In the realm of home studios, you’ve likely come across images showcasing compact keyboards. These unassuming devices are known as MIDI controllers and come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
In this article, we delve into the world of MIDI controllers, exploring their purpose, significance within home studios, and compelling reasons why you should consider adding one to your musical setup.
Get ready to uncover the versatility and indispensability of these dynamic tools in unleashing your creative potential.
What are MIDI Controllers?
Apart from audio interfaces, your digital audio workstation (DAW), and headphones, midi controllers are vital piece of equipment you should have.
Now technically, midi controllers aren’t the same as keyboards. This is because midi controllers don’t have built-in sounds as compared to keyboards. While you can play it like a keyboard, you can’t push random buttons and expect it to make a sound.
What you do is connect it to your computer and open up your DAW. What midi controllers allow you to do is play midi tracks in a more musical way. Because of this, you can play the sounds that are included in your DAW however you like, whether like a piano or a drum machine.
Audio and MIDI
There are two types of tracks you work on in music production: audio and MIDI. Audio includes recording the sound of a singer’s voice, guitar amps, piano, or live drums.
On the other hand, MIDI tracks consist of data that imitates the sound of assigned instruments. While audio files allow you to edit the recorded sound, MIDI provides a broader range of editing possibilities. With MIDI, you can modify not only the notes but also the velocity and sound itself, granting you extensive creative control.
Dreaming of an orchestral arrangement or adding a captivating brass section to your song? Perhaps you’re keen on exploring unconventional sounds. MIDI enables you to achieve these goals by playing different virtual instruments available within your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).
Given the unique advantages offered by both audio and MIDI tracks, having a MIDI controller at home becomes increasingly beneficial. It empowers you to unleash your creativity, explore a diverse range of sounds, and elevate your music production capabilities within the comfort of your own studio.
Benefits of a MIDI controller
You can program midi by just using the mouse of your computer. However, if you want to program notes the same way you would play an instrument, then using a midi controller is much more beneficial.
An example is recording keyboards or synths. It would be much easier to play certain notes or chords on a keyboard, especially if you have prior knowledge of playing the piano.
If these were singular notes, programming would be easy. But what about two notes, or triads, or a full chord? While you can program the notes individually, it would be much easier to play the notes simultaneously. Using your mouse will be much easier since you can just focus on fixing the notes’ velocity, positioning, etc.
The same can be said about drums. Playing the notes can be much more convenient as compared to mapping them with your mouse. I’d use my mouse instead for tweaking the midi notes once they’re recorded.
Different Kinds of Midi Controllers
There are three kinds of midi controllers, all with different variations.
Keyboard MIDI Controllers
The first one is the keyboard. This is pretty straightforward. It has piano keys that can range from 25 keys, to 49 keys, or even more.
These are perfect for writing synth parts or piano parts as this allows you to play it like an actual piano.
Most controllers of this kind have both keys and pads, and many of them are used by beginners, intermediates, and professionals alike. This is the one I would recommend to start with.
Starter midi controllers come with 15 keys and 8 pads, with controls for each pad. This is the most recommended because it has the best of both worlds, albeit in a limited number of keys and pads.
This is perfect for many musicians and producers regardless of what genre they do.
Next are pad controllers, or sequencers. This is primarily focused on beat-making.
They come in different numbers of pads. The most basic has 8 pads, but the number can go to even 64. Another way to call sequencers is launchpads.
They’re typically called that if the sequencer has more than 8 pads. They are targeted at EDM and hip-hop artists.
So these controllers aren’t the most flexible when it comes to who can use them. However, they can be added to your collection if you want variety. You may find the pads on your keyboard midi controller too stiff and might be weirded out by using the keys in making beats.
You can use the pad controllers in making the beats and just use the keys for the other instruments.
Software midi controllers
If the previous entry was more tailored to beats, then this next type of controller is very specific to certain software.
Software midi controllers are made specifically to work for only own software. A prime example is Ableton Push 2.
This midi controller works only if you have the DAW Ableton Live. The controls in it function on the features of Ableton, so no luck trying to get it to work for others. But rest assured, it works extremely well with this DAW.
I would only recommend this DAW if you are an Ableton user and want to make the most out of its features. If not, then you’re better off using other midi controllers that work in all DAWs.
Full Size of Mini?
This section will focus on choosing between a full-scale version of a midi controller or a mini version.
I bring this up because the majority of midi controllers come in two sizes. One full size and the other a miniature version. This is especially common with keys.
To answer this question, this will depend on what you need from a midi controller.
If you are a beginner who wants to ease into music production, then mini versions are recommended. There are many midi controllers that have powerful mini versions that are recommended much more than the full size.
Smaller price tags, simpler controls, and not to mention they are portable. So you can make music on the go if you have a mini version.
However, if you are looking for more parameters to control, a more performance-like experience in recording midi, or want a bigger key size, then the full version is what’s for you.
I would also recommend this if your music heavily uses keyboard sounds, synth sounds, and others of the like and require using the full range of a piano roll.
A key piece for your studio
With more musicians making their bedrooms into home studios, the presence of a midi controller is much more vital when it comes to creating sounds outside of guitar, bass, and vocals.
All the more reason to get one for yourself.