Soundware Guides: How to Connect a Keyboard to your Computer

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In this guide we'll show you different ways of connecting a keyboard to your computer for recording, practising or playing live...
Why use a keyboard?

If you use a piece of MIDI sequencing software to make music, or use notation software to make musical scores, you'll know that using the mouse to program in every note can be awkward and time-consuming.

It can be much quicker and easier to use a MIDI keyboard to 'play in' your music - simply press 'record' and play, and the software will automatically input what you play, allowing you to go back later and correct any mistakes manually.

As well as using a MIDI keyboard to record into your computer, you can also use one with a laptop and some virtual instrument or synthesizer software for practicing or live performance.

What do I need?

You can use a MIDI keyboard with just about any modern computer. Depending on what kind of computer (and what kind of keyboard) you have, there are several simple ways to connect to your computer.

If you already have a keyboard at home, you'll need to check that it has a MIDI output port (this will be a round 5-pin connector, marked MIDI OUT) on the back - if it does, you can connect it to your computer.

If you don't have a keyboard already or if your keyboard doesn't have a MIDI output, there's a huge range of MIDI keyboards available. MIDI keyboards come in all shapes and sizes, from small models that'll fit in a backpack to full-size weighted keyboards designed to feel like pianos. Some keyboards have inputs for sustain pedals, and some also have extra knobs, faders or percussion pads to control other features in your music software.

Most MIDI keyboards are 'dummy' keyboards - they don't make any sound on their own and need to be connected to a computer with the right software to play. If you want to be able to use your keyboard away from the computer as well, there are some MIDI keyboards with built-in sounds available. View our MIDI Keyboards section for more...

Method 1: USB

If you buy a new MIDI keyboard, or if you're connecting a modern synthesizer to your computer, chances are it'll have a USB port as well as (or sometimes instead of) a MIDI out port.

If this is the case, you can connect your keyboard directly to a spare USB port on your computer using a standard USB cable. Some keyboards are 'class-compliant', which means that Windows or Mac OS will automatically detect the keyboard and configure it for you so it's ready to use. Other keyboards will include a driver CD with software to install to make the keyboard work.

If you're a beginner to using MIDI or if you're not very confident with computers, USB MIDI keyboards are usually the best place to start, because you don't need any extra cables or adapters. Many even include bundled recording software, so you can get everything you need to get started in one package!

View our MIDI Keyboards section...

Method 2: MIDI to Joystick Port Cable

If your computer's sound card has a 'gameport' (joystick port), you can connect a keyboard to it using an adapter cable. This is because joysticks use the same MIDI language to transfer data as MIDI keyboards do.

Method 3: MIDI to MIDI

Some sound cards already have a MIDI IN port - if yours does, you can connect your keyboard using standard MIDI leads. If you want to connect using MIDI cables, you might want to upgrade your sound card to one with built-in MIDI ports. View our Audio Interfaces Section for more sound cards...
View our Guide to Sound Cards for more information...

Method 4: MIDI to USB

If your computer doesn't have either of these connections (for example, if you're using a laptop or only have a basic sound card), you can connect a keyboard to your computer using a USB MIDI interface.

MIDI interfaces are also useful if you want to connect more than one keyboard (or other MIDI device) at a time, or if you get bad latency (delay) when connecting a keyboard using another method. MIDI interfaces are also very convenient and easy to use.

A USB MIDI interface is an adapter that connects to your computer via a spare USB port. Some are designed like a long cable with MIDI connectors at one end and a USB plug at the other end, so all you need to do is connect one end to your keyboard and the other end to your computer.

Other, larger MIDI interfaces are designed for connecting more than one MIDI device, so they have multiple MIDI ports. To use these you'll also need MIDI cables to connect from the interface to your keyboard(s).

View our MIDI Interfaces Section for more...

If you're unsure about any of the above, or if you're not sure which products would be best for you, please contact us and we'll be happy to offer friendly, impartial advice and recommendations.

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