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The thought of being able to connect a keyboard to your phone and make it mimic sounds of a real piano would have sounded like science fiction a few years ago. But technology has advanced such a long way in recent times that it is now entirely possible and you don’t need to spend a fortune to do so!
This is all thanks to MIDI, a digital language that was invented to allow musical instruments to communicate with one another and also with other electronic devices such as computer…..and now even your phone. A MIDI keyboard will send a MIDI signal (a bunch of code) via a cable to your device and that can then be translated into an Audio signal that you can hear, via either software on a computer or an app on your phone.
In this short guide, I will show you how to do this with some (hopefully) handy pictures to guide you through.
1) Establish what sort of connection you have on your phone/ tablet
First things first before we buy any cables you have to establish what type of connection you have, because not all android phones are the same.
On my Motorola G5 for example (shown below) I have a USB C type connection which is a sort of oval shape. This is fairly common on newer Android devices.
If your device is slightly older you may have a Micro-USB type connection which from a distance looks very similar in size but the shape is slightly different with angles at the base.
There is even a chance you might have the end older Mini-USB type connection. But if your phone is old enough to have this type of connection there is a good chance a MIDI keyboard will not work with it.
2) Establish what sort of connection you have on your MIDI keyboard
Most MIDI keyboards that you are likely to own will have a USB connection, designed to be plugged into the USB port on your computer or laptop. The picture below shows you what this connection looks like.
There is a chance that if you have an older MIDI keyboard you might have a more traditional 5-pin MIDI connection but this is unlikely. The photo below shows what an old 5 pin MIDI connection looks like.
3) Order yourself an adapter cable
Now because no phones have a standard USB slot built-in we need to order an adapter to convert USB to whichever connection your Android device has.
In my case here I need a USB to USB C OTG converter such as the one shown below which I ordered from Amazon.
It has a standard USB-A slot (female connection) at one end for the USB to plug from the MIDI keyboard into.
At the other end it has a USB C (male) connection.
If you want to avoid confusion below is a link to the one I use so I know that one definitely works!
If your MIDI keyboard has a older 5 pin connection you will still need the above cable but you will also need a MIDI 5 pin to USB-A adapter too. Such as the one shown below
4) Plug in the USB or MIDI 5 Pin cable to your MIDI keyboard
If you have a modern MIDI keyboard with USB connectivity it should have come with a USB 2.0 cable which has a standard USB connector at one end
and a USB-A connection at the other end.
The 2.0 end plugs into the back of your MIDI Keyboard like so:
5) Connect the USB to the adapter
The USB cable comes from the MIDI keyboard into the converter cable which then connects to the phone as shown below.
Double check if your MIDI keyboard needs external power or whether the power from the phone battery will be enough to power it. For most smaller USB MIDI keyboards they are able to get power from the phone via USB, but for some larger keyboards you will probably have to plug them into the mains also.
When I plug in my USB the display lights up on the keyboard and I know we are in business!
6) Download yourself an App to use
Because MIDI works as a digital signal (basically a bunch of 1s and 0s) you can’t expect to simply start hearing sounds as soon as you plug in.
You will need to download an app of some sort which will take those digital signals and convert them into an audio sound that you can hear through your phones speaker or headphones.
One of my favorites on Android is called Perfect Piano. Firstly it’s FREE which is always a bonus. It comes with loads of built in sounds and more that you can download. There are loads of other apps out there some of which are free and some of which are paid. Just go to the Google Play store and type in something like “MIDI piano” or “MIDI keyboard”
Be warned only some will work with your MIDI keyboard. I’ve tried a few apps designed for creating dance music with pads and stuff and they only work with the touch screen and not the keyboard. So check the description or just stick to something like Perfect Piano at first at least until you know you can get it to work!
7) Open the App and try playing some notes
For me, Perfect piano automatically recognized I had a keyboard connected and it worked straight away. If this didn’t happen for you. Go to the main screen and click on the three lines in the top left-hand corner.
You will see an option that says “MIDI Keyboard” click that and hopefully you will see your keyboard listed there. Click on the option and it should connect.
8) Connect your phone to headphones or speakers to get a better sound
Although you will be able to hear notes coming through your phone speaker, the sound won’t be at it’s best. To get a better sound simply connect your phone to a decent pair of headphones/ speakers via either a cable connection or Bluetooth. Just as you would if you were listening to music.
For some studio headphones, recommendations check out this link.
What if it still isn’t working?
You may be running too older version of Android if you have an old device. Make sure you have installed updates and are running at least Android version 6.0 (Marshmallow) or later!
If you still have no luck try going to Settings and then Connected Devices. There you should see the MIDI keyboard showing as a connected device. Make sure it says USB controlled by the connected device and under “Use USB for” no data transfer is selected.