of controllers and keyboards used in music production. (including keyboards which are designed as MIDI controllers) but that doesn’t make them “necessary” for producing music. There are also many good MIDI controllers and keyboards out there which don’t have the potential to generate any beautiful sounds at all. These should be either bought because they are cheap or because they are sold by an existing company with a reasonable reputation (which is why I often recommend buying from established companies like Yamaha).

I hope this helps clarify some misconceptions and hopefully helps you find some new uses for your MIDI keyboard!


In this section, we would like to consider how to use a MIDI keyboard as a controller. We’re probably not the first people to do this. And we’d love for it to be the first group of people. If you’re looking for an introduction, check out The Midi Keyboard Cheat Sheet. This is more of a guide than a tutorial and is solely focused on getting the most out of a MIDI keyboard as a controller.

The idea behind using MIDI keyboards as controllers is simple. They have all sorts of different things built into them, but they are all organized in such a way that you can map any number of buttons on your keyboard (or mouse) to any number of buttons on your controller. Which allows you to control everything from light sequencers, wave triggers, vibrato pucks, pitch wheels and so on.

This makes it possible for musicians who have never used keyboards before

Who don’t know the ins and outs of how these things work — or even those who are self-taught — to get started with them. There is also some amount of value in learning from someone who has been doing this for years; though if you are looking for tips about how to use these things in real-time with other musicians or producers. (or want some advice about buying one), go to Youtube in search of midi keyboard beginner guides. But there are many other ways that MIDI keyboards can be used beyond just controllers; here are just two: as musical instruments (like guitars) or as MIDI composers’ tools (like pianos). It’s definitely worth exploring both sides while using one (or both) of these things.

About the author

Bilal Munsif