Recording a Keyboard on Computer

This is another question we get asked time and time again. How do you record the actual sound of your keyboard onto your computer? Many people get confused about the difference between making a MIDI connection from their keyboard and actually recording the sound

If you do want to record the sound of your keyboard, then a MIDI connection will not do the job. A MIDI interface will only transmit your performance data (for example which notes you have played, how loudly you played them etc) then this information can be used to play software instruments on your computer. It is not a recording of the sound!

Alesis Linelink USB Audio InterfaceIf you want to record the actual sound of your keyboard on your computer then you need to connect the line out (or headphone out if no line out) from your keyboard to your pc, mac or ipad. If you just have a standard soundcard and are looking for a cost effective and reasonable quality solution, then for a small investment you could purchase the Alesis LineLink or equivalent line out-USB interface. The LineLink will connect your keyboard straight to your USB port, bypassing your existing soundcard and outputs studio quality stereo, 16-bit, 44.1 kHz digital audio. The LineLink will connect direct to your keyboard if you have left and right quarter inch mono jack outputs. If you only have one stereo output you will also need to invest in a y-cable converter.

image – M-Audio M-Track Two-Channel USB Audio/MIDI Interface + Ignite Software

What if you want a device with a bit more functionality – so that it will also enable you to connect a microphone as well or maybe a guitar? If you are not keen on taking the back off your computer, or you have a laptop/macbook then the ideal device would be something like the M-Audio MTrack , which is a USB audio device with 1/4 inch line in ports. All you’d need to do then is get the right cable to connect the line in on the Mtrack to the audio output of your keyboard. The great thing about this is the Mtrack also has a mic inputs (complete with pre-amps) if you also want to record vocals, plus it is equally suitable for recording a guitar, so it really is multi-purpose. And it comes with a fantastic music software Package as well (Ignite).

If you have a bigger budget then you might look to a device that has more inputs including MIDI and in some cases digital i/o too. Then you could directly record the keyboard or use it as a MIDI controller as well. Follow this link for a whole range of USB Audio Interfaces that have both line in and MIDI i/o

image – E-MU 0404 PCIe Digital Audio System + Production Tools Software Bundle

This is a really brief intro to the world of Recording – if you want to know more, then there is a fantastic guide to computer music making written by Cakewalk, The Desktop Music Handbook – which covers MIDI in depth, and also features a great guide to Digital Audio.

Comments

  1. says

    What software would you recommend for recording? I’m connected through a “Type B”-to-”Type A” USB port, since I don’t have RCA cables for my Casio CTK-2080. Finale is a bit too much, as I’m not out to make sheet music, just record the songs that I’ve learned (to maybe upload them to YouTube for my teacher to see, when I can’t make it to lessons due to work).

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi, I assume that because you have been looking at Finale you want to write songs in notation format. Finale is a fantastic program but it is very well featured and expensive – probably way more than you need for simple songs, so have a look at their much cheaper Songwriter software which is a cut down version at a much more affordable price. You can still make audio records that you could upload for your teacher to hear, or you could send them the exported sheet music. I am also assuming that you could easily use your Casio as a MIDI controller if it is connected up to your computer. Songwriter has a built in synth so you can export an audio file from it. Or, you could play the composition back out through your Casio and record that if you wanted. Hope that helps!

  2. Beaver says

    I was like to ask you a Question I am using a m-audio keystation 61 Es and a m-audio fast track pro the keyboard is hook up to the laptop thru USB and so is the fast track pro my problem is I can’t hear the keyboard I see the track Vol move but no sound I am also using my fast track as the playback device could that be the reason why I can’t hear the keyboard how can I fix it I’m using mixcraft 6.0

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hmm, you do need to make sure that you have selected an instrument of some kind in Mixcraft that will generate the sound for you. Then you should be able to output that track to your Fast Track Pro and hear it. Obviously the keyboard makes no sound, and I worry you may be trying to output to the MIDI out on the Fast Track – you won’t have anything connected to that that generates any tone. So have a look in the manual for Mixcraft about using virtual instruments. All the best!

  3. mona says

    Hi. Can you please tell what wire do I need to record the actual sounds from my old keyboard which only has a headphone output? I have an mbox 3. Thanks in advance for your response.

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi, you have 2 XLR mic/line combo inputs on the rear of the device. So assuming your keyboard as a quarter inch stereo headphone out then you need a 1/4″ stereo y-cable connected to 2 1/4″ mono (left and right) jacks, connect to the left and right inputs on the back. If you have a mini-jack headphone socket then you still need dual mono 1/4″ jack y cable connected to 18″ stereo jack plug. Hope that helps!

  4. pogoXD says

    I have a Yamaha PSR E313 keyboard. All I wanted to do is connect it to my PC’s microphone jack from it’s head-out jack. I connected the lead wire (6.1mm – 6.1mm) to my synth. Then I used a 6.1mm – 3.5mm converter jack to directly connect it to my PC. Now I downloaded a certain home studio-recording software. When I played and recorded the first time, I was quite disappointed ‘coz along with my keyboard’s sound, it recorded the surrounding “Whiz—whizz–buzzz” sound, which happens usually when I am recording a voice directly on my phone, through the phone’s in-built sound recording software. Previously, I downloaded nTrack Studio and it worked way better than I had imagined with my guitar. So I sought to try it out with my synth as well.
    Now my wish is to have a multi-track audio recording software so that I can record a complete song using only my keyboard. But at the same time, the only possible way for me to connect my keyboard to the PC seems to be the one I just mentioned.
    Please tell me whether there is a problem with my software, or sound card, or the arrangement used to do the stuff.
    Waiting for response.
    Thanks.
    P.S. Please email for it may not be possible for me check out this website later on again.

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi, I don’t think it will be the software that is the problem. To improve the quality I would look at buying a USB audio interface and connect the keyboard to the line in. At a budget level something like the Lexicon Alpha is a really nice quality device for a few pounds. If you want one with MIDI too then the M-Audio MTrack is good for a little bit more. Then you will need a cable that splits the headphone stereo out to L and R mono signals. If you invest in a small device like that it will improve the recording quality hugely. The PC input is designed for Skype type mics really and is perfect for that but not for any more serious recording. Hope that helps. Good luck with that.

      • Greg says

        I have the same questions as PogoXD. Thanks for your answer. It was helpful.

        I am planning on getting a Korg Pa600 keyboard. The back of which looks like this:
        http://i.korg.com/uploads/Products/Product_Images/USA_Pa600_4.png

        Let’s say I am getting Lexicon Alpha.

        What type of a wire do I need to successfully link the keyboard to Lexicon to PC? Can you point me to the required wire(s) model/type on Amazon? I am pretty much new to keyboard to PC connectors and I would appreciate your help. Don’t want to buy the wrong wire by mistake, as this is already a huge investment!

        Greg

        • Jane Sherratt says

          Hi, you would need 2 TS quarter inch jack to connect the PA600 to the Alpha. Then all you need is connect the Alpha up to your PC with the USB lead it should come with. Very easy! You will then need headphones or speakers connected to the Alpha to monitor it all. Should be nice :)

        • Jane Sherratt says

          Hi, you would need 2 TS quarter inch jack to connect the PA600 to the Alpha. Then all you need is connect the Alpha up to your PC with the USB lead it should come with. Very easy! You will then need headphones or speakers connected to the Alpha to monitor it all. Should be nice

    • Jane Sherratt says

      If you have balanced sockets then go for the balanced leads they will be better, lower noise etc. But not all devices have balanced ins and outs. So it just depends on what you are connecting to what. Hope that helps

  5. Paul Rosen says

    Hi,

    I’m trying to record from a Roland ep880 keyboard, using an Alesis LineLink, and nothing is happening. I’ve got Audacity on my PC laptop, but one thing that concerns me is that the laptop is 64 bit and the cable is 16 bit. The computer said it had found drivers for the cable, but I can’t tell what it thinks is connected!

    Thanks,

    Paul

    • Jane Sherratt says

      If you give Alesis a call they should be able to help you with set up. Check their web site for telephone number. Make sure you have selected the Linelink as the recording device in Audacity, you might need to manually select it, and then check you are listening through your standard computer speakers or headphones.

  6. says

    Can you comment on recording a keyboard in stereo to a PC. There are many USB audio interfaces with 2 line inputs…no problem. I don’t think USB (output) transmits a stereo signal. My laptop only has two 3.0USB inputs. No 2.5mm jack. I read some page about using 2 USB inputs to record stereo. Not sure how to go about it. Thanks

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi David, if you purchase a USB audio interface with left and right inputs, you will be able to record in stereo through the one USB connection, no problem. Hope that helps!

  7. Rebecca says

    Hi!
    My friend is trying to record piano and vocals onto her mac laptop into the protools software. She is going to be using a yamaha piano but doesn’t know which cable to use to connect it to her laptop. We are looking for clear clean sound and don’t want to ruin either laptop or piano in this experiment. What do you suggest?

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi Rebecca, I am assuming this is a Yamaha digital piano as you talk about cables? The ideal way to record it will be via an interface with suitable inputs for the line outputs of the piano. The cable(s) you use will depend on the output of the piano (does it have a stereo output or does it have left and right out) and the inputs of the interface. Without knowing the exact model I can’t specify, so refer to the manual of the piano or look carefully at the outputs. Does it just have a stereo headphone socket, or does it have more thank that? You can split the stereo signal into left and right. Many interfaces will have a left and right input, quarter inch jack. But again without knowing what equipment you have cannot be exactly specific. The way to avoid damaging any equipment is by making sure all the volumes are down to zero when connecting up and gradually increasing the volume.

  8. João Gabriel says

    Hi, Jane.

    I was wondering two things concerning connections; both concern using a keyboard with usual midi in and out as a controller. Suppose I use a USB/Midi cable to connect a keyboard to my computer USB port, would it have the same final effect as using, for example, a midi controller in a direct USB-USB connection? Some time ago the latency issues used to make it completely unworthy and put us all to stick with a sound card with midi ins, however, considering today’s USB 3.0 port (in case it matters, I’m not sure), would I be ok using my keyboard as controller through such a connection in terms of quality? I’m asking because I’m not 100% sure about buying a synth or a midi controller. But I’d go for the synth just in case the midi-usb was quality ensured as I want to buy a separate quality sound card, but a little later.

    Second, considering that I’ve chosen the synth, are there models that make it possible to have the same USB-USB connection that midi controllers provide so that I avoid the midi-USB connection I was asking about above?

    Thanks a lot!

  9. Francis says

    Hello there!

    I have a Roland F-120. I want to be able to record exactly what I am playing. What cable do I need, and what software do I need?

    I just bought a midi-to-usb cable but can’t work out what software to get and the above article makes me think it won’t work anyway.

    Alternatively, do you reckon there is a way of accessing the recordings from the F-120 itself, from it’s “recorded songs” function?

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi Francis, you would have to refer to the manual of the Roland F120 to see if there is a way of accessing the songs. It would depend on what format they are recorded in. If you just want to play back the songs and record them on your computer then the most cost effective solution would be something like the Alesis Linelink which would hook up the Left and Right outputs of the piano to your computer via USB. If you want to go and and do more recording, it might be worth buying a higher quality USB Audio interface such as an Avid Fast Track Duo or a Focusrite Scarlett 2I2 which have suitable line inputs for your keyboard – you would just need to mono quarter inch jack cables. You are right, you won’t be able to record the sound of the Roland with the USB-MIDI interface, but it will come in handy if you want to use your Roland to work with MIDI sequencing software.

  10. john says

    Hi! I am trying to start recording on my laptop,I hv keyboard yamaha psr E333,I jst wnt to knw hw to start recording,both voice and everyother things

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi, a good start would be to invest in a budget USB Audio and MIDI interface with some simple software. One that has microphone input, MIDI i/o and line i/o so you cover all the bases in connnecting up your keyboard and voice. A good one to start with is the M-Audio MTrack which comes with Ignite software. Very easy to set up and get going, the software has a complete set of starter video tutorials and is quite well featured without being difficult to use or overwhelming.

  11. says

    Hi Jane,
    I have a Technics SX-PX 207 – pretty ancient now but a great sound (20 yrs old). All I want to be able to do is to make good quality backing tracks as accompaniment. So i need to record from the Technics to the computer laptop.
    Someone suggested buying Alesis i02. Then Another suggested Alesis Linelink. Could you confirm which one to use and do I need any other connectors? Alao do I need to use Windows or would Audacity be better? Thanks

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi, if you can afford the IO2 Express over the linelink, it is a much better option. Better quality, more functionality, also you can direct monitor, connect mics, use the MIDI i/o etc. It will come with some recording software, but I would certainly use Audacity over the recorder built into Windows. Free and very easy to use with good functionality. Hope that helps.

  12. says

    heb een USB 2.0 Midi Interface kabel met 2 1/0 poort gekocht om mijn laptop met Technics 1600 keyboard aan te sluiten en zo mijn muziek op te nemen met programma van Audicity, het lukt me niet, heeft u een oplossing? (google: henk keyboard)

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi, you need to get some MIDI software, Audacity is only suitable for audio recordings and does not have MIDI. If you sign up to our newsletter then we will send you a guide to some free music software programs that will allow you to use MIDI as well as Audio. Sorry I cannot answer in Dutch!

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