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Piano and keyboard - how to hook up your computer

Updated on January 26, 2014

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.

Piano/keyboard

  • 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.

In Practice

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.

Garageband lessons

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.

Guitar Corner

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.

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    • profile image

      Terry 3 years ago

      When I was younger a friend at church showed me a software program for teaching piano. I hooked the computer to the keyboard and it taught me the basics of playing piano. It was really geared for kids The program taught you left hand right hand tempo reading music as you went . It incorperated this also in game like lessons so you never got bored. To advance to the next lesson you had to play the song using what you learned in the lesson in an opera like setting . If you played it perfectly you got a standing ovation. If you didn't it started you back on the pervious lesson . Is there anyone out there can tell me the name of the software. I got to the point I was playing with both hands reading it from sheet music before I had to stop.

    • Jon Green profile image
      Author

      Jon Green 4 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Fair point Jordan - I'll get around to that soon.

    • Jordan Hake profile image

      Jordan Hake 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri, USA

      Good hub, it took me awhile to figure out that I didn't need a special computer for MIDI controlling, I wish I'd read this then.

      If you'd like some constructive criticism, I think that some pictures to illustrate these connections would make it even better!

    • sirsarac profile image

      sirsarac 5 years ago from Italy

      great Hub! Check out my piano guide for beginners...

    • Aviago1115 profile image

      Aviago1115 6 years ago

      great hub check out my hubs!

    • Jon Green profile image
      Author

      Jon Green 7 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Hi agvulpes. There's no direct equivalent. You could try Logic, Cubase, Cakewalk in the LE versions. Sound on Sound magazine is a good source for info.

    • agvulpes profile image

      Peter 7 years ago from Australia

      Jon , great info , but unfortunately I'm running a PC :(

      Do you or anyone know of a program for the PC that is equivelent to Garage Band ? :-)

    • malonge profile image

      malonge 7 years ago from Western New York On Hubpages

      My son is a musician and has begun performing and recording in the last year. His songs can be heard on www.myspace.com/revelrytheband. Although, he plays with the band. He is the one who writs and creates the lyrics and melodies. I feel his soft rock type songs are the best. He is the vocalist and the harmonica player. Listen to number My favorites on their myspace with a lot of jazzy qualities are "Love Stories from the Night Shift and Highway Mood. I love the musical solo's in some of the songs. The first one "You're WElcome: is too rock and roll for me but the others have a softer touch to them. Take a listen.

    • Jon Green profile image
      Author

      Jon Green 7 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      By the way -the cable is usually about 6 ft long. If it's too short you can extend it with a couple of standard MIDI leads, but it's easier if the Mac and keyboard are close to each other.

    • Jon Green profile image
      Author

      Jon Green 7 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Thanks create a page and avangend. Although GarageBand is not up to a pro level, it's a very useful way to learn about music and recording, and it's cheap!

    • avangend profile image

      avangend 7 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Thanks for the hub. Also, congratulations on the 100!

    • create a page profile image

      create a page 7 years ago from Maryland, USA

      Thank you so very much for this information Jon Green. I have had two Macs, two piano keyboards and an acoustic piano for years, but I have never explored the GarageBand on the Mac, even though I was advised to do so before.

      After reading your hub, I clicked on the GarageBand icon and yes, you are right. I will explore this some more, and perhaps I will start my own band soon.

      Thank you so much again.

    • Jon Green profile image
      Author

      Jon Green 7 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Hi AEvans. Your computer can definitely perform as a complete recording studio. Other programmes you could use would be Logic or Cubase,Cakewalk etc.- only with the introduction of MIDI to USB it's become a lot easier. It's good for songwriting, arrangement,soundtracks for movies, etc.

    • AEvans profile image

      Julianna 7 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      I did not realize you could hook up an electronic keyboard to your computer! Not only do I have a baby grand but I also have an electronic one to and I am certainly going to try and hook it up to the computer. Thank you so much for letting me know about this. :)