What is a MIDI controller? Why do I need one to make music?

A MIDI Controller is essential if you are making music with your computer. It’s hardware…you’ll use it to control your virtual instruments and sequence your music.

The main reason you would use a midi controller is so you can trigger sounds. You can be inspired to map any plethora of sounds across the keyboard and slam your pretty little fingers on the keys and instead of normally hearing crickets, you might hear the ocean. But seriously, if you have the sound of animals or nature to mix in with your music, then you have the gift to spread psycho ambient feelings to all who might listen to your music, or feel that wave. Midi is just the language used to point to a sound like a cricket, low C cricket, or any sound that you can own on your computer, spread like a sampled keymap in each octave, if that is your choice. It all depends on what you like to spread your fingers around, and listen to.

Now you’re saying, WTF is a MIDI Controller? OK, basically its something that is a piece of hardware. Lives outside the computer, you bang on it if it looks like a drum machine, or play concerto style like Frank Sinatra on the piano…but basically- it’s a piece of hardware so you can control the software sounds and synthesizer controls on your computer. You press a key, a sound comes out of your computer. You decide what sound, based on what virtual instrument you are using to trigger the sound.

The cool part is, if you know how to use your MIDI controller and virtual instruments, and you start dabbling in Low Frequncy Oscillators, (LFOs), you can make some really sick beats- and you need your midi controller to use the filters and drive the sound thru touch as you feel it. When recorded, this data is stored, and its called MIDI information (controller numbers will be recorded when you use something like a knob -real name is rotary encoder- and numbers have names in this language). For example, Volume is named number 7.

Here is a short list of controller numbers that you might want to learn, but I don’t know what the last one means. If you think you know, feel free to leave a comment and help school the planet, and myself included.

Control Change Messages (Some Optional)
– Bank Select (cc#0/32)
– Modulation Depth (cc#1)
– Portamento Time (cc#5)
– Channel Volume (cc#7)
– Pan (cc#10)
– Expression (cc#11)
– Hold1 (Damper) (cc#64)
– Portamento ON/OFF (cc#65)
– Sostenuto (cc#66)
– Soft (cc#67)
– Filter Resonance (Timbre/Harmonic Intensity) (cc#71)
– Release Time (cc#72)
– Attack time (cc#73)
– Brightness (cc#74)
– Decay Time (cc#75) (new message)
– Vibrato Rate (cc#76) (new message)
– Vibrato Depth (cc#77) (new message)
– Vibrato Delay (cc#78) (new message)
– Reverb Send Level (cc#91)
– Chorus Send Level (cc#93)
– Data Entry (cc#6/38)
– RPN LSB/MSB (cc#100/101)

What is a MIDI Controller? Is it a piano? A Drum Machine? Dude, what are you saying?

I’m saying it looks like a piano, or a hybrid of a piano and a drum machine, and the only sounds that really come out of it are the ones living inside your glorious sample collection in your computer (that you have spent years or just a few minutes collecting, so that you may always be given the opportunity to make music with any sound you want), and make it as gorgeous as possible. What a really long sentence that was, but so true.

What are some MIDI controllers I use? Right now, I use two: M-Audio Keystation 49 and Akai MPK-25 (obviously a space issue determines amount of keys from this point- less desk space equals less keys, but there are still a lot of knobs, faders and even some drum pads for those of you that need to bang your groove on).

Here is a photo of the MPK-25. I bought it at Best Buy- didn’t even get a deal on it, but it was so worth the money for my music production.

Akai MPK-25 Midi Controller

Hope this little bit of info helps you make some music!

~Starr Ackerman~

~ by Starr Ackerman on October 26, 2010.

2 Responses to “What is a MIDI controller? Why do I need one to make music?”

  1. […] What is a MIDI controller? Why do I need one to make music? […]


  2. […] help you understand wtf MIDI is, and why you need it to get the most out of your computer music. Click here to read Starr Ackerman’s Music Production Blog Post: What is a MIDI controller and … iRIG MIDI and SampleTank for […]


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