Piano and keyboard - how to hook up your computer
Introduction to recording
You may have just bought a digital piano or keyboard for Christmas, possibly as a first step to encourage musicality in your children, or you may have a piano from a few years back in the house.
A great thing to do would be to get your piano/keyboard and your computer talking to each other. When this happens, you have a virtual recording studio at your disposal, which can be an inspiring learning environment and may see you playing the piano constantly without it seeming like practice time.
The good news is, this can be fairly cheap. In this article I'll be looking at using a Mac - you could use a PC (disgusted look) but the Mac already has a free program bundled with it in the shape of Garageband, part of the i-life suite free with new Macs.
See my hub IPad - using piano and keyboards for a more hi-tech and expensive approach. This hub looks at the ways you can use an iO Dock to connect piano/digital keyboards with the recording power of your iPad.
Is this article going to be techie? - definitely not, as my knowledge of music tech is pretty limited.
- At the back of your digital piano, synth, keyboard, spinet etc you should find two MIDI ports (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) If you have a spinet, it's just past that pastoral scene, underneath the cherubs (only kidding)
- Buy a MIDI to USB connector cable for as little as $5 (£20-£30 approx, much cheaper in the USA)
- Connect the 2 MIDI cable ends (marked IN and OUT) to these ports, and the USB to the back of your Mac. You may have to load a CD with the drivers, and follow the instructions on screen. Some cables, like the Alesis Midi/USB don't need a driver. To avoid stress just swap round the midi ends if it doesn't work. I wish I'd tried that half an hour ago!
- Select software instrument in the Garageband menu and you should be able to start recording, on any number of different tracks
- Use a loop of prerecorded drums for backing, add percussion as desired
- Change the piano sound to any other instrument you like, flute, bass, strings or whatever.
- Create a piece of music - if you are not a musician, you can still assemble impressive songs by using the prerecorded samples of different instruments.
- Burn a CD of the finished piece.
It's always a nice surprise when this technology actually works, but we tried it yesterday at a friend's house with a Roland/Cakewalk UMG-1 and it all went very smoothly - it took about 15 mins to get it all working. I've just ordered an Alesis MIDI to USB cable, so will report on how that goes.(IT WORKS!)
Garageband has it's limitations, but it is a great cheap way to get started.Though not as simple as the first versions, the current version is pretty impressive, and you should get the hang of it in half an hour, at least the basics.
You could then use your song as a soundtrack for an i-Movie project - it seems easy to import the audio into movies, though I haven't done that yet.
There are piano and guitar lessons in the Garageband program, and you can buy lessons too. This could be useful if you live a long way from a piano teacher.
There are video tutorials included with Garageband, which are good - but mostly you will be able to pick it up very quickly in practice. Extra loops and instrumental sounds need to be downloaded from the internet - around 1.1 Gb of material, which is great, but obviously takes up space on your hard drive. Non-musicians can still assemble music by using loops and samples, or by using the virtual piano keyboard. A lot of the loops are great - I would start with a drum pattern (click and drag) and then add some percussion parts, moving on to keyboard, bass and guitar. You can also record vocal parts if you wish, through the Mac's internal mic (?) or through a USB preamp.
If you play guitar and have a Mac, check out my hub Guitar-recording with your mac. It's even easier than using a keyboard, as all you need is a mini-jack to jack cable from the Apple store.This is one of the main reasons I bought a mac in the first place, it makes it very easy to record tracks.