Using A MIDI Keyboard

A MIDI keyboard is an electronic keyboard, resembling a piano keyboard. The player playing it, generates real-time performance-data, sent over a MIDI interface. It has no sound generating capabilities of its own, which makes it less expensive than a synthesizer. Similar to MIDI keyboards, there are devices called electronic drum-pads, which are useful in playing percussion sounds on a synthesizer.

The MIDI performance-data is typically sent to a synthesizer, and/or a sequence-editor (word-processor for music) on your computer. It can also be used with the KeyMusician Keyboard.

You can also use a synthesizer as a MIDI keyboard, by turning its volume all the way down (or perhaps playing its sound along with the KeyMusician Keyboard). Even an inexpensive synthesizer can be used to play the higher-quality instruments of the KeyMusician Keyboard, as long as it has a MIDI interface. Also, the KMK application can play that inexpensive synthesizer, giving it an 84-key keyboard (rather than its internal keyboard having less keys).

Where the KeyMusician Keyboard gives you 84 keys, and MIDI keyboards give you 25, 49, 61, or (in the most expensive case) 88 keys, it would seem there is little value in adding a MIDI keyboard. Yet for advanced users, there are some useful things a MIDI keyboard can do for you, enhancing the application.

What a MIDI Keyboard (or MIDI Drum Pad) Can Do for You:

Although you can gradually change the volume as you play (similar to a volume pedal of an organ) on the KeyMusician Keyboard, and can even grab the velocity slider with the mouse, dragging it back and forth as you play, it is easier to do quick changes of how loud each note is, by how hard you hit it.

Since typing-keyboards pass no information regarding how hard you hit each key, the only way to add this individual-note volume control to the KeyMusician Keyboard, is to play a velocity-sensitive MIDI keyboard (or synthesizer, or MIDI drum pad) through it.

By playing a MIDI keyboard through the application, the velocity information on each note is passed-to (and used by) the application, as well as the sustain-pedal control signal.

In doing this, you get velocity-sensitivity, but keep the ability to have the fingering the same in every key signature (you play only the white keys, unless you need an accidental (a note not in the current key signature)), as well as the ability to play chords on the numeric keypad.

If you have a lot of accidentals (notes not in the key signature) in a piece, mixed among notes within the key signature, it can be difficult to first press the Page-Up (or Page-Down) key before playing the accidental. Sometimes this is handled for you automatically by playing a chord that contains that accidental, but if not, it can be difficult (or impossible) to play such phrases with manual accidentals.

By playing a MIDI keyboard through the application, you can instantly play an accidental, by hitting the black-key above (or below) the (white-key) key of the key signature.

Learning to play multiple, independent parts, is probably the most difficult part of learning to play the piano. Playing melody with chords is much easier, and takes much less time to learn.

Although the reversing ascending/descending direction of the notes played by each key is no problem when playing a single melody part, when you add two or more independent melody parts, that reversing note-order adds complexity, even exceeding the simplification of always playing within key signature.

If you need to play more than two independent melody parts, using a MIDI keyboard can make this task easier.

Although it's fairly easy to toggle the sustain-control on/off by hitting the space-bar with your thumb, it's even easier to use a foot-controlled sustain pedal. Though the sustain pedal isn't included in your purchase of a MIDI keyboard, you should always purchase one as a necessary accessory. Make sure the MIDI keyboard being evaluated for purchase has a plug-in for a sustain-pedal.

In the same manner as you can add an additional player (like piano four-hands) to the same KeyMusician Keyboard melody instrument, by plugging in an additional USB typing-keyboard, you can also add such a player using a MIDI keyboard. One advantage of doing this with a MIDI keyboard, is the MIDI keyboard keeps playing, even if keyboard-focus is lost by the KMK application window.

If you have a competent keyboard player, who can play in any key signature without the aid of the KeyMusician Keyboard application, you can connect the MIDI keyboard directly to one or more of the instruments in your VST instrument rack (or another software-synthesizer), while another person plays other instruments of that VST rack (or synthesizer) using the KeyMusician Keyboard.

Your laptop very likely is capable of handling this simultaneous music, even with a pianist pounding away at a very fast piece such as the 3rd movement of Beethoven's “Moonlight” sonata! Two band-members, playing simultaneously on two different instruments, using the same laptop.

How To Connect A MIDI Keyboard

In the picture below, of a part of my studio, I have many components connected together. The amplifier is a Roland Mobile AC (on the TV), which has amplification for the microphone, as well as two different audio inputs. The silver MIDI keyboard (against the wall), is an M-Audio KeyStation 88, which I highly recommend. Note that there is a volume-pedal, and a sustain-pedal (below it) connected to it.

There are Mac OS X machines, and an older Dell computer with Windows 7 and three Linux partitions. There is also an inexpensive Yamaha synthesizer, connected with a MIDI interface, behind the Macintosh machines.


The KeyStation 88 MIDI keyboard connects (to whichever computer it's plugged into) using a USB cable, but also supplies a (round) MIDI interface plug-in.

The typing-keyboard for playing the KeyMusician Keyboard is on the Roland laptop-stand (and there's another one on top of the Dell machine).

Here (below) is another simpler, less elaborate setup.


Here we have an Akai LPK25 miniature MIDI keyboard behind the normal typing-keyboard of the computer under the computer-desk, both connected via USB plug-ins. I don't particularly recommend this Akai MIDI keyboard because of its stiff key-action, but it works and is velocity-sensitive. Notice that I can easily have one hand on each keyboard.

Here (below) is a screen-shot of my connecting the LPK25 MIDI keyboard (above) to the KeyMusician Keyboard application, as a MIDI Input device:


The “Thru” radio-button selected above the MIDI Input drop-box, indicates its input is passed-thru the application to the connected “MIDI Output To” device, which in this case is the Java Sound (Gervill) synthesizer.

If instead, the "Display" radio-button were selected, notes played on the MIDI keyboard would display on the performance-pane graphics display, in a red color. This can be useful for an instructor to play something for the student to match (playing the KeyMusician Keyboard).

I could instead have selected entry # 7 (on Linux, the ALSA interface to it), but entry # 13 is more like what you would see on Windows.

So that's how you connect it to the application (assuming you have its USB cable already plugged-in). But there is one more step that is very important to take care of.

The input from the MIDI input device, is only received by the currently-displayed performance pane (on its particular MIDI channel), as shown in the screen-shot below. All other MIDI input is filtered-out.


Note that the “MIDI Channel” spin-control (near the screen-shot cursor) is currently set to “2”. Since the LPK25 keyboard (without special configuration) sends its input on MIDI channel 1, everything played on the LPK25 would be filtered-out (not play), so it would seem like it's not working.

To solve this, I would need to click the down-arrow of the “MIDI Channel” spin-control, to change it to channel 1. After doing that, everything played on the LPK25 MIDI keyboard will play (with its notes displayed) on the currently-displayed performance pane.

On other MIDI keyboards (such as the KeyStation 88), you could easily change the MIDI channel the keyboard sends-on, and you wouldn't have to change the channel of the performance pane.

Summary

Connecting a MIDI keyboard, an external MIDI synthesizer, or a MIDI drum pad, is a way you can easily improve your system, giving you more capabilities than you have otherwise.

It's the easiest way to add velocity-sensitivity to your performances, which is especially important if you play percussion sounds. It also gives you a way of more-quickly playing accidentals, and making it easier to play multiple independent parts (if that's what you want to do).

This capability was designed-into the application from the very beginning, and is just waiting for you to 'tickle the keys'. Give it a try.



To return to the index of all newsletter articles, click the following link:

Index Of All Newsletter Articles