Can you play a MIDI keyboard Live?

Over recent years, MIDI keyboards have been steadily growing in popularity due to their versatility and unique functionality. But, is it possible to play a MIDI keyboard Live?

Live performances are not the same as they were a couple of years back. Many famous musicians include triggered sound sources, MIDI, and integrated samplers into their on-stage performance. The evolution of on-stage performance has contributed immensely to the rise in the popularity of MIDI keyboards. It enables beat makers to sample across various genres, from the electronic world to hip hop, with ease and efficiency. So, how do you play a MIDI keyboard live?

MIDI keyboards on stage

MIDI keyboards allow musicians to trigger samples in real-time during a performance. Whether you prefer drums, guitar, or bass, a MIDI keyboard will deliver unique sounds, adding a new level of quality and timbre to your performance. Therefore, in order to use MIDI keyboard Live, you have to incorporate an efficient digital audio workplace (DAW), preferably one with drum rack or sampler, and available via a laptop.

It is also essential to note that there is a difference between a MIDI keyboard and a synthesizer. A keyboard is a device with actual keys like those in a piano, whereas a synthesizer is an instrument that produces sound. Here are the steps to follow if you want to play your MIDI keyboard live.

Determine MIDI interface to use

Look at the back panel of your keyboard and find out which MIDI interface your keyboard uses. Most modern MIDI keyboards have both MIDI ports for traditional rack synthesizers and USB interfaces for managing virtual instruments on computers. If you have an older MIDI keyboard that only has a MIDI OUT port for controlling the virtual synthesizer, it is best to get a MIDI-to-USB converter box, such as those from Cakewalk, M-Audio, and MOTU, among many others.

Connect to your sound source

As established earlier, a MIDI keyboard does not produce any sound. As such, use your USB or MIDI OUT port to connect your MIDI keyboard to a reliable sound source, like the MIDI IN of a rack synthesizer. USB connections are versatile in functionality in that they handle both MIDI IN and MIDI OUT data via a single line. Alternatively, MIDI ports require individual in and out connections to send and receive data signals.

Connect to a power source

Proceed to connect your MIDI keyboard and sound source to a stable power source. All MIDI devices are engineered for hot-swapping. However, it is advisable to ensure that all the connections with the devices are powered down to ascertain device recognition.

Set up your sound source to receive MIDI from your keyboard

The next step to setting up your MIDI keyboard for a live performance is changing the settings on your sound source to ensure it receives MIDI data from your keyboard. Generally, MIDI sends data to a maximum of 16 different channels, and your MIDI device can send up to 16 different patches at once, depending on the type.

Set the MIDI receive channel on your sound source to receive either all or one for instruments that play tunes, and to channel only 10 when it comes to percussion or drums. Consult the sound source’s manual for clear guidelines on how to establish such a connection.

Set the MIDI send channel of your MIDI keyboard

Some MIDI keyboards have an in-built channel option in their interface, while others list their MIDI options at the top of their keys. If your channel option is above the black and white keys of the keyboard, press the ‘Function,’ or ‘Shift’ key, then depress the key assigned to ‘Program channel.’ Adjust it to 01, 10, or any level from the labeled keys. Remember to follow the owner’s manual of your MIDI keyboard to set up the MIDI send channel of your keyboard comprehensively.

Tips for playing a MIDI keyboard Live

When going to play live for music lovers, it is best to prepare thoroughly. Pack all your essential tools and instruments beforehand to prevent leaving anything out on the actual day. Pack your cables neatly and properly, making sure you have them all. Preferably, pack them together for neatness and easy retracing in case anything happens.

Similarly, it is also advisable to ensure all your software and its drivers are updated to prevent embarrassment while on stage. Also, consult your manuals for any queries. If you are using a USB power cable, remember to carry an external power source, like batteries or a DC plug, since USB’s have limitation when it comes to delivering stable power beyond 5metres.


Regardless of your music genre or your level of prowess in the music industry, MIDI keyboards provide artists with a broader range of versatility than ever before. Investing in a top-quality MIDI keyboard could be the component that makes a difference in your live performances as it is a versatile tool in today’s world of music.

Peter Smith

Welcome to MusicGearAdvisor! 4 years ago I rediscovered my passion for making music and began building my own home studio. As I have gone through my journey I realized that I am just as passionate about the equipment as I am about the music. I started MusicGearAdvisor as a way for me to share my learnings with others so you can get started making music that you dream of.

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