If you want to make music but don't want to spend thousands on instruments, your best option is to go electronic and record with a MIDI keyboard. MIDI keyboards allow you to create music with virtual instruments, some recording software, and a controller.
They may look similar to piano keyboards, but they're not the same thing. A controller keyboard is generally smaller and has control knobs where you can cycle between instruments, apply pre-sets, or manage your pitch and tone.
If you want to dive into the world of making music, a MIDI controller is a great place to start. Our guide will help you choose between the ten best MIDI keyboards for beginners in 2023 so that you can get playing straight away.
Quick glance at the best MIDI keyboards for beginners:
Related: Best Weighted MIDI Keyboard
The Novation Launchkey line offers everything a beginner needs. It has 49 keys as well as 16 velocity-sensitive RGB drum pads, eight rotary knobs, and dedicated navigation and control buttons. The controller connects via USB port to your PC without the need for specialized drivers. It draws its power from the port as well, so no need to worry about cables or power supplies.
The Launchkey has synth-style keys that provide a responsive and comfortable experience. The controller also comes with a sustain pedal input, pitch bend, and modulation wheels, allowing you to control your music production without ever having to switch to your mouse.
All of these features make this one of the best midi keyboards for beginners on the market. It has just enough features to learn about music production without feeling like you’re juggling plates when recording. The Novation Launchkey's sheer versatility and functionality are what make this our pick for the top beginner midi keyboard.
Novation designs all their products to work in Ableton Live, which is included with the Launchkey as part of its bundled software. This digital audio workstation (DAW) is one of the most popular in the music industry due to its versatility and ease of use.
The Alesis VI49 is one of the more feature-packed beginner midi keyboards in our line-up—with a price-tag to match. It comes with 49 semi-weighted keys and 16 RGB pads that can pick up in changes in speed.
It also has 12 assignable knobs and 36 assignable function buttons. You can decide what you want these buttons to do, from changing virtual instruments to manipulating plug-in effects and playing with various parameters and filters.
The main drawback of the Alesis is that it's heavy and not very portable. However, if you're looking for a keyboard and pads that will stick with you as gain experience with electronic music equipment, the Alesis is an excellent buy.
The Arturia KeyStep3 packs a lot of useful features into a very small package. While it looks like a standard midi controller, it also has much of the functionality found in a polyphonic step sequencer. It has a built-in arpeggiator, Aftertouch, and comes with Arturia's Analog Lab software. You can even change the velocity curve of the keys via your DAW, and it will keep those settings after you turn it off.
You can use the Arturia KeyStep Beginner MIDI keyboard with any DAW via USB MIDI or with any other hardware via the five-pin MIDI DIN port. If you have any prized synthesizer modules, you can control them via the Arturia's CV gate functionality.
Despite the considerable number of features, the Arturia doesn't skimp on build quality. It has a nice, solid feel without being clunky. The keyboard doesn't have full-size keys, but they're still large enough for heavy-handed players to use with comfort.
The one drawback is that the pitch bend and modulation controls are capacitive-touch buttons instead of wheels, which feels a bit cheap, especially when compared to the rest of the controller. It also requires a power cord to function, even when plugged into a computer.
The Akai Professional MPK249 is the top-end controller in the MPK line. It has semi-weighted, full-size keys and a large array of controls that include 16 RGB MPC pads and 24 assignable buttons and controllers.
The controller comes packaged with MPC Essentials, which can either work as your main DAW control, or as a plug-in to your DAW of choice. It also comes with various other bundled software packages, including Ableton Live Lite, Hybrid 3 and SONiVOX Twist 2.0.
The MPK249 offers intermediate and expert musicians the opportunity to control their entire workflow from their MIDI controller. It’s also one of the best controllers for beginners to grow with.
If you like a challenge and want to dive headfirst into music production, the Akai MPK249 offers exceptional build quality, functionality, and versatility. It's a fantastic piece of gear that will last you for your entire music career.
The Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol M32 is a lightweight MIDI controller perfect for beginners. It comes pre-packaged with the Ableton Live DAW and tons of sound samples from the Native Instruments catalog. It has 32 touch-sensitive mini keys with enough space between them to be comfortable.
The controller has a rear-mounted pedal input along with the standard pitch and modulation wheels. Unlike other controllers, the wheels have two ribbons that offer slightly more control than the traditional thumb wheels. The controller also has physical audio interfaces that allow you to control several DAWs without having to reach for your mouse. Currently, this functionality only works in Ableton Live, GarageBand, and Logic Pro X, though support for Cubase and Nuendo is on the horizon.
The controller has several transport controls, including playback, record, metronome, loop, and tempo. These controls mirror the buttons found on your DAW, so you don't have to switch between your mouse and your keyboard constantly.
The M32 is built from the ground up to be a midi keyboard for beginners. It has a tiny footprint and is compact and portable enough to carry around with you everywhere. The controller comes packed with useful features that won't overwhelm beginners and gives you the software and support you need to get started.
M Audio is well known for going above and beyond in their MIDI controllers—and the Oxygen 49 IV is no exception. With 49 keys, eight drum pads, eight knobs, nine faders, and the ability to map out your controllers with a mouse, there’s not much not to love about this option.
Crafted around the software that professionals use, the M Audio Oxygen 49 IV offers premium performance at an exceptionally affordable price point. It also comes bundled with a wide range of software such as Eleven Lite, Ableton Live Lite, Twist, Eighty Eight Ensemble, and Xpand!2.
When it comes to a beginner option that doesn't scale back on functionally, the Oxygen 49 IV is a perfect choice.
The Novation Launchkey MK2 is the Launchkey Beginner's bigger brother. It comes pre-packaged with Ableton Live Lite, Novation's Bass Station, and several samples of software instruments. If you work in Ableton Live, this is one of the better options for you. The controller is Live-focused, though you can use it to control other DAWs through the InControl functionality.
What makes the Launchkey MK2 so appealing is that you can use it both in-studio and during live performances. It has good-sized keys and USB functionality. It hits the sweet spot between beginners and experienced users with enough functionality as an Ableton Live controller to be useful for professionals but is still simple enough as a beginner controller.
The construction is solid, with tight pitch and mod wheels, good-sized keys, and a reasonably intuitive layout.
The major drawback of this controller, as with many Novation products, is that it centers around Ableton Live. If you use another DAW, you'll have to spend some time messing around with settings and audio interfaces to get it set up.
The Nektar Impact LX25+ is a 25-key midi controller with eight rotary knobs and eight pads that mimic drum machines. One of the advantages of the LX25+ is that mapping the pads is simpler than on many similar controllers. You press the shift button and switch between the various pre-set maps.
Another big advantage of the Nektar is that you can use it with almost any audio workstation. It allows you to use the basic functions of your DAW from the primary sidebar, such as changing tracks and basic transport controls.
It also has a transpose feature, which allows you to transpose keys to shift into another key. You can do this by simply transposing the keyboard up or down until you reach the scale you want to play in. Transpose functionality is an essential feature for beginners who are still figuring out music theory but want to get playing as soon as possible.
The CME Xkey Air 25-Key is another keyboard that does away with all the frills and focuses on delivering high-end performance and portability. It has a slim design, and all the buttons are placed in the primary sidebar. It only has basic controls such as octave change, pitch bend, modulation, and sustain.
The XKey Air is an excellent product if you travel a lot. It is very light, coming in at 1.34 pounds. The sleek design means that you can carry it with you easily, and the built-in battery means you don't have to worry about finding a power outlet. It draws power from the USB socket when it's plugged in, making recharging the controller easy and simple.
The CME does come with several drawbacks, mainly as a result of its sleek design. The mini keys are very close together, which won't suit people with larger hands. The pitch bend and modulation controls are buttons instead of the traditional wheels, which feels uncomfortable and unintuitive to use.
When you first start shopping around and looking at midi keyboard controllers, you may quickly become overwhelmed by the sheer variety. Not only are there many brands to choose from, but many also have additional features that you may or may not need. Some keyboards are compact and portable, while others are heavy and are best suited to staying in a studio environment.
The best way to think about which keyboard is right for you is to consider what you want from it. It's a bad idea to go for the most feature-packed, large keyboard since the learning curve is steeper, and there's a good chance you won't need most of the functions you have.
Instead, figure out what your needs and expectations are before you start shopping. Rather, stick to a starter midi keyboard that does what you need without spending on extra stuff. As you progress, you may find that your needs will change, in which case you can upgrade your keyboard to fit your current situation.
Your main limiting factor is always going to be your budget. Luckily, beginner midi keyboards are usually surprisingly affordable. A good budget range would be between $100 and $200. The more features and keys the controller has, the more expensive they become, which is a good thing for beginners because you can save money by not spending on features you won't use.
A good rule of thumb is to stick to the upper end of your budget without spending on unnecessary extras. By following this rule, you'll buy a good quality keyboard that will give you an excellent introduction into the world of digital audio.
Midi controllers come in a wide range of sizes based on the number of keys they have. How many keys you need will depend on what type of music you'll be making. If you need a huge range of tones and pitches, a larger keyboard with would be more suitable. If you travel a lot and DJ computer music, a smaller keyboard will work just fine.
Some controllers try to save space by using mini keys instead of normal-sized ones. Smaller keys can save space, but they can also be more uncomfortable to play. If you have large hands, stick to ordinary-sized keys that you can work with comfortably.
You should also consider the type of keyboard action you want. Key type plays a vital role in the keyboard feel, which will determine how comfortable you are with the controller. The three basic key types are:
If possible, you should visit a music shop and try out the various key types. Each person has their personal preference when it comes to key type. Since people tend to play better when they're comfortable, take the time to find the perfect set of keys for you.
Another aspect to consider is that some keyboards have velocity-sensitive keys. These keys can detect variance in hitting speed and will change the signal they send accordingly. If you hit a key harder, the signal may be louder than if you hit it softly. Velocity-sensitive keys can add nuance and depth while making the process of making electronic music feel more natural and intuitive.
Some keyboards come with external power sources, while others work on battery power. Some keyboards can draw power from other devices via USB, while others may still need another power cable.
If you love making music while traveling, you're best off with either a battery-powered or USB-powered controller. That way, you don't have to worry about finding a power outlet every time you want to jam.
If you have a home studio, you should be able to get away with a powered controller. All you need to do is plug it in and start jamming without worrying if your battery will die mid-session.
The most common output on a midi controller is a USB port that plugs directly into your PC. Some controllers also have five-pin MIDI DIN outputs, which plug into synthesizers, stereo keyboard amplifiers, and other external hardware, though these also need a special cable to be usable.
In terms of inputs, some people use sustain pedals or expression pedals that can add an extra layer to your music-making. A pedal input allows you to connect these external devices to your controller.
Understanding and using various control features is essential to making good music. MIDI keyboards have knobs, buttons, and faders to give you extra control and variety in your music.
Even the most basic midi keyboard controllers will have knobs to control volume and buttons to play around with menus and information. The type of controls you want will depend on what equipment you have available and what music you're making.
An important thing to note is that many controllers work best with certain types of DAW. For instance, Novation products work with Ableton Live, which allows the buttons on the controller to map to corresponding functions found in the software.
This mapping can streamline your workflow by allowing you to control every aspect of music production from your controller without having to use a mouse. However, you do have to make sure that the controller you choose is compatible with your DAW of choice.
In general, a 49-key controller a good option for beginners. It's enough keys that you can play with both hands without going overboard and overwhelming you with options. Many of the most popular MIDI keyboards have 49 or 61 keys since it's a good balance between utility and usability.
Most beginner midi keyboards fall in the $100 to $200 price range, which can change a bit depending on the size of the keyboard and features. Some keyboards also work better in a studio production setting, while others are performance keyboards, and this can also impact the price.
There are cheaper MIDI keyboard options that are good enough for beginners, but if you start looking at lower than $100, you will find that the build quality starts getting worse and your options become more limited.
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