man playing on two connected MIDI keyboards

How to Connect Two MIDI Keyboards

Just got another MIDI Keyboard to add to your collection? Great, now you can choose which one is best for a certain gig. But, why use one when you can use both? It might sound complicated, but the process is quite simple.

The basic idea is two keyboards that are connected to each other via MIDI cables, both running on different channels. You want to play on either or both of the keyboards and have either or both of them reproduce the sound. This is perfect for live performances or even studio recordings. In fact, you can add another MIDI gear to the setup as well.

About the Midi Keyboard

A MIDI keyboard is basically an electronic keyboard with a selection of different knobs, wheels, and sliders. This piano-style keyboard uses a MIDI cable or a USB cable to transmit the MIDI signals to another device for processing.

The keyboard itself does not produce any sound. Instead, the information of your pressure on the keys is relayed through the MIDI cable to the other connected device which then plays back the accurate sound.

Most often, the processing device is a:

  • Computer with a DAW.
  • Sound module.
  • Synthesizer.
  • Digital or Stage Piano.

These keyboards are popular for concerts and recording studios. You’ll find these instruments to be versatile and portable.

Types of MIDI Connectors

Before we jump into connecting two keyboards, it is important to know the types of connectors a MIDI keyboard comes with. Typically, there are 3 types of MIDI connectors on any MIDI equipment, which are:

MIDI In:

This connector is used to receive any incoming MIDI data.

MIDI Out:

The MIDI Out connector transmits data from the MIDI instrument to a receiver.

MIDI Thru:

This connector allows you to chain two or more MIDI instruments together. It retransmits the MIDI data that the MIDI In receives.

Usually, a MIDI keyboard might have only two connectors, the MIDI In and the MIDI Out.

Connecting Two MIDI Keyboards

Firstly, it is imperative that you use two MIDI cables to make the connection, as other cables might include a different type of wiring. The general way of making MIDI connections is to join a MIDI Out or MIDI Thru to a MIDI In. We recommend that you switch your instruments or equipment off when you make such connections.

Step 1: Determine the Master and Slave Keyboard

When connecting two keyboards, it is important to determine a ‘master’ keyboard and a ‘slave’ keyboard. A master keyboard includes all the presets you need, so when you choose a new preset, it sends a specific signal to the slave keyboard. The specific signal may be to use the same preset that you just chose on the master keyboard or a different one. This is often called a program change.

You can try connecting a footswitch to the master keyboard to change through the presets for the slave keyboard. The basic idea is to change the programs on both the MIDI keyboards with the press of a single button. The master keyboard doesn’t have to be the better one. Instead, it should be the keyboard that can easily control other MIDI devices.

Step 2: Making MIDI Connections

Connect the MIDI Out of the master keyboard to the MIDI In of the other keyboard. It’s as simple as that. 

Step 3: Setting Up MIDI Channels

After you have connected the keyboards, it’s time to select the MIDI Channel for both the instruments. The ideal situation is that each keyboard is set to a different channel. You can also try setting them up to multiple channels if the instruments allow for it. This can be done in two ways. You can either set a Global MIDI Channel or MIDI channels in different combinations.

Step 4: Determine Data You Want to Be Transmitted

Next, you need to determine what kind of data you want to send to the keyboard. For example, if you tweak a knob to send MIDI CC events to a keyboard, you might not want to transfer that to another keyboard.

Another example can be pedals. You can’t use two pedals at the same time as you might not be as adept with your left foot. You can try setting it up in a way that one keyboard is attached to the pedal, but the pedal also sends the messages to the other keyboard.

Step 5: Making Specific Sounds

To make specific sounds, you have to make a set of programs with multiple voices on your master keyboard. You can try making each voice respond to external or internal messages. On the other hand, if you want to send notes from the master keyboard to the slave one, you can try using an extra voice on the combination. You can also set up the MIDI in a way that sends information separately from the combination of programs.

Add More MIDI Gear

You can also try adding a third keyboard through a MIDI Thru connection. Most often, playing with two keyboards will suffice. You can also try adding other gear to the setup as well.

    • Connecting a Sequencer or a Computer: Connect the MIDI Out from the MIDI Keyboard to the computer or sequencer’s MIDI In. Next, connect the MIDI Out from the computer or sequencer to the MIDI In on the keyboard.
    • Connecting a Sequencer and a Sound Module: Simply follow the above method to connect the sequencer. Then use the MIDI Thru from the keyboard to connect another MIDI cable to the MIDI in of the Sound module.

Parting Notes

All in all, a two-keyboard setup opens many doors for you in terms of control and sounds. You can use your master keyboard to control the sounds of the other keyboard without disturbing its synth settings. Pair it up with other MIDI gear and you’ve got yourself the performance of a lifetime. Just remember to practice until you’re a natural at it.

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