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5 Things You Must Consider When Choosing Your GarageBand MIDI Keyboard Controller
So, you open up a new song in GarageBand and add a software instrument. It loads up a Grand Piano and sits there waiting for you to play your masterpiece. But wait, there’s a problem. What do you use to play this piano, your computer keyboard? I don’t think so.
One of the first things new GarageBand users realize is that it’s very difficult performing, programming and recording MIDI using a QWERTY keyboard. This sends them on a journey to find the right MIDI keyboard. The problem is that, for a newbie, the number of different MIDI keyboards available is overwhelming. How do they decide which one is right for them? Let’s take a look at the options.
The vast majority of MIDI programming is accomplished using a keyboard controller. The user-interface of a keyboard is one that most musicians instantly recognize and feel comfortable using. It’s equally good at performing melodic and chordal parts, as well as banging out any type of rhythmic pattern.
Many of you probably understand this already but, I want to make sure you realize that MIDI keyboard controllers do not produce any sound. They are not like other keyboards that have built-in sounds. The sole purpose of a MIDI controller keyboard is to send MIDI information, not sound, to a MIDI sequencer, in your case, GarageBand.
Weighted or Non-Weighted
One of the first decisions you need to make is whether you prefer a weighted or non-weighted action on your keyboard. What this is referring to is the amount of effort it takes to push down a key. Weighted action keyboards are designed to mimic the feel of a piano’s action. Non-weighted keyboards, also known as synth action, have a much lighter playing action. They also tend to be cheaper than weighted-action keyboards.
Does Size Matter?
Your next consideration when choosing a MIDI keyboard controller is how many keys you need. Just because a piano has 88 keys doesn’t mean you should go out and buy a MIDI controller with 88 keys. When choosing the size of your keyboard you should think about a few things. How much space do you have in your studio? Are you a trained pianist? If not, you probably won’t find yourself playing very much music that requires 88 keys. In that case, you can save money and space by going with a smaller keyboard of 61, 49, 37 or 25 keys.
USB vs MIDI
Nowadays, almost all MIDI controllers connect to your computer via USB. This makes setup very convenient. In most cases, your Mac will instantly recognize the keyboard as soon as you plug it in. If not, setting up your new MIDI controller is a simple matter of adding it to your MIDI configuration in the Audio/MIDI Setup portion of your Mac’s preferences menu.
Just so you’re aware of it, there are a few MIDI keyboard controllers out there that do not connect to your computer via USB. These controllers only have MIDI ports and are designed to connect directly to a MIDI interface, which in turns connects to your computer via USB. This type of keyboard is designed for use in a much larger MIDI configuration than the typical GarageBand home studio so I would recommend you steer clear of them.
More Specialized MIDI Controls
Inevitably, you’re going to notice that most MIDI keyboard controllers include additional controls beyond just the keys. Let’s take a look at the most common of these:
- Pads - Many MIDI keyboards today come with 4 or 8 square rubber pads on them. These are great for performing drums and other rhythmic parts into GarageBand.
- Knobs - Many controller keyboards contain knobs. These knobs can be used to change parameters in GarageBand like pan and track volume.
- Faders - Like knobs, faders can be used to control software parameters like volume, or even reverb amount.
- Transport and other buttons - The other additional controls that you might find on a MIDI keyboard are buttons. These are used to send static on/off MIDI messages like Mute or Solo. They also commonly duplicate the functionality of the transport section of GarageBand.
I know that was quite a bit of information but it’s important to understand all of this before you go out shopping. The last thing you want is to come home with the wrong MIDI keyboard controller for your GarageBand studio.
About The Author:
Bill Hartzell is an Assistant Professor of Recording Arts & Technology at a college in the Cleveland, Ohio area. His site GarageBand Tips is full of tips and tricks for making music with GarageBand. While you’re there make sure to sign-up for your free 10-day GarageBand Tips email course. His latest article was written for anyone looking for the perfect MIDI controller for programming GarageBand drum tracks?
nice post.I really enjoyed it.garageband seems to be an interesting home studio. I want to try it out.
Thanks for an informative post on something that every ‘GB’ user will get curious about sooner or later. After 3 year using garageband’s qwerty keyboard thing, (adequate but only just) I just spent three weeks ‘doing the rounds’ of local music shops tapping on every usb midi keyboard controller I could find. I just purchased a M-Audio keystation mini 32 and couldn’t be happier. It’s affordable, ($90 AUS) plugged straight in, its compact, looks cool, it’s fun and very easy to operate, and as I’m pressed for desk space, it’s low profile means that I can easily lean over to my keyboard to tweak the Garageband software on my Macbook Pro ‘on the fly’. I would recommend this keyboard to anyone who doesn’t want the whole home studio setup but wants a vast improvement on the ‘music keys’ on screen keyboard that comes with GB. Hope this helps… cheers Mark - QLD Australia
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