I once bought an excellent MIDI keyboard from a yard sale. It was a large, professional keyboard, but the volume was way too low when I brought it home to test it. Fortunately, fixing a quiet MIDI keyboard is easy if you know the right parameters.
So, how to fix a quiet MID keyboard? You fix a quiet MIDI keyboard by adjusting the velocity curve parameter of the keyboard in the MIDI settings.
The velocity parameter is what controls the MIDI keyboard’s output. It sets the keyboard’s response to how hard you press the keys. Therefore, you just have to find the velocity setting controls for your brand of MIDI keyboard and controller.
How to Adjust a MIDI Keyboard’s Velocity Parameter
When your MIDI keyboard fails to make a sound when you press a key, most of the time the problem is not with your keyboard. The issue lies in how your MIDI controller software handles inputs coming from the keyboard.
This situation is a byproduct of how a MIDI keyboard works. These electronic devices let you synthetically produce the sound of any instrument just by pressing keys. Some may also include drum pads and other features, but they all work the same way.
However, pressing a MIDI keyboard key makes no sound by itself. It just closes a circuit in the keyboard. Instead, the key acts as a switch to turn on the voltage in a circuit. It is this voltage that your MIDI controller converts into audio data.
Velocity measures how fast the voltage changes, and it directly corresponds to how fast and hard you press the key. The controller uses the velocity response to map the velocity to its volume output, and this is where most volume problems lie.
A midi note velocity is basically a number between 0 and 127. With 127 being the loudest note and 0 being silence. Having a range of different velocities throughout a piece of music is usually a good thing because it makes the music sound natural. If you are playing piano, for example, it is likely you will hit some notes harder than others, as a human you are unlikely to hit every single key with the same velocity.
See below a screenshot of a MIDI piano roll. The velocity is at the bottom and as you can see on the left it is like a graph with each note having a value between 1 and 127.
But if your MIDI keyboard is too quiet you may want to push the average velocities up so you can hear them more clearly.
How you fix the velocity response ultimately depends on your controller. Every MIDI controller has its own way to adjust their settings. Therefore, how to change the response will differ from MIDI keyboard controller software to controller software.
For this article, I will explain how to fix this in a couple of different DAWs (Ableton and FL Studio), but most MIDI software uses similar naming conventions. So, if you know one, you can figure out the rest. Though, you should always check your controller’s user manual to get the correct procedure for it.
In Ableton there is a MIDI effect plugin called ‘velocity’ which comes with the software. Find this in the MIDI effects section and drag it into your MIDI track.
You will see a small window appear at the bottom that shows you the current MIDI velocity curve. This is usually set to have a range of 1 to 126 and outputs also from a low of 1 to a high of 127. What this is saying is that you can record MIDI notes with any velocity from very quiet to very loud.
But if all your notes are too quiet you can change this range so that even the quietest notes are much louder.
To do this either increase the output of the ‘Out Low’. This makes even the quietest notes louder.
Or you can decrease the range of velocities. You could bring it down to 1 to 50 for example and this would make the quieter notes louder by decreasing the dynamic range.
In FL Studio
In FL Studio Open the MIDI Setting Window.
In FL, you do that just by pressing the F10 key. You then click on the Velocity Curve button to open the response map.
The response map is just a curve. The graph’s x-axis sets what the controller thinks you are playing. The y-axis is what you want it to play. Adjusting the curve sets how the controller handing the MIDI signal coming in from your keyboard before it sends it to the piano roll.
To make the audio output louder, you must make the harder velocities easier for the controller to reach. You do this by pressing any key hard and seeing where the response is on the curve. The response will appear as a vertical line on the graph.
You then adjust the response by clicking and moving the point of intersection of this line and the curve. You just move it to where you want it. If it sounds right, you click “Accept” to save it. Otherwise, you can repeat the procedure as much as you need.
Use MIDI Profiles to Adjust the Velocity for a Particular Instrument
The velocity is how you adjust the volume of a MIDI keyboard. Regardless of the actual issues, the fix often comes down to just adjusting the velocity curve.
Though, this works if you only need to change it only a few times in the life of your keyboard. However, diving into the MIDI setting every time you need to make a change can get frustrating, and that’s typical of most keyboards.
While most MIDI instrument settings work with most MIDI surfaces and settings, you will find some instruments work best with different response curves. For these, you must update the velocity response before you start playing or recording them
Fortunately, you can use preset MIDI profiles to quickly switch between MIDI surfaces as needed without having to go through the full procedure each time.
Most MIDI keyboard controllers come with the following preset profiles.
- Flat – A flat response is great for when you want the volume to remain fixed regardless of how hard you press the keys. This is very useful for drum tracks. It also lets you use your computer keyboard as a MIDI one.
- Stepped – Stepped curves create a binary response. Hard presses always provide the highest volume. Soft presses reduce the sound to 25 percent velocity.
- Negative – A negative curve is an opposite response to a stepped one. Soft presses are loud while hard presses stay quiet.
What Other Factors May Make a MIDI Keyboard Quiet?
While the velocity curve is the most common reason for a quiet MIDI keyboard, it is not the only reason. For instance, your sound navigation and ranging (or SONAR) system might be sending the wrong controller code.
However, these other reasons differ if you are using a hardware synth or a soft one. Plus, most controllers handle recording and playback differently. Your MIDI output might be fine when a recording is too soft when you play it back, for example.
Luckily, you only have to check two things to know why your keyboard is quiet.
First, you can check for an activated pass-through button. If activated, SONAR passes what you playback to the synth. If a note affects the controller negatively, you can turn off the pass-through function to see if it fixes anything.
Secondly, if the pass-through is fine, then you should check the controllers Local On/Off setting. If the MIDI keyboard works when plugged into your computer, but remains silent when not, this setting could be the issue.
The SONAR might be sending your keyboard a local off command. This command turns off the keyboard’s sound module, forcing it to just sit there until your computer gives it a sound to play.
You can fix this situation by disabling the feature in your SONAR.
A Quiet MIDI Keyboard Could Just Be Broken
Finally, your quiet MIDI keyboard could just have broken electronics. MIDI keyboards are mini-computers in their own right, and they can break down just the same.
If the above software solutions fail to fix the problem, you might have to take your keyboard apart to check for faulty components. You must check your keyboard’s entire circuit board. Therefore, you might want to take it to an electronics expert to protect it from damage.
If you do decide to fix the electronics yourself, you must test every component. You can look up schematics for your keyboard’s model to find the sound and power modules. This will help you reduce the work you must do.
Testing and repairing the electronics in your MIDI keyboard works the same way as repairing any electronic device. You check for breaks and shorts in the circuit, blown capacitors, and leaking or dead internal batteries.
If possible, you should use similar components from a donor keyboard to replace the broken parts. You will lose the donor, but you might be able to fix your keyboard.
If none of these procedures work, you might just have a dead MIDI keyboard. If that is the case, all you can do is just get a new one. Luckily, most keyboards are fixable with only a few clicks of a button.