How to Connect a MIDI Keyboard to a Computer

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

image – MIDI port
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 above.

So how do you connect from these ports to your PC? – There are several ways:

MIDI to USB Interfaces

image – M-Audio Midisport UNO USB MIDI Interface
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.

Typical USB MIDI setup

image – USB 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.

FAQ

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.

Comments

  1. Ayo says

    My name is Ayo, i am a pianist. Pls i want to be able to use sound synthesizing software on my laptop to play my keyboard sound. Can i do that using a midi-usb cable alone or i have to get a midi box?

    • Jane Sherratt says

      If you want to use your keyboard as a controller, and get the sound coming from the software on your computer then you should just be able to use a MIDI-USB cable and get the result you want. BUT if you actually want to record the SOUND your keyboard is making then you will need to refer to our article on recording the audio signal from your keyboard as you need different hardware to achieve that.

      • Dixie Lee Dyck says

        Hi Jane! I am confused by the previous poster wanting to “use sound synthesizing software on my laptop to play my keyboard sound”. Does this mean taking the sound that the keyboard has and synthesizing it by running through a computer software? I just don’t understand. I think the sounds on my keyboard are varied enough, but in addition to the basic operating manual, which I struggle with, a HUGE book (about changing all the parameters of the sound waves et al) also came with it and I am overwhelmed by even the thought of trying to read it again. I have a Juno-Gi and some Roland RD300SX and RD300NX stage pianos. All I have done so far is plug the 300 OUT to Juno In and use Juno sounds. It works on the RD 300SX and I love that I can also add to the mix by playing directly on the Juno while someone else is playing the 300 through it. However, the set up does not work properly and does weird stuff when using the RD 300NX. I want to begin to enter into Noteworthy Composer the easy way. So far, I have written about 300 pieces using the computer keyboard, and look forward to any help I can get.

        • Jane Sherratt says

          Hi, some people really like the sound of their hardware and want to record it. Other people want to use their hardware as a controller and use virtual instruments in the software to make the sound. The hardware is then just used to record the performance data (ie the notes played etc). If you want to use Noteworthy then you need to get your keyboard operating as a MIDI controller, and you should be able to hear what you have done via the software.

  2. Abhijeet Thakur says

    This was really helpful.. which is the best midi keyboard under Rs. 30000/- ? And of 61 keys… Reply soon…

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi, glad you found it helpful. Probably the best thing is to look through our checklist of things to think about when looking for a MIDI keyboard to find one that fits your needs. If you stick with a good brand then check out the secondhand market too, as they are pretty simple and I have a couple of good quality keyboards (from M-Audio) that have lasted years. I don’t know enough about what is available in India to comment which would be the best keyboard for you, but hopefully the pointers in that article will help you to decide for yourself. Good hunting.

  3. says

    Good day.
    I have a Yamaha PSR 6700 keyboard. I’ve had it for over 20 years. I love it and would not trade it for today’s short-lived electronic instruments. I had a music synthetiser to go with it via a MIDI cable. One day, the synthetiser stopped working. I sent it away for repair. Used it for a few months and it blew again. I have since tried to buy another synthetiser but haven’t been able to find one. The synthetiser I am talking about is a kind of a stand alone black box that connects to the keyboard via a MIDI cable and it usually has over 200 voices that can be played on the keyboard or even blend with the keyboard own voices to bring out an incredible combinations of beautiful sounds. Since I’ve been without an add-on synthetiser I’ve tried to find one and each time I did, those electronic instrument shops keep telling me that they don’t have any of those, “Old technology…” they said. I am here to ask you if it’s true that there are no stand alone synthetisers that connect to older keyboards via a MIDI cable? If there are, where can I find them? Thanks.

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi Michael, Although many people have moved to using virtual instruments on their computers for this kind of thing there are plenty of hardware boxes out there, new and secondhand. Try a search on ‘MIDI sound modules’ and quite a few come up. I quite like the look of the Roland SonicCell, or the Chord Pianobox II has a nice set of GM intruments. Nord do a lot of tabletop synths. I guess it depends on the kind of sounds you want. There are plenty of secondhand bargains up for grabs on eBay, these come up in the Google Shopping search and of course directly on eBay. But the good news is yes, you can definitely still get them!

      • says

        Thank you Jane. You sure know where to look, yes? I checked the Roland BK-7m and the Integra 7. I am not sure if these can be connected to my Yamaha PRS 6700 keyboard and that they will work for years without burning themselves out, like my previous sound module (synthetiser). I will contact Roland and see what they say. You don’t want to be on stage singing and playing an instrument and all of sudden the module cooks itself out and the crowd starts throwing tomatoes and cabbages at you, do you? So, I better treat the next purchase more carefully. Thanks for suggesting a product for me. I’m from Melbourne, Australia.

        • Jane Sherratt says

          Hi, I am sure that a Roland device will be very robust, and they have good after service. Maybe you need to have a couple of acoustic numbers to avoid the cabbages if the worst happens?! Good luck

  4. Cliff Upton says

    Hi Jane, I need to connect my laptop to my Yam keyboard. I use Notation Musician software to play my music selections. Problem, I need to listen to the music via the keyboard and not the laptop, this way i only need one set of earphones.

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi, if you use a MIDI-USB interface and connect up both the MIDI in and MIDI out then you should be able to set the keyboard as the MIDI output device in the software and therefore get the sound playing back out through the keyboard. I am not actually familiar with Notation Musician software specifically but that is how most applications would work. Depending on the keyboard sometimes you can just make a USB connection direct to computer and it has built in interface. Check the manual.

  5. john burke says

    I have a kurtzweil 2500 keyboard connected to an old laptop with a midi cable and a multimedia card PCMCIA -not a usb. The card is damaged and I can not seem to find another – ebay searches etc come up with nothing. Since my laptop and keyboard do not have usb connection do you have a suggestion or solution for me?
    thanks john

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi John, I’m really sorry but I don’t know! I will post this question anyway in case someone else who reads this can think of a solution

  6. divyank jajra says

    hey jane….
    i want to record songs at my home…using my keyboard of yamaha which have midi function, a kawai digital concert piano and a labtop………..
    which mic i should purchase and how to install and join all these……….to produce quality song……
    and how much it will cost to install mic and wiring…..
    and also recommend me the softwares easy to use………….
    thanks

    • Jane Sherratt says

      That is a pretty broad question. I would start with getting a decent audio interface with quality XLR microphone input (with phantom power support) and MIDI i/o and line in so that you have covered all the bases for the inputs you will need. If you have not done this kind of thing before then Mixcraft is a good starting point (you can download the demo from acoustica.com) or one of the entry level cakewalk products. They have a less steep learning curve that some of the other packages and it does seem that you are just starting out. For good quality vocal recordings you will want to look for a good large diaphragm condenser microphone. You will also need a stand, a shockmount if you can stretch to it and you might want to think about a small stand mounted vocal booth (see the range from Editors Keys who do a complete range). Hope that helps a bit.

  7. Todd Bolinger says

    Hi Jane,
    I have a Kurzweil PC3X and need to fly to a gig. I don’t think I’ll be able to take my keyboard. Kurzweil doesn’t have a computer program for a laptop which would be great to plug into any 88 key midi keyboard. There is no module either. Do you have a suggestion for a laptop so that I can build the sounds I need for times when I can’t take my keyboard?
    Thank you,
    Todd

  8. Darien Charlton says

    I have a Casio Privia PX-150. It comes with the USB to USB option. When I decide to buy a MacBook Pro and MainStage 3 where does the out put come from the digital piano rot eh Macbook Pro? I understand up to the point that I have to turn of the local sounds but where will the sound come from.

    • Jane Sherratt says

      I think it depends on how YOU want to route the sound. “MainStage features ReWire and MIDI-out support. That means everything you use to perform is on your Mac, giving you total control. Each Patch works as a self-contained audio mixer and router, so you can completely change direction mid-performance. One minute you can be playing some heavily distorted guitar with a full backing band. And the next you can be creating bass loops with an external synth against an Ultrabeat drum pattern.”

  9. Sajal Jeet says

    Hye Jana, I am a beginner music artist from India. Need some help :/ I use FL Studio to produce my music (simply with the inbuilt sound card of my PC and placing notes with mouse itself) but now my musical requirements are getting higher(like my dreams :O ) so I am planning to buy a USB audio interface(M-AUDIO-M-TRACK 2×2 USB Audio Interface) and a midi controller keyboard (Samson Graphite 49), a large diaphragm condenser microphone (Samson C01). My question is that do will I need anything else to connect these instruments?(something like MIDI interfaces or like that…you know, I dont know but this M Audio audio interface specs speak of audio in/midi in…I dont know) And one more thing I need to plug in my Yamaha F310 guitar. But how to do that? It dont have any inbuilt pickup so is it better to simply record with a high fidelity microphone or a pickup gives a better quality?? I have never tried these just imagined :D Thanks in advance

    • Jane Sherratt says

      The M-Track has a good microphone input so you won’t need any other equipment other than you will need an XLR lead to connect the mic to the interface, and some way of listening to what you are doing – headphones or powered speakers – as the sound will be coming out of the M-Track. You should just be able to use the Samson mic to record the guitar and get a nice result. With the Graphite you can connect it directly to your computer via USB, or you could power it via USB and connect the MIDI out port to the MIDI in port of the M-Track using a standard MIDI cable. You’ll just have to pick the appropriate MIDI out from FL Studio. So in short the only additional equipment you will need with the set up you describe is appropriate cables and headphones/speakers

  10. Gabriel kolly says

    Hi Jane, is it possible to download sounds like cp 80, or cool galaxy into my Yamaha keyboard?

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Without knowing the model I don’t know if it has such capability, best to consult the manual of the keyboard. If you don’t have it then you should be able to download a copy from Yamaha.

  11. says

    Hi Jane, I have a Technics KN1200. My disk drive quit working, and I couldn’t get it repaired as the guy said they don’t carry the parts anymore. I bought a USB to Midi cords but my question is how do I play my midi files? do I need some special software to play it from my computer through my keyboard?

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Yes, I suggest you seek out some simple software that will open and play back MIDI files with the option to change the MIDI device so that you can choose your USB-MIDI interface and thus play back the file through your keyboard. Your choice is going to depend on what else you’d like to do. It will be better than trying to play back using the built-in Windows player as you don’t have any control over the playback and it defaults to the built in windows wavetable synth.

  12. Akaash says

    Hi Jane! I was planning to buy a Novation Launchkey 25 MIDI Keyboard Controller – which comes only with a USB to USB connection. Now, I also want to get better recording quality, for which I’m getting a M Audio M Track/ FocusRite Scarlett audio interface. My question is, is there no way I can connect the Novation via the interface for improved quality? (I hope this doesn’t sound way too stupid)

    • Jane Sherratt says

      No, if it is USB only then it is not possible to connect it to the interfaces you mention. But you should find it will work fine alongside whichever interface you pick. I use an Avid Fast Track and a USB MIDI controller and don’t experience any problems. As it is only a controller it will not have any effect on the sounds you make.

  13. Joao Gabriel says

    Hey, Jane!

    I’m hunting around to buy a controller, but am still reading about new technologies after a really long time away from the topic, so I’d like to understand some things better:

    1) Some controllers (I’m gonna stick with a 64-keys one) have the midi out in addition to the USB output and I’ll probably choose one of these since I’d like to try the USB connection with my Mac Pro, but also have the possibility of plugging it in a sound card (that I’m also going to buy) through midi. The point is – don’t I need the sound card if I plug the controller in the notebook USB port at all?

    2) If I’m using USB with the notebook intern sound card, won’t I have latency issues that would make me stick with midi through a USB or FireWire sound card?

    3) What are my sound output options? Just speakers and headphones or would I be temporarily able to use the notebook speakers?

    Thanks a lot and sorry for such a long issue.

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Why not hedge your bets and buy a USB MIDI controller that also has a standard MIDI out port. That way you can use the controller straight away with your notebook but if in future you want to experiment with upgrading to an interface with MIDI i/o then you can direct the output of the keyboard to the MIDI interface. I use a USB-MIDI controller and don’t seem to have any particular issues with latency. It’s a Samson, and many of their keyboards have standard MIDI port, as do the Alesis Q and QX series. Stay away from the M-Audio Keystation. You can just use your built in sound card for now, the Mac Operating System is very efficient and I am sure you will get good results just with your notebook speakers. By the way, most keyboards around the size you are talking about have 61 keys (5 octaves plus a note).

  14. João Gabriel says

    Thanks for the answer, Jane.

    Just complementing it, you’ve advised me to stay away from the M-Audio Keystation. I’ve considered the Alesis you suggested, but turns out they’re both synth-action and I’d like some half-weighted with sustain input. What do you think of the Samson Carbon 61? I don’t really need pads, knobs and faders at the moment. Would you advise something else in this category?

    • Jane Sherratt says

      I have a Samson keyboard at the moment, and very happy with it. The Samson Carbon 61 would be a good choice. iPad ready, easy to connect up via USB, the option of standard MIDI out, sustain port, it’s very well featured and also the Samson keyboards come with a very nice software bundle so good value. (BTW I like the Keystation but since they took off the MIDI port it isn’t as versatile, the Samson is a more modern design as well, with the iPad in mind).

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