First, the bad news. A MIDI keyboard doesn’t make any sound on its own. Now, the good news. If you thought your MIDI keyboard was broken, it’s not. How does a MIDI keyboard work then? And how do you get sound out of it?
What is a MIDI keyboard?
There’s an important difference between a MIDI keyboard and a normal keyboard. A normal keyboard has built-in sounds and speakers of its own. All you need to do is plug it in and you can instantly play along with any of the sounds and accompaniments on board. Most modern keyboards can also be connected to a computer to play virtual instruments and that’s exactly what a MIDI keyboard does. It doesn’t have any built-in sounds or speakers of its own, however. A MIDI keyboard is primarily used to play virtual instruments on a computer. It can do some other things too, but we’re not going to get into that in this blog. Essentially, a MIDI keyboard is a MIDI controller. Whenever you press a key, a button, a knob or any other control, MIDI data is sent to your computer. This includes things like what you pressed, how long and hard you pressed it for, or how much you turned a knob, for instance. Notice that we haven’t mentioned anything about sound. That’s because to get sound, you need to install virtual instruments on your computer. If this is starting to sound a bit complicated, you can always look at a normal keyboard instead, but it’s actually quite manageable for most people.
Connecting a MIDI keyboard
A MIDI keyboard comes with a USB cable so that you can connect it to the USB input on your computer. If you plan on using an iPad, check the specifications of the MIDI keyboard to make sure it’s compatible with iOS first. Note that you’ll probably also have to purchase a Lightning to USB adapter or a Camera Connection Kit for older iPads that have the large 30-pin connector. Once you’ve connected your MIDI keyboard to your computer or iPad, you’ll have to wait for it to be recognised before you can use it. Some MIDI keyboards have an on/off button and if you run into any problems at the stage, it’s always worth checking the instruction manual to make sure you haven’t missed out any important steps. Most MIDI keyboards are powered by the USB connector, so an additional power adapter is not usually required. Now that you’ve connected your MIDI keyboard, it’s finally time to find some sounds for it! Read on to find out how.
Installing software and getting sound
We’re going to look at one of the easiest ways to get sounds for your MIDI keyboard, but there are plenty of other options too.
- Download and install Komplete Start by Native Instruments. It’s a collection of instruments, effects, loops and samples and, amazingly, it’s completely free! You’ll find it has more than enough to get you started and you can always buy more instrument plugins whenever you like. Some plugins like Komplete Start work on their own, but for others you’ll need DAW software.
- Once your MIDI keyboard is connected, start Kontakt Player. This is part of Komplete Start.
- Click on the Options symbol, click on MIDI and set your MIDI keyboard status to Port A. In theory, you’ll only have to do this once. There’s an example with a further explanation and image below.
- Choose an instrument from the selection available on the left hand side and double click it. Make sure it’s set to Port A or Omni. This may need to be done each time. There’s an example with a further explanation and images below.
- That’s all there is to it!
- If you don’t hear anything, check the following:
- Make sure that the sound on your computer is on and at a sufficient volume.
- If you’re using separate speakers, make sure they’re turned on and at a sufficient volume.
- Click on the Options symbol in Kontakt Player, click on Audio and try selecting a different device, if available.
- Remember that sounds will come out of your computer and not your MIDI keyboard!
Explanation: setting your MIDI keyboard status to Port A
- Via Options and MIDI, set your MIDI keyboard to Port A. See the image below.
- You should see the name of your MIDI keyboard instead of ‘Origin25’ as seen in the example.
Explanation: setting your selected instrument to Port A or Omni.
- Make sure you’re on the libraries tab.
- Select an instrument and double click it.
- Make sure the MIDI Ch is set to A1 or Omni.
- See the image below.
What are your favourite instrument plugins? Let us know in the comments below.