How Do MIDI keyboards actually work? How do you set up a keyboard so it works with my computer applications?


Which Sequencer is best?


Yes, you need a computer program.  Go look at some. at
 this page

Stop sobbing already.  Now put on your thinking hat.

Set up your keyboard

First hook up MIDI, either by USB or by the 5 pin jacks MIDI in and Out jacks on your keyboard to your computer's MIDI in and out jacks.

On the keyboard you look for the switch marked "local control OFF" This disables the sound output of your keyboard UNLESS the computer sends it MIDI data.  It allows the computer to pass through your keyboard playing back to the keyboard. Perhaps they should have called this "remote control on". Basically, when you work with MIDI you want the computer to totally control your keyboard.  Ok, I know some of you are going "What the..."

So let me explain this in detail.  Many newbs get messed up right here so pay attention.

(excuse me while I yell this from the mountaintop, a result of having said this a million times in my life)


You play notes on the keyboard




MIDI data goes down the MIDI cable or USB cable

The Computer receives the data and makes a record (a recording) of it, then sends it back to the MIDI out.  See, this is all that midi data is, note numbers and a time stamp of how long you held it down.  This data does not make any sound at all unless you send it to a synth that understands what to do with it. 

It goes back down the other MIDI cable to the keyboard



The keyboard turns on the notes (now you get sound) and the keyboard sends the audio signal down the audio cable

Note: if you are using a soundless keyboard controller, the MIDI data triggers a softsynth, or virtual instrument, inside the computer.

The audio waveform goes in the soundcard's audio input.  The soundcard converts it to digital audio data, stores it

 then converts it back to an audio signal

It then goes out of the soundcard to your amp/speakers

Then you hear the sound! That's how it works!  All of this happens so fast you can't tell the difference.

In the sequencer, you can have MIDI and audio tracks playing side by side.    Observe how MIDI and Audio tracks are side by side in Logic

There are many different sequencers out there, those that do Audio and MIDI (like Sonar, Cubase. Pro Tools LE, Digital performer, Ableton Live and Logic) and those that only do audio like Vegas, Soundtrack Pro, Adobe Audition and others.  

And to make it even more confusing, there are those that do software MIDI but not hardware MIDI and no audio like Reason, those that do Audio and software MIDI but no hardware MIDI (GarageBand) and the variations continue. 

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