Music Gear 101

If you work in a studio or studio like environment, chances are, there is a MIDI controller in your midst. Many sound developers, producers, composers and music artists in general utilize this instrument in modern music making. These controllers have been around since the early 80s and have been the ultimate convenience for artists and creative individuals across professions. Since its introduction and standard use, MIDI has since become an integral part of many music production processes.

The MIDI controller is a simple device which controls the music using MIDI protocol. This MIDI data is transmitted to a second device with which sound can be perceived. These secondary devices are MIDI enabled and are essential in activating and executing the control parameters in addition to the sound during electronic music production. There is a lot more to these controllers: all of which you can find in the guide below.

Here is our all you need to know guide to MIDI controllers, enjoy!

What is MIDI?

First off, for any new or potential users, MIDI is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital interface. It is an agreed upon standard which was developed over a long time and is now among the most popular and convenient ways to make music today. Since the MIDI protocol is standard, it is available across various gadgets, but we will focus on the MIDI keyboard controller.

Basically, these controllers cannot produce musical sound by themselves and require different interfaces that you can access the MIDI data in “human language”. With these controllers,

MIDI 2.0

1983 is a long time ago and luckily there have since been improvements to this universally used protocol. The MIDI Manufacturers’ association in January 2020 saw to the launch of the MIDI 2.0. This upgrade is a result of years of work with different major groups.

Some of the improvements on MIDI 2.0 include the following

  • More memory allowing the protocol to emulate more features with higher resolution messaging
  • Bidirectional communication allowing backward compatibility and communication between devices
  • Overall simpler workflow for users, among many other updates

Must have features in MIDI controllers

Origin stories aside, let’s move on to the MIDI controllers’ important components and distinguishing features. A typical MIDI controller is designed with an assortment of control features. These allow you to efficiently manipulate various compatible plug ins, DAWs and Software to perform musically as you please. Some controllers are instrument shaped with a wider variety of control features. Keyboards and drum MIDI controllers for instance are instrument shaped controllers that offer next level control.

Usually, with a direct USB co \5nnection to a computer, you can easily access MIDI information using these devices. If you have older version models, you can utilize and efficient MIDI 5 pin cable or even MIDI interface to connect to a computer. Differences between MIDI controllers arise when there are variations among the components. However, there are some standard features every controller must have. Take a look.

Keys and Key-bed

MIDI controller keyboards are primarily designed with a keybed and keys. This keybed and key component forms the basis upon which various keyboard controllers can vary. Moreover the duo is the foundational difference between MIDI keyboard controllers and MIDI controllers. Simpler controllers help adjust parameters or trigger tomes and are often less bulky compared to the former.

Here some of the different ways the key(s) feature can vary.

  • Keyboard action

The manner in which your keys respond as you play should matter quite a lot. Various experts and users explain that key board action has the potential to influence creativity in addition to productivity. That being said, there are 3 keyboard action types every user must be aware of: weighted hammer action, semi weighted action and synth action. Weighted action is design to mimic the hammer action n on pianos. This is often achieved by incorporating springs and weights into the design, often resulting in a heavier controller.

Semi weighted action type is designed with less resistance and without the complete replication for real life piano playing. Synth action is completely different from actual piano playing. With light spring-loaded keys, the experience is likable to playing an electric organ.

Notable the less complex the keyboard action is, the lighter the controller keyboard becomes. You can therefore guess that synth Action are more lightweight controllers, and quite versatile.

  • Key count

From mini keyboard controllers with 25 keys to 88-Weighted key controllers: the options are limitless when it comes to key count on controllers. 88 keys offer a full piano range and are mostly tailored towards piano centered users. Similarly, you may use the full range to enhance your keys or develop complex pieces as necessary. The most common types of key variations include: 25, 32, 49, 61 and 88 keys.

With that in mind, as the number of keys on a MIDI controller keyboard increases, so does the cost of ownership. Often, controllers with more keys are equipped with a wider variety of features.

Moreover, fewer keyed MIDI keyboard controllers are lighter in weight, smaller in size and more portable by design. This convenience factor makes them ideal for the space limited artist who still needs a MIDI controller.

Aftertouch or pressure

This is simply the devices ability to deliver steams of data from your controller immediately said key is engaged. When used as a control parameter, after touch is one bas ass MIDI control feature. As a luxury inclusion, aftertouch is great for productivity and creativity improvement. Similarly, experts and makers explain that aftertouch does influence playability of your keys and the overall creative process.

Control features

There are many reasons to invest in a MIDI: with control being a major one of these. With the right controller and satisfactory controls on the control center, the musical possibilities are endless. This is why the controls including the faders, buttons and knobs and the extent to which the cant transmit data or even manipulate it. These control features influence how easily work will flow during sessions.

Performance features

There are many included components on various keyboard controllers meant to improve the instrument’s performance. Included performance pads are a great example of performance features. Other performance features can include LCD screens, where result and responses to your control triggers can be displayed. This isn’t a mandatory feature for controllers but adds to performance capabilities on said devices.

DAWs and MIDI controllers- What you need to know

The DAW is the interface on which users may interact with controllers. With a Digital Audio Station, MIDI controller users can access and manipulate the sound and effects received in MIDI messages. These often have access to limitless sound libraries: providing different creators a front to develop electronic music.

A guide to choosing MIDI controllers

Obviously there is a lot that goes into choosing the right MIDI controller. However, if you ever find yourself in this position, here some factors that you must consider above everything else:

Space and size of the controller

If space is an issue for you during creative or producing sessions, then you will want to highly consider what kind controller will fit your work are while meeting your musical requirements. Luckily, controllers come in all manner of sizes and designs. There are even mini MIDI controllers with reasonable MIDI capabilities at a convenient size.

Factors that influence the size of a MIDI controller include the type of controller and included features. Similarly, if you are a gigging musician, always on the go artist, then size with regard to portability must be taken into account.


This is in caps because controllers can get pretty expensive very fast. You must select your price range depending on your level of expertise with keys, and the extent to which you plan on using the controller. Ideally, if you do not plan on using the controller for pro use, it is advisable to keep the purchase under 1000 dollars.

Luckily simple controllers unlike instrument hybrid controllers are simpler in design and less costly. Similarly, different brands develop various sized, and functionally controllers with quite accessible prices.

Features, design and Musical requirements

You may have noticed, we’ve talked about your needs, requirements or preference in various ways throughout this article. This is because the user is as important an influential factor as is the instrument in the selection process.

Depending on what you intent to use the controller for, the frequency, and extent to which you plan to use the controller. Similarly, your needs will dictate the level of control you desire in a controller. These MIDI controllers are designed with varying MIDI functionality and control capacity. Establishing your needs make the selection process quite simple. Assessing the features, layout and included design elements, it is easy to decide whether a particular controller can deliver what you need.


Specific to the keyed/keyboard controller, keys are an important consideration when choosing said controller. Since we have already described the different variations on the keys feature, we don’t need to repeat that information. However, one notable inclusion on modern controllers is the velocity sensitivity feature which is sensitive to your style of playing.

Final word

MIDI controllers are a wonderful addition to many users’ studios or workspaces. Since they are a popular music production gadget, it is important to understand as much as possible about these types of devices. The information provided above is a great basis for users to understand all they need to know about MIDI controllers.

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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