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Suggestions on a MIDI Controller (and questions)


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What's up?

Up until this point I've pretty much been doing all of my sequencing point and click style. But that's silly, I used to play piano, I know how to play the darn keyboard, so why don't I have a MIDI Controller yet? Good question. So I need to get one.

I think I'd prefer one with a couple of frets. Not but I dunno... these 49 key ones look ok. Maybe even something bigger, if it won't break the bank.

I'm currently running Ableton Live 8.2.2 on a Windows 7 machine, if that matters. And I don't have firewire or anything fancy, just plain ol' USB.

First a few questions:

1. Does anyone play live with their MIDI Controller? Is this common or am I weird for wanting to do it? If I'm playing live do I need to have it hooked up to my computer or can I store a bunch of stuff on it and then plug right into a monitor or whatever?

2. Does running it straight into my laptop through USB make sense or do I need to get an external sound card and hook it up through there? (I'm probably planning on getting one soon anyway to record live guitars and vocals... maybe I should get that first? Or choose them together?)

Anyway, thanks for any and all help.

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What's up?

Up until this point I've pretty much been doing all of my sequencing point and click style. But that's silly, I used to play piano, I know how to play the darn keyboard, so why don't I have a MIDI Controller yet? Good question. So I need to get one.

I think I'd prefer one with a couple of frets. Not but I dunno... these 49 key ones look ok. Maybe even something bigger, if it won't break the bank.

I'm currently running Ableton Live 8.2.2 on a Windows 7 machine, if that matters. And I don't have firewire or anything fancy, just plain ol' USB.

First a few questions:

1. Does anyone play live with their MIDI Controller? Is this common or am I weird for wanting to do it? If I'm playing live do I need to have it hooked up to my computer or can I store a bunch of stuff on it and then plug right into a monitor or whatever?

2. Does running it straight into my laptop through USB make sense or do I need to get an external sound card and hook it up through there? (I'm probably planning on getting one soon anyway to record live guitars and vocals... maybe I should get that first? Or choose them together?)

Anyway, thanks for any and all help.

First of all, just throwing it out there, a fret is a single section of a guitar's neck. A couple of frets would mean you want two notes. :3 the term you're looking for is "octave"

Don't have recommendations on MIDI controllers themselves, just thought I'd pop in to help you ask your question a little better if you take it elsewhere.

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1. Does anyone play live with their MIDI Controller? Is this common or am I weird for wanting to do it? If I'm playing live do I need to have it hooked up to my computer or can I store a bunch of stuff on it and then plug right into a monitor or whatever?

Actually, this is quite common that you play live with your MIDI Controller. Especially if you have one with knobs, faders etc, where you can control parameters.

2. Does running it straight into my laptop through USB make sense or do I need to get an external sound card and hook it up through there? (I'm probably planning on getting one soon anyway to record live guitars and vocals... maybe I should get that first? Or choose them together?).

MIDI is just note data and no sound. So you have to run it into your laptop and into the virtual instrument you are currently playing. There are more difficult setups like different MIDI Channels for different instruments, which you should consider, when you want to play live.

So no to my question to you:

What kind do you need. You only said something about the numbers of keys. But do you need additional controls like drum pads or knobs?

I like the ones from AKAI, they really have good keys (at least for me as a keyboarder). If you come from a piano background I would suggest you go to a store and try some controllers out. You need keys which don't feel arkward for you.

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Oh yeah, octaves not frets. I did piano as a kid and then switched to guitars as a teenager, but of course I know the difference, brain just wasn't working.

For the MIDI Controller sounds I understand that MIDI is just note data, but I kind of vaguely recall being in a band like 10 years ago where the keyboardist had a MIDI Controller that had on-board memory so he could load different sounds into it. Or maybe I was just confused about how it worked, I was just a guitarist then and didn't get too involved in what he was doing. Does this kind of MIDI Controller sound feasible or is it all in my head? I'm trying to cut down the amount of gear needed to play live in whatever ways possible.

I don't believe that I will need drum pads. On the other hand, if they don't add significant cost it might be worth having. Hmm. Knobs to control sound on the fly sound pretty important for live playing.

So yeah I realize everyone's needs are going to be different but do any of you guys at least have some recommendations of ones that work well for you? Right now I'm looking around and just seeing a billion that all kind of look the same to me.

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For the MIDI Controller sounds I understand that MIDI is just note data, but I kind of vaguely recall being in a band like 10 years ago where the keyboardist had a MIDI Controller that had on-board memory so he could load different sounds into it.

Keyboards are classified by their primary function. He didn't have a MIDI Controller; a MIDI controller is a device that can *only* output MIDI. He had a keyboard (probably a workstation keyboard, if it had onboard memory that he could load his own sounds, but without knowing the model, I don't know for sure). Most keyboards have MIDI output and can also act as MIDI controllers; it'd be really frustrating to not be able to connect everything.

I think what you should do first is think a bit about how you'd set up your live rig and what specific things you'd want in a controller. First, to answer the specific questions you asked:

1) All kinds of people play live with a laptop and keyboards of some sort; you can even mix the two. I do this: I run almost everything from my laptop, but I use the organ section of my keyboard (Roland V-Combo VR-700) because I have physical drawbars and other pedals and such to control my sound without having to set that up in software.

You ask about needing to be hooked up to your computer. It depends, really. If you were going to use a MIDI controller to control another keyboard or audio device (rack-mount sound module, maybe, like the Yamaha Motif-Rack XS; it's the Motif keyboard without the keys, basically), then no, you wouldn't need a computer. On the other hand, you could have a keyboard with sampling capabilities (meaning that you're recording samples from your computer or elsewhere and using the keyboard's memory to play them back); I'm not aware of any MIDI controller that does this; everything I know of that has sample playback is a proper keyboard, has sounds of its own as well, and is more expensive. And, of course, you can always just hook up to your computer.

2) Do you need an audio interface? Almost certainly yes if you have a Windows machine; not necessarily if you have a Mac. Mac has good audio drivers built right into the OS; on Windows, if you try to play sounds through Ableton using your headphone jack, you'll get really high latency - the delay between when you press a key on your keyboard and when the note's triggered. It's almost a guarantee that you'll find it unplayable because the latency's too high.

And, in either case, how are you going to get the sounds into the house sound system? Your keyboard won't be producing any sound; a proper MIDI controller won't even have any audio outputs. You could try to use a 1/8" stereo male to 1/4" male pair cable, but I'd just get a decent audio interface and avoid the problem. (Incidentally, I've got a Native Instruments' Audio Kontrol 1 for sale; I've used it live for a couple years, and it's solid and does the job well, plus it's got 4 1/4" mono outputs, so you could do something like run a keyboard part in stereo and also play a backing track and have them separated. It's also got MIDI in and out, which is less common these days; the advantage is you don't have to think about whether the keyboard you want to connect to your computer sends its MIDI data over USB or not. PM me if you're at all interested)

So, what should you buy? I'd say you need the following:

1) Audio interface

2) MIDI controller keyboard OR workstation keyboard, depending on your needs (there's no reason why you can't connect your workstation to your computer at home for recording tracks).

You're leaning towards spending less money, so unless you really want to use sounds off a hardware keyboard, whether live or you record them into Ableton, you can get by with just a MIDI controller.

The one remaining question then: what style of keys do you like? Weighted keys like a piano? Synth action keys like a synth? Or semi-weighted keys that are in the middle? You'll get the most expressive piano performances out of a weighted keyboard, but there are some things that are harder or impossible to do (slides are harder on your hand, double-triggering notes, eg. using two fingers to trill repeatedly on the same key, are impossible on a piano but are a useful technique for some styles of B3 organ playing). My personal preference is semi-weighted. Anyway, figure out what you like and you can get recommendations.

I'm happy to help you figure out how you might want to set things up live too; I've tried a variety of things and am familiar with Live too, so I can definitely point you in the right direction.

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So yeah I realize everyone's needs are going to be different but do any of you guys at least have some recommendations of ones that work well for you? Right now I'm looking around and just seeing a billion that all kind of look the same to me.

So, I'm using this one:

mpk25_web_med.png

It's a bit small, but I don't have much space. You could always get the 49 key version if it fits you better.

But recommendations are difficult, because you have to find the one you can work with. You should really head to a shop and test play some different controllers

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Hmm my brother just recommended the Akai 49 to me. $400 retail. Could probably get it for cheaper but that's still a bit steep at the moment. Ah well. Better to make a good investment once than to buy a cheap one and have it suck and then break on me. Wish my car wasn't in the shop. I was doing pretty well financially until I decided to go grad school WHATWASITHINKING?

He's also going to let me borrow his smaller maudio for a bit just to play around with it. Although he doesn't seem to like it much. But if I'm going to have to save up for something nice that might be awhile, so it'd be cool to have something to mess with in the meanwhile.

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You can play live with a MIDI controller, I do it all the time with mine. There are a few ways you can do it.

- Get a sound module. They usually come in the form of a rack gear module, but you basically plug it in via MIDI cables and it translates the MIDI data to sound.

- Plug it into a laptop, plug the laptop into a sound system. This is what I do. Make sure you have something like ASIO4ALL or something to translate your audio to ASIO or else you'll probably have a lot of unwanted noise and pops. Make sure you're laptop is plugged into a grounded outlet too, it can get a mean humming sound if it's not properly grounded.

For live play you'd probably want at least a 49 key controller, but if you're looking for something just for studio use a simple 2 octave controller like Yami posted is usually more than enough unless you're wanting to do piano pieces.

I'd recommend going to a local music store that has a decent amount of equipment and playing around on all their controllers. You can get recommendations all day, but until you feel the keys under your fingers you won't know which one is right for you.

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OMGitslewis, what audio interface do you have? MIDI controllers don't cause lag; I bet you have a crappy (or no) audio interface. Don't go buy a new MIDI controller; you won't be fixing the problem that way.

Its currently plugged in via usb so I am guessing that is the problem. Pretty sure I am off down to my local music tech shop tomorrow to get a proper Audio Interface.

Still learning a lot about production and stuff, so if you can give any advise on a Audio Interface or what I should be looking for that would be great :')

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