Can You Learn Piano on a MIDI Keyboard? What to Consider

Can you learn piano on a MIDI keyboard? The answer is a partial YES because some MIDI keyboards and MIDI controllers are without built-in speakers. However, if your MIDI keyboard has a sound module and built-in speaker system, then there is no brainer and the answer is a solid yes.

Besides sound consideration, there are other facts you’ll need to consider when using a MIDI keyboard or MIDI controller to learn piano.

Let’s delve into the details.

What is a MIDI Keyboard?

First, let’s understand what a MIDI keyboard is and what the differences are between a MIDI keyboard and an electric keyboard or a digital piano. This will help us to answer the questions: Can you learn piano on a MIDI keyboard?

midi keyboard

MIDI literally means Musical Instruments Digital Interface. It has been around since the early 80s as a way for controllers, sequencers, and synthesizers to communicate. Basically, MIDI is a language spoken by music production gear that let you store, edit, and modify musical pitch and velocity, as well as some other characteristics and settings.

MIDI Keyboard vs MIDI Controller

One of the most confusing points for beginners is understanding the difference between a MIDI controller and a MIDI keyboard.

Broadly define, if you have a keyboard whether it’s a synthesizer, an electric keyboard, or a digital piano, it makes its own sound and has MIDI jacks, it is a MIDI keyboard. The jack can be a 5-pin DIN, USB, or 3.5-millimeter.

For any electric instrument to make sound, it requires three basic components: a controller, a sound module, and an audio output.

midi system

MIDI keyboards or other types of electric keyboards have sound modules and audio outputs (speakers) built into them. Therefore, you absolutely can use a MIDI keyboard to learn piano.

Back to the question “Can you learn piano on a MIDI keyboard?” Most likely it refers to MIDI controllers because they do not have sound modules and audio outputs. That means you need to add a sound module and an audio output to make a full working system. This is critical to keep in mind, even though a MIDI controller has a piano-like keyboard.

Moreover, as controllers, MIDI controllers have many knobs, wheels, and sliders.

How to Use a MIDI Keyboard to Learn Piano

In order to use a MIDI keyboard to learn piano, you first need to know what kind of keyboard or controller you have.

MIDI Keyboards Make Its Own Sound

If you have a MIDI keyboard that makes its own sound, in other words, it has a sound module and speakers, you can use it to learn piano without additional configuration. Most digital pianos with MIDI connectors are in this category.

MIDI Keyboards Without Speakers

Synthesizers are another type of MIDI keyboard. Synthesizers, most likely do not come with a speaker system but have a controller and a sound module. In this case, all you need to do is connect your synthesizer to an externally powered speaker.

synthesizer connected with speaker
An example of a synthesizer connected to a speaker

MIDI Controllers

When your MIDI controller has neither a sound module nor an audio output, there are a couple of ways to connect to a computer depending your the MIDI jacks on your controller.

  • The simplest way is to connect your MIDI controller to a computer using USB MIDI (also known as USB Type B).
  • You can also use the 5-pin DIN cable to connect to a MIDI interface (another piece of hardware), then connect to your computer.
midi controller connections
An example of a MIDI controller connected to a computer via a MIDI interface

The MIDI controllers are used to send MIDI data to trigger sounds from other devices such as a computer running a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) with VST (Virtual Studio Technology), or a standalone VST instrument.

Keyboard

For any beginner learning piano, another very important aspect is the keyboard itself. MIDI keyboards come in all kinds of sizes and types. Both the number of keys and key actions are critical for learning piano.

Keyboard Size

A standard piano full keyboard has 88-keys that are over seven octaves. MIDI controllers, electric keyboards, and digital pianos have a wide range of keyboard sizes from 32 to 88 keys.

In order to learn to play piano, it is best to have 4 or more octaves which means you need at least 61-keys. Some 61-key keyboards can be starters. Additionally, the 76-key keyboards are also good options.

Key Actions

unweighted vs weighted keyboards

In many of my postings, I keep emphasizing the importance of weighted keys, and so is here. For anyone who wants to learn piano, it is best to learn on a keyboard with weighted keys, or at least with touch sensitivity. This is when you press the keys, you’ll feel the resistance from the keys. When you press harder, it sounds louder, and vice versa. The weighted keys are vital for developing proper piano techniques. Moreover, it also makes it much easier for you to play on a real piano.

Many MIDI controllers and synthesizers come with unweighted keys or semi-weighted keys. These are not ideal for learning piano. However, using these keyboards, you still can have a lot of fun playing songs and creating music.

Conclusion

In general, you can use a MIDI controller to learn piano, as long as you have a way to connect to a sound module and speakers. Moreover, a MIDI keyboard can most likely be used to learn piano. In case your MIDI keyboard does not have an audio output, you’ll need to connect with external speakers.

Besides, you will need to consider the keyboard size and key actions. The best way to start learning piano is to use a keyboard with weighted keys.

On the other hand, unless you already have a MIDI keyboard or a MIDI controller, you may want to configure your system to learn piano. Otherwise, I would encourage you to consider a digital piano with graded weighted keys and built-in speakers. If budget and space are the concerns, you may even consider a 61-key keyboard with touch sensitivity. In this case, the Casio CT-S300 would be a budget-friendly option.

Regardless of which keyboard or digital piano you choose to start your piano-learning journey, I wish you good luck and fun. The piano is a wonderful instrument to learn. Enjoy!

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