Nowadays, you can get tons of features on a digital piano. These includes but not limited to multiple piano sounds, hundreds of other instrument sounds, multi-track recording, layering etc. For many, these are more than enough. But if you are one of the few that wants more, you need to understand how to use your digital piano as MIDI controller. I’ll try to explain why you might want to do that, how you can do that and what you need to be able to do that.
What Is MIDI?
MIDI is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. And a MIDI Controller is any instrument or computer software that can transmit MIDI data to MIDI-compatible devices which are able to interpret them into corresponding musical parameters and produce sounds accordingly. The earliest MIDI Controller were made to be separate instruments with singular ability of transmitting MIDI data, but no ability to give out sounds on their own.
MIDI Controllers are still designed and defined that way, but many digital pianos have now bridged that gap, being MIDI-capable and having inbuilt speakers that play the sound. MIDI features have now become part of the essential features that people lookout for in modern-day digital pianos.
While a lot of pianists are not thinking of becoming professional music producers, most of them will not mind MIDI features in their pianos. After all, nothing bad in getting a 2-in-1 musical instrument that works well.
Benefits of Using a Digital Piano as a MIDI Controller
You might wonder, then what exactly are the differences between a digital piano and a MIDI controller? Now, apart from the ability to give out sound, digital pianos have other benefits over conventional MIDI Controllers. Let’s check those benefits out.
MIDI Features and Speakers
While digital pianos have inbuilt sounds and speakers, a MIDI Controller does not and it will need the help of an external source of sound. MIDI Controllers can only transmit MIDI information that could reflect musical parameters such as notes and their intensities when played.
In short, with a digital piano, you get the ability to create, send, receive, and play MIDI data; all in a package of a musical instrument.
Apart from the ability of a digital piano to mimic the sound of an acoustic piano, it can also mimic the sounds of a variety of musical instruments to different degrees and quality (depending on the type you buy and your budge). A digital piano will therefore offer you sounds of multiple instruments (strings, organs, grand pianos, etc.).
Although we may have different types of MIDI Controllers, depending on how MIDI data is being transferred, it should be noted that MIDI Controllers were originally designed with pianos in mind. With time, some models of MIDI Controllers were designed to replicate the sounds of other instruments as well to suit the taste of people who have no interest in piano and they were classified as Alternative MIDI Controllers. So we may have Wind MIDI Controllers, Stringed Instruments Controllers, Drum and Percussion Controllers, and so on. Yet, a MIDI Controller will only be able to replicate the parameters of the particular instrument it was designed to mimic.
A digital piano seeks to replicate the feel of an acoustic piano and the keys tend to be heavy, fully-weighted and enhanced with touch sensitivity mechanisms. However, most MIDI Controller were not made with acoustic pianos in mind, so the keys are light with no touch sensitivity mechanism.
Therefore, if what you’re looking for is a fully-weighted keyboard, a MIDI Controller may not be the best for you. Also, an aspiring pianist will benefit more from a digital piano through exposure to a rewarding acoustic experience. With a digital piano, you’re able to truly learn how to play an acoustic instrument with better assessment of your true skills. Therefore, you won’t have much problem in the future when you finally transition into an acoustic player.
Best On Budget
While most MIDI Controllers do not have weighed keys, some models also feature 88 fully-weighted keys like real acoustic pianos. But these types usually cost a fortune and when you compare them with a digital piano of the same key quality, you will realize that the later is quite cheaper.
So if you’re a low budget music producer, a digital piano may be the best place to start your music production journey. Just make sure you look for one designed with music creation in mind, furnished with appropriate connections.
Ease of Use and Aesthetic Appeal
A digital piano is a plug-and-play instrument, unlike a MIDI Controller that will need special multiple connections and software installations. So if you’re not the techy type and only wish to make music as easily as possible, a digital piano is recommended.
Also, some digital pianos are just so gorgeous that they will be the center of attraction whenever they appear in your living room. So, If you want your instrument to be just as attractive as they would give out immersive sounds, then a digital piano is your best choice. They give awesome sounds and they have inbuilt speakers, making them the ideal instruments for your home entertainment and mini-concerts for a small audience.
What You Can Do With MIDI
As a music creator, MIDI features are very important to you and digital pianos have made it accessible to all and sundry. With your digital piano, you can now record music, save in MIDI format; then export to your computer where you can edit every parameter note after note, track after track using your favorite DAW software and VST effects; then combine each note and track; and save in audio format for the world to hear. With your digital piano performing the works of a MIDI Controller, you can do all these at the corner of your room with no inconvenience.
Use MIDI For Learning
Applications such as Flowkey, Piano Marvel, Piano Tutor, and Skoove will provide you with great features for learning how to play piano with ease. Many of these are interactive and can actually listen to your play with instant feedback.
Use MIDI To Create Your Own Music
If you already know how to play piano, then applications like Logic Pro X, GarageBand and Cubase 10 are Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) that will offer you awesome interfaces for making music with leisure. These software provide professional functions for you to create and compose your own music.
Use MIDI For More Awesome Sounds
Many readers have asked me to recommend digital pianos with authentic piano sounds as well as great organ/string or other instrument profiles. Thing is, these extra sounds on a digital piano are almost always mediocre. The solution is to actually use MIDI and VSTs for authentic sound profiles. Pianoteq 6, Keyscape and EastWest Quantum are some popular Virtual Studio Technology (VSTs) applications that will give you access to more musical instruments than your real studio can give you.
Guide To Connect Your Digital Piano To A Computer/Smart Device
The following are the cable(s) you will essentially need to connect your digital piano to your computer or other devices. What you will need depends on the ports available on your devices, but once you secure the right cable (s), connecting them is very easy.
Different Ports & Plugs
Before I show you the cables you need and how to connect your devices with your digital piano, it would be easier to show you all the different parts, plugs and what they look like. Use the images to understand what ports you are dealing with and find the corresponding cables you need. If a particular cable is difficult to find, you can always looks for adapters. For example, if you need a USB Type B to Micro USB cable and that’s hard to find, just use a Micro USB to Type A adapter + a Type A to Type B cable. There can be multiple solutions and just choose whichever is easier and cheaper for you.
USB Type A:
USB Type B:
USB Type C:
Digital Piano Port
USB Type A Port
USB Type B port
USB Type A to B cable
USB Type C Port
USB Type B port
USB Type B to C cable
USB Type B port
Lightning to USB Camera Adapter + USB Type A to B
USB Type B port
USB Type B to Micro USB
USB Type A Port
MIDI In/Out Ports
USB Type A to MIDI
USB Type C Port
MIDI In/Out Ports
USB Type C to MIDI
MIDI In/Out Ports
Lightning to USB Camera Adapter + USB Type A to MIDI
MIDI In/Out Ports
Micro USB to MIDI
Guide To Connect Your Digital Piano To Your Computer As A MIDI Controller
- A Digital piano with MIDI in/out ports or a USB Type B port.
- A computer with USB port.
- The correct cables/adapters
- A MIDI software or DAW installed on your device.
- If you’re trying to use your piano’s MIDI in/out port, then connect the MIDI in end of your USB to MIDI adapter cable to the MIDI out port of your digital piano and connect the USB mouth of your USB to MIDI adapter to your device. If you wish to use your piano’s USB Type B port for the connection, then use your USB Type A to B cable, let its B-end go into your piano while its A-end goes into your computer.
- After the cable connection, the adapter/cable is supposed to install automatically and your computer is supposed to signal that it had recognized it. If not, you may be using a faulty adapter, find another one.
- If your computer has recognized the cable, then launch the installed MIDI software on your computer. Your MIDI software will receive the MIDI signals from your digital piano either automatically or manually. If you play the keyboard and you notice no response from the software, then you need to go the manual method. You can do this by activating your USB to MIDI adapter as the input device in the software’s MIDI input settings. After this, your software is supposed to be up and running. And you can start making music.
NOTE: some digital pianos require you to install MIDI drivers on your device before they can function while some are plug-and-play and will not require any drivers to function. Refer to your piano manual to know what’s applicable to yours and the name of the drivers if you will need one.
Guide To Connect Your Digital Piano To Your Android/iOS Device As A MIDI Controller
Using your Android or iOS devices as a MIDI interface affords you the flexibility of making your own music as conveniently as possible. With your smart devices and the numerous music-making and piano-learning applications available on Apple Store and Google Play Store, you’re open to tremendous features that will make your music-making and piano-playing experiences hassle-free.
Connecting your smart devices to your digital piano with the hope of making the later a MIDI Controller could seem daunting at the beginning, but it becomes pretty easy once you do it the first time. Unlike your computer, your smart devices might require two cables for the set up because they’re not furnished with regular size USB ports.
Via Bluetooth MIDI
Nowadays, many digital pianos come with built-in Bluetooth function. That’s a godsend if you hate wires like me.
However, before you get over excited or decide to buy a new piano with Bluetooth, you need to understand that there are two types of Bluetooth on digital piano and they function very differently.
Bluetooth Audio: This is the technology to stream audio signals over Bluetooth. You can for example stream your favorite song from your smart device and have the music coming out the speakers of the digital piano. This is useful if you want your digital piano to double as a wireless speaker system. Remember, you can still play your piano while it’s streaming. This opens the possibility to steam everything else (instruments and/or vocal) and fill in the piano play yourself.
Bluetooth MIDI: Instead of audio signal, this function allows MIDI data to be sent over Bluetooth. With it, you no longer need all those cables to connect and use your digital piano as a MIDI controller. Do be aware that any wireless solution would introduce latency. The lag of MIDI over Bluetooth has been improved in the recent years but your experience might vary depending on the requirements you use. If the lag bothers you, switch back to the cables.
Now you might be attempted to go out and purchase a digital piano with Bluetooth function. Or you might start to weight Bluetooth as a significant advantage when comparing digital pianos.
Before you make any sacrifice for Bluetooth, I want to let you know that there are adapters you can use to add Bluetooth function to any digital piano. They are reasonably priced and you can find adapters for both Bluetooth Audio as well as Bluetooth MIDI.
In conclusion, the use of digital pianos as MIDI Controllers and numerous innovative applications available to people, there’s no doubt that music production will continue to be enjoyable, easy and fun. With the level of control you now have over your music, there’s no excuse for you not to improve at making good music every day.