One of the most popular instruments to learn and play is the piano which some people are lucky enough to have in their home. However, owning a full-sized piano is not the easiest thing to squeeze into your home, making a keyboard or a midi controller a great option if you are hoping to jump into the world of music more easily.
Can a midi controller be used as a keyboard? Essentially, both a midi controller and a keyboard can be used for music production, but a midi controller cannot be used on its own. A keyboard is a standalone device that can be used on its own and without the addition of another device.
Both midi controllers and keyboards have pros and cons on their usage but are not identical enough to be used interchangeably. Midi controllers are designed more for music production, and keyboards are better for practice and learning to play. Learning more about the devices can help you make a more educated decision on what you should purchase.
What are the Differences Between the Devices?
The best way to make a solid decision on which device you would like, is to learn the key differences between a midi controller and a keyboard. If you are more familiar with the features present in each device, you can ensure you are receiving a device that fits your musical needs. However, both devices are great for learning more about music, playing, and recording your own songs; they just go about these duties in different ways.
Key Midi Controller Features
Midi controllers usually come with a keyboard that receives and sends out midi information. Unlike a keyboard, you cannot directly use a midi controller on its own, because it is simply a controller. This means you must use the controller with an external source such as your VSTi, computer, or sequencer.
In addition to this, midi controllers don’t usually come with an inbuilt sound system. Essentially, this means that they cannot produce sounds on their own. Only when used with another source can they produce the sound you need to utilize the device.
There are many pros that come with purchasing a midi controller; some of these positive features are:
- Midi controllers are great for composing or sequencing, such as piano notation.
- They deliver sound synthesizing outside of your computer.
- They are more affordable. On average, a more basic midi controller costs less than a keyboard.
There are various types of midi controllers out there, including those that have more advanced features, such as pan, faders, and aftertouch. If you want these advanced features, you may have to buy a more expensive controller
Some of the cons that come with midi controllers:
- Midi controllers are far more limited in what they can be used for compared to keyboards.
- The midi controller is essentially useless if you can’t access your computer for some reason.
- Many think that controllers don’t have the same feel as keyboards and lose the qualities that pianos offer.
Top Features of a Keyboard
To get the best out of a keyboard, you must already know how to operate the keys on the board. If you are just starting out, you will want to learn how to use the keyboard correctly, which can take some extra time. Of course, with a keyboard, you will need no other devices to make it work, and it produces sound without a computer.
The pros of purchasing a keyboard:
- Keyboards are far more portable and can be taken with you to other locations. This is great for playing music outside of the home, as no other devices such as a laptop are needed.
- Keyboards are useful for performance. They are the best option for those who want to play in a band or perform on stage. You take away the uncertainties of lag and faults that may enter a live situation using a laptop.
- Most keyboards have more options and controls than a typical midi controller. They do not need an external source for internal sound, as they have built-in sound.
Negative aspects of using a keyboard:
- You don’t have access to the features a midi controller brings. The biggest disadvantage is that you do not have access to the faders, pads, knobs, and displays that come with a midi controller.
- Keyboards also lose the expression pedal input and aftertouch. Some keyboards do have these extra features, but they may be very costly and are not as common.
Differences Between the Devices
Though you have probably learned a lot of the key differences from the pros and cons listed above, knowing the exact differences between the devices can help you make a better decision on what you would like to purchase.
As mentioned, keyboards tend to be the more expensive option but also are more like a traditional piano. On the other hand, midi controllers are great for those who want to produce music at a lower cost (but that assumes you already have a laptop suitable for use with it).
Those who have played piano in the past may be more likely to purchase a keyboard, as it is more similar. Modern keyboards are velocity and pressure-sensitive, meaning they respond to the amount of pressure you put on them. If the feel of the keys is extremely important to you, this is an area where keyboards shine and midi controllers lack. I wrote an article about learning piano on a keyboard and the pros and cons which you can read here.
On the other hand, many who want to have better control over the volume, sound, tone, and other software may opt for the midi controller. This device is a great way to produce music and record songs, and they link straight to your computer. If you want the traditional feel of the piano, it may not give you this sense of nostalgia and may not fit your personal needs.
Which Device Should You Purchase?
As mentioned, your needs and personal style of music playing can affect which device you decide to purchase. While there are some crossover options that allow you to essentially have a keyboard and midi controller all in one, these are not as common.
For most musically inclined, it will be necessary for you to make a clear decision between the two devices and find which works better for your needs and goals.
Note: If you do opt for a midi controller, you will want to purchase one that has full-sized keys and semi-weighted keys. While you probably have a budget that you would like to stick to, you can find quality devices with quality keys at a reasonable price.
Can’t Decide Between a Midi Controller and a Keyboard?
If you truly cannot decide, there is the option of buying a portable keyboard with midi output. This means you will have to buy a MIDI USB cable that allows you to connect the device to your computer.
When you choose this option, you can learn more techniques, play music anywhere, and use it as a midi input device. This is a good way to get the best of both worlds.
The best way to ensure that you are getting the midi controller or keyboard that you want is to see which feels the best in your hands. You will want to visit a location that sells both items and feel them in person for a better understanding of which you prefer.
Overall, though a midi controller and a keyboard cannot be used interchangeably, there are some options you can take to get the best of both worlds. In the end, they both offer unique benefits and disadvantages that you must consider before making any final decisions and purchasing a device that fits your needs.