How to Assign Sounds and Samples to a MIDI Keyboard

Written by: Zach Wright

To assign sounds and samples to a MIDI keyboard, you need to learn how a sampler works. After you learn how to navigate your way around that, you’ll be able to start assigning sounds and samples.

A MIDI Keyboard needs a sampler to assign sounds and samples. A sampler is any instrument that plays back a recording whenever you press a key. You can program your keys to either play a flute note or a drum roll or even a cartoonish voice.

Furthermore, you can either choose to record your own samples and sounds or use ones that others have recorded. There are numerous recordings available on the internet for free. These recordings are referred to as samples. After you load a sample into the MIDI keyboard, you can start mapping it according to your keys.

Recording an entire instrument and recording the sound with a MIDI keyboard is called Multi-sampling. This tends to be a fairly tedious process. It requires careful planning on your part. If your transposed sound is too far from the original pitch, it will sound fake.

Thus, it’s necessary that you map the sampler patches to a range of keys that are closer to the original pitch. This way you can easily and accurately recreate the sounds of the real instrument.


How Does a Sampler Work?

Sound waves are made up of analog signals, which are continuous and changing. On the other hand, computers can only process digital data which consists of zeros and ones. In order to convert analog sounds into digital waves, you can use an analog to digital converter or ADC.

The ADC slices the sound into different sections of volume, and where each section is assigned a number. These volume values are called a sample, and the process of converting the audio file into different sections is called sampling.

A sampler then replays the sound by recombining the numeric loudness values in the correct order using a digital to analog converter.

Assigning Sounds and Samples to a MIDI Keyboard

Here’s how you can assign sounds and samples to a MIDI Keyboard:

Find Sound Samples

connecting a midi keyboard to a laptop

The first step is to find sound samples that are free and legal to use. You can use the following websites to find these samples:

  • SoundBible
  • Absolute Sound Effects Archive
  • The Freesound Project
  • ccMixter

You can also try recording your own, but for beginners, we prefer that you use a pre-recorded sample.

Try downloading the files in a .wav format or an .aif format. It’s best to download a couple of files. Here, we recommend that you download two samples.

Editing the Sound File

Next, you need to edit the sound file to ensure proper sampling. Start with trimming the two samples to remove any silence in the beginning. This way, your sample will start from the very beginning. Similarly, edit the end of the samples so there is no silence at the very end.

You can use Audacity to edit your sound files as it easily displays the waveform and allows you to edit it. Here’s how you can trim your file:

  1. Launch Audacity and go to the File tab and click on the Open command.
  2. Use the waveform display to select required audio portions. Simply drag across the section to select it.
  3. Press the space bar to play the selected audio.
  4. Go to the Edit Tab and click on Remove Special. Select Trim Audio to remove all audio outside the selected portion.
  5. Click on Export to save the file under a different name.

You can try fading the end out so there are no annoying clicks and pops.

We highly recommend that you export the file as an individual audio file. This is because most editing software breaks down the audio file into clips which makes it easier to edit. You must first convert these clips into individual audio files to feed into the sampler for MIDI Keyboards.

The process of converting clips into individual audio files differs for each software. Take help from an instruction manual for your preferred software. After converting them, name them in an organized manner. For example, you can name them according to the instrument, dynamic and the note.


There are various types of Samplers available on the market, some of which are hardware while others are in the form of software. Software samplers are more popular because they are less expensive and easier to use. Some of the most popular ones are Ableton’s Live, Properllerhead’s Reason and Apple’s Logic.

Start by erasing any previous samples on the MIDI Keyboard. Next, create a blank patch on the sampler and import all the samples. After you have loaded the sample, map the sounds to the designated root key according to the note. The root key is the key that plays the sample at the original pitch. For example, if your sample has a soft F#2 pitch, set it to the root key of F#2.

This way when you press that particular root key, your sample will be played at the original pitch. Another important aspect is the key zone. The key zone is the place through which you can assign the sample. For a MIDI keyboard, it spans from numbers 0 to 127. You can adjust this key range by setting a high key and a low key.

If you press a key within this range, your sample will be triggered. The pitch however, will differ based on how far you play from the root key. Also, note that the sampler does not preserve the duration of the sample. For instance, if you play down an octave, your sample tends to last twice as long.

Velocity refers to how hard you play any key on the MIDI Keyboard. If your samples have different dynamic levels, you need to set their appropriate velocity ranges as well. Do this by setting a high and low velocity setting for each sample. This ensures that only lower velocities can trigger a softer sample and higher velocities can play harder samples.

Parting Notes

All in all, you need to be extremely organized to assign sounds and samples to a MIDI keyboard. It may be a tedious task, but with careful planning, you can end up with a wide array of musical samples. If you’re very new to the game, you might benefit from getting one of the top beginner MIDI keyboards on the market, designed to help you easily get started. On the other hand, Ready to give it a try?

Written By:
Zach has a vast experience in digital audio and sound design. Being a studio owner for 13 years, he actively helps musicians and producers with technical issues around musical instruments and studio and audio equipment.

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