MIDI Controller Types: Keyboard, Non Keyboard, Pedal Controllers

MIDI Controller: Here’s an easy to follow guide on controllers, especially the keyboard ones, and how it really helps you in your music production endeavors. You have a choice of 61 key, 88 key, compact keyboard, non keyboard, and pedal controllers.


Whether you’re a hobbyist music producer or have advanced skills in the studio, its very likely that you’re using a midi controller. A MIDI Controller is an important equipment in the music studio, along with your computer / laptop, DAW, audio interface, headphones and / or studio monitors.

A MIDI controller is anything (hardware equipment or software) that is capable of sending MIDI data to other MIDI devices, typically to trigger sounds and to control sound related parameters.

  • You can use a MIDI controller with a sound module and treat it as your primary instrument or to provide effects.
  • A MIDI controller can be used not only in a studio but also in a live sound system.
  • Want to create music on your computer? If you are going to use a software sequencer for all your recordings, a midi controller will be just about fine.

Earlier, only the midi controller (keyboard) was a popular controller. Nowadays, various other musical instruments can also be used as a midi controller (keyboard, guitar, violin, etc). You even get pedal controllers that lets you control performance parameters with your foot, while your hands are busy playing the music instrument.

Besides the more common keyboard controller, you also get specialty controllers (such as pedal board controller) that give you more options to tailor your studio.

If you play woodwind, you’ll be more comfortable with a wind controller, which accurately models the subtleties of breath control. Same with a guitar controller.

MIDI Pad Controllers

MIDI pad controllers are commonly used by DJs, recording artists and studio engineers. Its easy to use and brings the feel of classic beat making into the world of computer music production.

Important things to look for in a MIDI pad controller are the pad count and layout, as well as the configuration options.

Using a MIDI Controller Keyboard

The most common type of MIDI controller is the keyboard, these are used by songwriters and performers alike. You get compact sized keyboard controllers as well, where space is limited.

And if you’re a pianist, you can opt for a full size 88-key model with weighted keys.

A MIDI Controller keyboard is a keyboard which does not have any sound of its own, but it can send MIDI messages. If you use a software sequencer for all your recordings, you really do not need an electronic keyboard with all its sounds, effects and accompaniments. You just need a midi keyboard which can send out MIDI messages and this is exactly what a controller keyboard does. Controller keyboards tend to be cheaper and you get them in smaller sizes as well.

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Computer Based Sequencer

Using MIDI you can turn your computer into a recording studio. You need a software sequencer like Sonar, Cubase, Reason, etc. and you need to connect your musical keyboard to your computer.

The MIDI IN/OUT of your keyboard will need to be connected to the MIDI OUT/IN of your computer’s soundcard.

A sequencer is something on which you record your performance track by track and play it back.

It can be either software or hardware. But why should you use a PC based sequencer?

You can check out the various Controller models here

Keyboard Based Sequencer

Almost all the keyboards contain a built-in sequencer and you can use that to record your performance.

The limitation of this approach is:

  • It will actually record the sounds and styles of the keyboard. Now if you do not have a top of the line keyboard the sounds may not be very good and the recording will be of average quality.
  • It will be a pain to do editing of your recording. It could be very cumbersome to do editing of the parts with mistakes. Of course, you will not find any of these problems with top of the line workstations like Motif, Triton, and Fantom.

But if you already have a keyboard and you want to make use of it, you can connect it to a PC through MIDI and use a software sequencer for your recording.

Why MIDI Controller Keyboards?

While recording on a software sequencer, you will not be recording the sounds from your electronic keyboard.

The sound will be generated within the PC using softwares called soft synths and VST’s, placed inside the software sequencer.

You will just trigger them using your keyboard to produce the sound. The quality of the sound in this case will be determined by the soft synths and VST’s that you have installed in your PC.

Now, since the sound is not produced by the keyboard, you can go in for a MIDI Controller Keyboard which is not only cheaper but also comes in smaller sizes.

You can easily dump your laptop, soundcard and MIDI controller keyboard in a bag and carry your recording studio along with you.

Modern MIDI Controllers

The controller keyboards nowadays are quite powerful and are capable of doing a lot of things. Here are some of the features that you can expect on these midi controllers.

Choice of Keys

Not only are these available in various number of keys, you also have the option to choose between the normal synth keys, semi-weighted, or weighted keys.

More Control
These are designed to give you complete control over your music making software.

Most leading brands have worked with some of the most popular DAWs to ensure that the knobs, faders and buttons can control all the things that you need to control in the software (such as your plug-in instruments and FX).

MIDI Controller

Best midi controller keyboard reviews…

Mapping Software
These come with a mapping software program which allows you to map the various faders, knobs and buttons of the keyboard to the various functions within the sequencer software.

Massive LCD screen
One you start working with several features, it can get a bit confusing as to what knob is controlling what feature. This is where a keyboard with a big LCD screen can really help.

Controllers with big display screens show you instantly what each control is assigned to. The screen shows what knob is assigned to what part of the software so you don’t have to look at the software GUI for this.

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