If you are just starting out, the first thing you may wish to do is find out how to connect a MIDI keyboard or digital piano up to your computer. This will enable you to use a whole range of interactive software products. Although you can get other kinds of MIDI controller, the keyboard is the most popular, widely available, and reasonably priced. If you have not yet got any kind of keyboard, then look first at Getting started – choosing the right keyboard.
Take a Look at Your Keyboard
Let’s start with your keyboard or piano. You first need to establish that it has got a means of connecting with your computer. Look to make sure it has a MIDI port. MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is the protocol for communication between your keyboard and your PC. When you press a key the action is registered by the software you are using through the MIDI link.
Most keyboards and Digital Pianos have MIDI in and out as standard. Look for ports like the one in the image below.
MIDI to USB Interfaces
If you have an available USB port, you can use a MIDI to USB Interface . This is the simplest, high speed, no-fuss solution. Ideal if you want to use your laptop. Most USB interfaces are fully Plug-and-Play so will work without any further software configuration – though check the manufacturer’s site as some will have drivers available for advanced usage on certain platforms. If you can, buy a high quality branded one as you will get more support from the manufacturer to help with any setting up and they do work better and last longer. Roland, Alesis and M-Audio all make a USB-MIDI interface and all have excellent documentation and back-up.
Typical USB MIDI setup
MIDI to MIDI
Some soundcards come already equipped with MIDI ports like the ones shown above. If that is the case, all you require is a MIDI Cable 5 pin to 5 pin 3 metre .
USB to USB
Some of the newer keyboards now have a USB MIDI port – all you need is a standard USB cable to connnect directly from the keyboard to the USB port of your PC or laptop.
Why do MIDI IN jacks connect to MIDI OUT jacks? Surely it makes more sense to connect a MIDI IN jack to a MIDI IN jack. After all, they’re both labeled IN. Same goes for MIDI OUT to MIDI OUT.
The accepted way actually makes a lot of sense. Think about it. You want MIDI data to go out of your controller and in to your sound module. After all, you wouldn’t connect the audio out jack of your sound module to the outputs of your mixer, would you? No, you connect the audio output to an audio (mixer) input. And then you connect the mixer outputs to the inputs of your amplifier. And then you connect the amp’s speaker outputs to the speaker inputs. Same thing with MIDI. Think of MIDI data as “flowing” in the same way that audio signals “flow” through your audio system.