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What is a USB MIDI Controller?

Updated on March 29, 2015

What is MIDI?


MIDI is music theory for computers, containing information about pitch, tempo, duration, articulations, and more.

A Keyboard synthesizer with MIDI capabilities .
A Keyboard synthesizer with MIDI capabilities .

USB MIDI Controller Basics

A USB MIDI Controller is an input device designed for professional digital music creation. Just like a mouse, computer keyboard, or touchpad, USB MIDI Controllers send information to the computer. USB MIDI Controllers can be used to create MIDI data for later sequencing, fitting them with synthetic sounds or samples of real instruments to re-create a musical performance.

The most common MIDI controllers have the same look and feel as a real instrument, but they allow the musician to create natural sounding MIDI data instead of actual sound. Many synthesizers have MIDI capabilities as well.

A Keyboard MIDI Controller
A Keyboard MIDI Controller | Source
A Guitar MIDI Controller.
A Guitar MIDI Controller. | Source
A MIDI drum kit.
A MIDI drum kit. | Source
A Wind MIDI Controller.
A Wind MIDI Controller. | Source

Types of USB MIDI Controllers


This is the number one most common MIDI controller, as MIDI was designed for keyboards, and most musicians are comfortable using it. These come in many different sizes, from 25 keys for portable applications, to 88 keys for pianists. Full-weighted keys feel more like a real piano while semi-weighted is the way to go for more synthetic styles or organs.

Many keyboards also have some sliders or dials for changing the MIDI signal, and some have sustain pedals.


With the look of a sci-fi instrument and the feel of a guitar, the touch sensitive pads on the neck provide the experience of playing a guitar while sending MIDI data to the computer.


This controller is designed with more than just a row of keys like the keyboard, it has severals pads for the musician to strike. Used for drums or synthetic operations.

Drum Kit

For those drummers out there, MIDI is an option for you! Designed to look and feel like a real drums kit, this MIDI controller set can be played for any application.

Wind Controller

While it may look like something from Doctor Who, the wind controller makes excellent MIDI data and can be set to work like a flute, an oboe, a saxophone, or any others.

Foot Pedal

These controllers can be set up with other controllers to modify the signal. Most common is the sustain pedal, the holds the note even while you've stopped playing it.

DJ Controllers

These are becoming more and more popular for events and parties and can vary widely and design and style.

For some more unusual MIDI controllers, see this link.

MIDI Connectors: Why you want USB.
MIDI Connectors: Why you want USB. | Source

Why USB MIDI Controllers?

MIDI can be manipulated by regular means of input, but -- as in any computer-based art form -- specialized devices smooth the job.

USB MIDI Controllers fill this need. 0

Most computers don't have MIDI ports (pictured to the right). To remedy this, a MIDI-USB conversion cable can be used to connect MIDI devices in a USB port.

But the simpler route is a USB MIDI device, which makes the conversion before hand, making it ideal for today's USB centered world.

USB MIDI controllers are a home-based musician's best friend. If you can't afford hiring an orchestra, it sometimes can work to simply write your own music on a computer. MIDI Controllers not only simplify this task, but also enhance the quality of the finished product.

Howard Shore's "The Breaking of the Fellowship" Done With MIDI

Which Do You Use Most Often?

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