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Advice for MIDI keyboard to start learning music production an piano (as a hobby)

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Advice for MIDI keyboard to start learning music production an piano (as a hobby)

Postby Buddha2080 » Sun Jul 26, 2020 2:59 am

Hello, guys:

I just registered because I need advice on a keyboard I might purchase soon. But first, I will give you a brief introduction of myself, so you can figure out what I need.

I studied 8 years of music at the conservatorium (saxophone, 4 years) when I was a kid (8-16), so I know the basics (I have forgotten most of the advanced stuff). Later, when I was 23 I fooled around with electronic music creation for a few months (nothing serious, just as a hobby).

So now I work at home and I have plenty of time every day to do what I want and I figured I could learn to play the piano and create some electronic music just for fun.

The thing is that for the few videos I've watch to day on YouTube on how to start producing electronic music say that you need a midi keyboard, an interface, a PC and a good pair of headphones/monitors.

So now I'm in the process of choosing the midi keyboard and I have a few questions:

1. Can I use a 61 key midi keyboard as a normal keyboard to learn to play the piano along the way (I would like to learn to play piano at the same time I learn to create music) or are these two different devices? I mean, could I use some of the software you can find around to learn to play the piano or a midi keyboard is only to create samples and such?

2. Would you recommend getting a midi keyboard to start learning the craft from scratch or is it too soon?

3. Regarding which one to choose, I saw this list (https://consordini.com/best-midi-keyboard/). After browsing a few videos I got the feeling that the Akai MPK Mini MkII is probably the most used but I do not want something so small because I also want to use it as a keyboard to learn to play the piano. So I saw the Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 and that was more like the thing I had in mind, so now the question is: Is the Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 a good midi keyboard for creating electronic music and learning to play the piano or only for creating electronic music? Is it enough a 61 key keyboard or do I need an 88 key keyboard?

4. Do you need an interface with the Arturia? Would the Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen be a good choice to go along with the Arturia?


So this is it, really sorry if it was too long. Thanks for reading.

TLDR: Basically I need to know if the Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 midi keyboard is a good keyboard to create music and learn to play the piano, cause I want to start learning both at the same time.
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Re: Advice for MIDI keyboard to start learning music production an piano (as a hobby)

Postby adrian_k » Sun Jul 26, 2020 9:11 am

OK I'm not a keyboard player (guitarist) but I went through a similar process last year - in my case wanted to learn keys and have a variety of sounds, particularly classic EPs but wanted to dip my toe into other stuff too.. FWIW here's what I ended up doing and how it's turned out.

Originally I was looking to get a midi controller as I have some fairly decent sounds in my DAW. Good enough for me anyway. I already had a 32 note midi keyboard and thought that was why I never made any progress on 'piano' playing. But thinking about it I realised it was also because I could never be bothered to power up my PC when I just wanted to sit and play. So I bought a Roland V-Combo 61 key. Pretty decent piano, EP and organ sounds for my purposes. Also has a synth section for making fairly generic and familiar sounding synth noises. MIDI over USB so I can use it as a controller keyboard (but I have not tried yet, so I don't know how the various knobs and sliders map into the DAW).

It's worked out pretty well, I am finally making some (small) progress on my keyboard skills, and there is enough of a variety of sounds to keep me coming back. And I don't have to wait for the PC to boot, I just switch on and off I go. I wish I had got the 72 key version though for piano playing, but space and cost were an issue.

In your case I'd have a think about how important learning 'piano' is as opposed to learning music production and controlling virtual synths. The Arturia will allow you to play any virtual instrument on your PC including piano so that's not an issue, as well as control your DAW if you want, and gives to access to a huge range of sounds. But for me the 61 keys would be an issue, but then hands on playing is a higher priority for me than access to 1000s of sounds I'll probably never use.

Whichever way you go you'll need a way to get notes into your virtual instruments, so yes you'll need a midi keyboard or instrument that will send midi, because programming with a mouse is just a pain.

You also asked if you would need an audio interface. The answer is yes, if you want to make music with a PC you'll need something decent to connect a microphone or any other external sound source (e.g. guitar, synth) to be able to record, and also to be able to connect your monitors/headphones. Focusrite have a good reputation (I've got one) as do Presonus, Motu, RME (I've got one) and many others.

Hope that helps!
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Re: Advice for MIDI keyboard to start learning music production an piano (as a hobby)

Postby blinddrew » Sun Jul 26, 2020 10:27 am

Really useful post from Adrian there I reckon - i'm not a pianist either - and the point about just being able to switch on and play is an important one.
The other thing to consider, from my perspective, is what kind of action you want. Do you want a piano-type action with weighted keys? Or do you want a synth-type action where everything is soft and springy?
I've got a cheap M-audio 49 key midi controller which is synth action and it's fine for my use, but when I am just trying to just play a bit of piano I do miss the feel of a proper piano.
Also, on the occasions that i do actually play something in to record, i tend to have to do a lot of tidying up afterwards as my sloppy playing leaves ghost notes all over the place. I assume this would be less of an issue with a weighted key bed.
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Re: Advice for MIDI keyboard to start learning music production an piano (as a hobby)

Postby Trevor Johnson » Sun Jul 26, 2020 10:31 am

If you want to learn to play the piano, ideally you need an 88 note hammer-action weighted keyboard.

To learn to play a keyboard, then 61 note is fine. For example, you can play all the J S Bach and G F Handel keyboard works on a 61 note keyboard, (OK some of the Goldberg variations are written for a two manual harpsichord).

For electronic music a 61 note midi keyboard is ideal.
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Re: Advice for MIDI keyboard to start learning music production an piano (as a hobby)

Postby RichardT » Sun Jul 26, 2020 12:24 pm

Some good comments from others!

. 1. Can I use a 61 key midi keyboard as a normal keyboard to learn to play the piano along the way (I would like to learn to play piano at the same time I learn to create music) or are these two different devices? I mean, could I use some of the software you can find around to learn to play the piano or a midi keyboard is only to create samples and such?

I’d combine the two requirements in one keyboard for sure. If you don’t want to have to use the computer every time you play the keyboard, get one with onboard sounds. And get one with midi out as well (mostly done via USB cables these days).

You can use 61 keys while you are beginning as elementary music doesn’t use the very high and low notes. But as you progress, in a few years you will need 88 keys, certainly if you want to play the classical repertoire. However an 88 key piano is a big beast.

I don’t know what piano teachers would say about learning on an unweighted keyboard, but the technique is very different from a weighted keyboard. On a weighted keyboard, the keys get harder to press down the louder you want to play and pianists get used to that and even rely on it to regulate their playing.

2. Would you recommend getting a midi keyboard to start learning the craft from scratch or is it too soon?

Definitely get a midi keyboard now if you want to get into music production.
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Re: Advice for MIDI keyboard to start learning music production an piano (as a hobby)

Postby Martin Walker » Sun Jul 26, 2020 12:39 pm

Hi Buddha2080, and welcome to the SOS Forums! 8-)

Wow - what a great set of practical real-world advice. There's nothing I would disagree with there - I'm primarily a keyboard player, and five-octave 61-key width fine for electronic music, but for playing piano I do prefer to switch on my 88-key MIDI controller.

Very good points abut built-in sound though - if I had some built into my 88-key controller I've just realised I'd be far more likely to just it switch on and play for pleasure. This thread has made me decide to re-jig my studio connections a little so I have a small dedicated synth connected to it at all times.

Thanks for making me think differently folks!


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Re: Advice for MIDI keyboard to start learning music production an piano (as a hobby)

Postby DGL. » Sun Jul 26, 2020 1:51 pm

FATAR/Studiologic used to do 61 key (and 49 key!) fully weighted controllers so that might be worth a look if you don't have the space for the full 88 keys.

The other option, of course, is to buy a second hand workstation or similar and use it's MIDI functions when necessary, this has the advantage that older professional keyboards should have top notch keybeds in them (or at least better than what's in a Keystation for example) and gives you a handy PC free box-o-sounds.
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Re: Advice for MIDI keyboard to start learning music production an piano (as a hobby)

Postby Sam Spoons » Sun Jul 26, 2020 4:36 pm

Mostly going to echo what's been said already. I'm a guitar player but have some keyboards as well. If you want to play Piano look for one of the smaller 'stage pianos' Yamaha P80 is pretty compact and light for a full sized weighted action piano, my Roland A90EX is an absolute brute at over 27kg, the P80 is a much more manageable 17kg. The cheapest would probably be an older Yamaha Clavinova or similar, domestic versions of the Yamaha state pianos, usually with stands and speakers built in. Cheap as chips and lots out there (we were actually given one a few years ago), search the free ads, check it has DIN midi but most do.

If you want to do electronic stuff then synth keys are probably more suitable, I have a Roland Juno-D which cost me, IIRC. £80 it's nowt special but perfectly usable and has DIN midi I/O.

The third option, if you want onboard sounds, is something 'semi weighted'. My, dance teacher, wife has a Roland EP-7 which has 73 keys, half a dozen sounds, DIN midi and built in speakers. Lots of similar out there at pocket money prices.

edit, rereading your OP, if it was me I'd buy a cheap used Clavinova to relearn Piano and an equally cheap synth or controller to program midi into the computer. It's quite possible to get both for under £200 and doing both with a single keyboard will always be a compromise.
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Re: Advice for MIDI keyboard to start learning music production an piano (as a hobby)

Postby Trevor Johnson » Sun Jul 26, 2020 5:57 pm

if it was me I'd buy a cheap used Clavinova to relearn Piano and an equally cheap synth or controller to program midi into the computer.

Sam has made some excellent points, as have everyone else. It depends on a) your budget and b) the space available.

The Arturia 61 note keyboard comes with a lot of software/sounds so will make an excellent starting point for music creation.

I would buy the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen, rather than the solo, as two mic/line inputs will future proof you better.

At home I have an acoustic, i.e. traditional piano and use an oldish M-Audio Keystation 61 midi keyboard. Despite being very fortunate to being invited to play some wonderful keyboard instruments, (my main instrument is 'classical' organ), I never feel the M-Audio is 'cheap'. And I suspect the Arturia is slightly better built.

It's very easy to become bogged down in minutiae, as playing the piano (percussive), requires a different technique to the harpsichord (plucked), to the organ (mechanical/electro-pneumatic/electrical/fibre-optic, etc..).

I would go for the Arturia and enjoy it! Because that's what creating music, either replaying the old masters, such as J. S. B., the newer, Keith Jarrett, or your own, is all about .
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Re: Advice for MIDI keyboard to start learning music production an piano (as a hobby)

Postby The Elf » Sun Jul 26, 2020 8:58 pm

...and I'll make a vote for considering a compromise solution in a 76-note semi-weighted keyboard.
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Re: Advice for MIDI keyboard to start learning music production an piano (as a hobby)

Postby Buddha2080 » Mon Jul 27, 2020 1:10 am

Hi again guys, and thanks to everyone for their answers. After reading them all, I still have some doubts (due to lack of knowledge).

I see people telling me to get the interface, but is it necessary if I don't plan on recording anything yet? My initial intention is to make some techno/minimalist music without any vocals or live instruments. Can I just connect the Arturia to my PC and start having fun on a DAW?


Also, I'm going to discard the idea of getting an 88 key keyboard, since I want to have fun at first and also I have a real Yamaha piano at home, so if I feel the itch to go full Clayderman I can always do that later on.

I loved what this guy did (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vBwRfQbXkg) and he could do it with a 49-key, so I will be more than fin with a 61 key in terms of range of possibilities for a complete beginner.
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Re: Advice for MIDI keyboard to start learning music production an piano (as a hobby)

Postby The Elf » Mon Jul 27, 2020 8:23 am

:shocked: Yeeeeeeeah...

He's using a Boss RC-505 looper, a device I really like using for live improv.
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Re: Advice for MIDI keyboard to start learning music production an piano (as a hobby)

Postby CS70 » Mon Jul 27, 2020 9:19 am

Buddha2080 wrote:I see people telling me to get the interface, but is it necessary if I don't plan on recording anything yet? My initial intention is to make some techno/minimalist music without any vocals or live instruments. Can I just connect the Arturia to my PC and start having fun on a DAW?

Yes, you can just connect it. I suppose you are on PC? The challenge is not getting the notes in, it's getting the sound out with sufficient speed. Without an interface, your DAW will be using Windows' native audio system. This may or may not be supported well enough by your DAW but more importantly, in most of its operating modes, results in excessive latency. That means that you push a button on the keyboard and the sound come out of the pc later.. too much later.

However, if your DAW can use the WASAPI Exclusive mode drivers (and your built-in interface supports them) it could be doable without an external interface. Worth a try.

You will also need a PC with enough grunt to calculate/produce the sound fast enough as reaction to the keys you push, but again you find out soon enough. This is the same with an external interface, so you better try it before buying one anyways. If your computer isn't up to par to run a synth in real time, an interface won't help.
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Re: Advice for MIDI keyboard to start learning music production an piano (as a hobby)

Postby Buddha2080 » Mon Jul 27, 2020 10:50 am

CS70 wrote:However, if your DAW can use the WASAPI Exclusive mode drivers (and your built-in interface supports them) it could be doable without an external interface. Worth a try.

You will also need a PC with enough grunt to calculate/produce the sound fast enough as reaction to the keys you push, but again you find out soon enough. This is the same with an external interface, so you better try it before buying one anyways. If your computer isn't up to par to run a synth in real time, an interface won't help.

I have the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100 and I read in its user manual this:

With the DacMagic 100 switched to USB Audio 2.0 the DacMagic 100 needs the Cambridge Audio USB Audio 2.0 Driver to be loaded and can then accept up to 24-bit/192kHz (and support ASIO and WASAPI Exclusive if required).

Also, I have a beast of a PC, I think (maybe it coulds use another 16 GB of RAM, but other than that I'm fine):

Processor: i7-9700K
Graphics card: EVGA RTX 2080 XC Ultra Gaming 8 GB DDR6
Screen: BenQ Zowie XL2546 24.5" LED 240Hz e-Sports
RAM: 2x8 GB 3200 MHZ CL 16 Kingston Hyper X Predator RGB
Storage: SSD Samsung 970 EVO NVME 500 GB
Motherboard: Gigabyte z390 Aorus Elite
Power supply: EVGA Supernova G3 80 Plus Gold 850W Modular

And for sound I have:
DAC: Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100
Headphone amp: Massdrop O2
Headphones: Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 250 ohm
Mic: Blue Yeti Black
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Re: Advice for MIDI keyboard to start learning music production an piano (as a hobby)

Postby adrian_k » Mon Jul 27, 2020 2:10 pm

Ok, so you have an audio interface. With that lot I’d say you could just buy a midi keyboard controller, a DAW if you don’t have one, and go for it. Something may well not work as you’d wish but that will be normal, half the job is choosing your compromises!
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