Buying a digital piano is an exciting feeling. You are essentially purchasing an instrument that you could be using for upwards of 10 years.
Aside from the stock sounds that come with your digital piano, what if I told you there was another world of excitement that you could tap into?
Using your digital piano as a MIDI controller allows you to tap into so many different possibilities. By doing this, you can do the following:
- Tap into learning resources or courses
- Record songs from your digital piano into your computer/Mac
- Use unlimited virtual instruments
You may be wondering, why would you want to have access to more sounds if you have a lot of presets on your digital piano? The answer is simple: the quality of sounds that you can get from virtual technology is pretty impressive.
You can browse libraries that have any type of instrument that you would want to play and then you can actually play it on your digital piano.
In this guide, I will be showing you how to easily connect your digital piano to your computer or Macbook as well as what you can do once you have done so.
You will need the following:
- Digital Piano
- USB cable
- PC/ IOS/Android device
- DAW software (I recommend a free DAW)
- Virtual Instruments (can install free VSTs)
How To Connect Your Digital Piano To Your Computer/Macbook
The back of a digital piano will look similar to the back of this Yamaha P45. You will notice a USB input that allows you to plug a cable in. Most digital pianos and keyboards that are modern will have USB type B.
Note: Some digital pianos will feature Bluetooth technology. This means that you are actually able to connect to your PC wirelessly.
If your piano looks like the one above, you will simply need a USB A to B cable. This will allow you to plug into your computer.
It will look like this one below.
The small end connects to the digital piano and the larger end connects to your PC. There are many different lengths of these types of cables so make sure you get one with the appropriate length.
Identifying the type of input that your Macbook has is very important. If you have a Macbook that is from 2016 or newer, it may have a USB C input. For this you will need a USB C to B cable.
Below is what it will look like if you have a Macbook from 2016 or newer.
If for some reason your keyboard doesn’t have a type B input, it will have the traditional 5-pin MIDI connection.
USB to MIDI converter
Just like the above options, you will connect the USB type A to your PC. You will then connect the MIDI in of your cable to the MIDI out of your keyboard. The MIDI out of your cable will then go into the MIDI in.
Once you have gotten the right cables, you can then begin using your keyboard as a MIDI controller.
Using Your Digital Piano As A MIDI Controller
MIDI stands for “musical instrument digital interface.” This is essentially the language that your computer reads from your keyboard.
For example, once you play a phrase on your keyboard, the computer then receives it using MIDI. This is different than just recording audio. With MIDI, you have complete control over all of the parameters.
For example, you can change notes, note lengths and perfectly quantize MIDI.
Say you really wanted to hear how certain parts would sound with different synthesized sounds: you can record the MIDI, then browse thousands of synth presets hearing the same part over and over.
Using MIDI For Lessons
Once you are connected as described above, you are ready to take virtual lessons. In some ways, using a digital piano for virtual lessons is better than an acoustic piano. That’s because with applications like Internet MIDI, when you play your digital piano, your teacher’s digital piano will play in his/her studio (and vice versa), with no loss of audio quality!
Record MIDI With Your Digital Piano
To record MIDI with your digital piano, you will follow the same steps of connecting your keyboard. There will be one extra step after you connect and this is downloading a digital audio workstation (DAW for short).
There are a lot of great free DAWs out there and the purpose of these are to allow you to easily record.
Once you download a DAW, you will be able to start recording MIDI from your digital piano.
I recommend using YouTube to help you understand your DAW. For example, pick a DAW that you want to use and then go to YouTube and type in “recording with Ableton Live.”
Ableton Live is a DAW that is very popular and easy to use. With this being said, you do have to purchase it. Let’s take a look at free DAWs that you can use that work great:
- Pro Tools Light
- Ableton Live Light
- Cubase LE
All of the above are free and take up little space on your PC or laptop.
Playing Virtual Instruments With Your Digital Piano
At last, we reach my favorite part of this article: playing virtual instruments (or VSTs, which stands for Virtual Studio Technology). This is what I mainly use MIDI for with my keyboards.
To do this, you will want to follow the same steps above, including downloading a free DAW. Depending on the DAW you download, there will be some free VSTs to pick from.
For example, say you’re into older classic rock music which incorporates a lot of organs or electric pianos. You can download or purchase organ VSTs or electric piano VSTs by doing a simple search on Google.
On YouTube, type in the DAW you are using and search for “How to play VSTs” with whatever DAW you have.
If you are using Ableton Live, the steps are as follows:
Once you click VSTs, you will be able to see any of the VSTs you purchased or downloaded, along with the stock plugins that come with your DAW of choice.
You will be absolutely shocked by the quality of these VSTs. I still remember the first time playing on a virtual Hammond B3. My mind was blown. While technology can be scary for those who haven’t dabbled with VSTs, it is quite simple.
I encourage you to download a bunch of different free plugins before purchasing any. Once you have found certain instrument types you enjoy, have at it.
Here are some of my favorite VSTs:
- Pianoteq 6
- Addictive Keys
- Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2
- Native Instruments Kontakt 6
- Synthogy Ivory II Grand Pianos
- EastWest Quantum Leap Pianos
To browse free VSTs, check out VST4free. You will find a ton of different options.
Chris Senner has over 20 years of experience with keyboards and is also the editor and chief at Keyboardkraze.