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Blog overview

What is a MIDI keyboard and what is it used for?

Apple, in Music lessons
Oct 06, 2021 | 6 min read

What is a MIDI keyboard?

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. If you want to take your music to the next level (think sound effects and modulations), you should explore the possibilities with a MIDI keyboard.

While a MIDI keyboard can look a lot like a regular keyboard, they usually don’t make a sound on their own. MIDI controllers can also come in various shapes and sizes, have 25 to 88 keys, and knobs and sliders which you can assign triggers for. They’re great for all musicians, whether you’re into techno, hip-hop, or classical music.

What is a MIDI keyboard used for?

MIDI keyboard or MIDI controllers are used for sending MIDI signals to other synthesizers or computers. Most models offer multiple key configurations, so you can pick the best one for your needs and portability requirements. For example, M-AUDIO’s popular model Keystation MK3 comes with 88-keys or you can choose their 49-Key or their Mini 32 MK3.

  • Software

    All MIDI boards are reliant on a computer and software in order to produce a sound. Most of the keyboards come with free software.

  • Editable functions

    The amount of variable control knobs depends on what you want to use it for. If you want to use it for performance, it’s better to have more knobs directly accessible to you during the show. Look out for pitch and modulation wheels. Expression pedals and footswitch inputs on the back of the keyboard for even more control.

  • Nice to have features

    Some keyboards have very sensitive keyboard aftertouch which will allow you to express the tiniest details.

Here are our top picks for MIDI keyboards for live performances and musicians:

With these MIDI keyboards, users can play and create music with freedom and ease.

1. Akai Professional Advance 49

The Akai Professional Advance 49 often gets compared as the cheaper version of the Komplete Kontrol MIDI board. You can use it as a stand-alone keyboard for a live gig using a MIDI out port and a power adapter.

Why we love it

  • USB Powered 
  • Pitch bend and modulation wheel, 8 velocity- and pressure-sensitive pads
  • Great browsing user experience


  • Slow on the software update
  • Few problems working with Logic pro

Price: from US$260

2. Genki Wave MIDI ring

A one of its kind gestural MIDI ring controller. You can wear the Genki Wave on you finger and use natural gestures moving your hand to control sound. This MIDI controller recognizes six gestures: Tilt, Pan, Roll, Vibrato, Tap, and Click.

midi controller
Genki instruments

Why we love it

  • Adds a humanistic touch to controlling and expressing yourself through your music
  • Creates a visual experience for audiences that adds a dramatic flair to performances
  • Feels natural and easy to integrate to music expression in real-time, with little obstruction (no more buttons and sliders)


  • There is a learning curve and users may find it more challenging at the beginning
  • Can be quite pricey for beginners

Price: US$249

3. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A61

If you are already way deep in the Native Instrument ecosystem then this is for you. Native Instruments has several models for MIDI keyboards but if you are serious about music production then this is for you.

Why we love it

  • Sturdy build
  • USB powered (less cables is always better)
  • Flawless DAW Integration Transport functions, knobs are automatically mapped and it just works.


  • Buttons may be clicky 
  • Reports of Logic Pro X incompatibility

4. M-AUDIO Keystation 61

One of the cheapest yet highly reviewed MIDI boards. It comes in 49 keys, 61, and 88 Keys. We love it for its simple layout – it removes all the pads and sliders which gives you that pro feeling. It has both a pitch and modulation slider.

Why we love it

  • Easy plug and play
  • Really cheap for what it can do
  • Very rugged and portable, won’t take up too much space


  • Keyboard may flex quite a bit as you play

Price: US$145.24

5. Komplete Kontrol s61

Once you’ve experienced the Native Instrument environment we feel like there is no going back. Komplete Kontrol users usually do an upgrade with S61. It has pro-grade Fatar keybeds with aftertouch – 61 semi-weighted keys with pitch and mod wheels. With pre-mapped control of Komplete instruments and hundreds of Native Kontrol Standard (NKS) instruments.

Why we love it

  • Visual Feedback with two high-res color screens
  • Integrates well with Maschine MK3 and Maschine software
  • Great keybed


  • Key travel is long

Price: US$779

6. M-Audio Oxygen Pro

If you’re serious about music and want a keyboard that can do it all, the Oxygen Pro is for you. M-Audio’s highest end offering comes with semi-weighted keys, meaning that it feels and plays like a real piano. Playing on the Oxygen Pro feels much more realistic and accurate compared to using a cheaper keyboard with hollow keys. 

You also get 16 customizable RGB-lit pads and 8 assignable knobs, along with 9 assignable faders and the usual pitch and modulation wheels. What’s even better is that the Oxygen Pro features Auto-Mapping, which means you can instantly map all the keyboard’s controls to your DAW without having to individually assign each function. 

The Oxygen Pro is available in a variety of key configurations, including the most popular 49 and 88 key versions.

Why we love it

  • Seamless DAW integration
  • Shortcut modes for easier music alternative
  • One of the cheapest option


  • Takes time to get used to
  • Shortcut modes for easier music alternative

Price: US$229

7. Arturia Keystep 37

Besides being a MIDI keyboard, Arturia’s Keystep 37 also functions as a sequencer, which means you can hook it up to your hardware synthesizers. This is great for musicians and producers who want to use more than just a keyboard to create their tracks.

Why we love it

  • Overall great sequencer
  • Perfect amount of keys


  • Might be too expensive

Price: US$229

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