What Is The MIDI Keyboard? – A Musical Instrument Or Remote Control?

I know there are many piano players and probably many keyboardists too having trouble giving a conclusive answer to the question; What is MIDI and what is the MIDI keyboard? Most have heard of MIDI and about the MIDI keyboard, but not everyone knows for sure what they are or how they work. I will, at best, help explain easily and without being technical what is the MIDI keyboard and what do the four letters M-I-D-I mean?

I want to break down the content in the following sections:

  • Musical Instruments Digital Interface
  • Any Sounds In MIDI?
  • Sound card or MIDI / USB Interface
  • Types Of MIDI Keyboards
  • The Home Recording Studio

MIDI – Musical Instruments Digital Interface

In short, in 1982, many of the leading manufacturers of digital music equipment agreed on a standard for how instruments and other devices could communicate, and the standard is what is called MIDI. The MIDI standard allows musical instruments, computers, and other devices to interact with a common and universal language. The abbreviation MIDI stands for Musical Instruments Digital Interface and is used by professionals and amateurs all over the world. A MIDI keyboard is a musical instrument like a piano keyboard or synthesizer, often with other buttons, wheels and sliders, used for sending signals or commands over a USB or MIDI 5-pin cable to other musical devices or computers. Virtually any synthesizers and keyboards of recent date have built-in support for MIDI.

A very simple example; MIDI makes it possible to play tones on a MIDI keyboard but hear or record it on a completely different instrument, even if it is controlled by the keyboard you are playing. The information can also be stored and modified as needed, for example via a MIDI Sequencer.

In other words, MIDI enables multiple types of music equipment and brands to “speak the same language”, allowing sounds, instruments, rhythms or effects to be coordinated! At first, the application was very easy. You connected a MIDI cable from MIDI OUT on one synthesizer to MIDI IN on the other. When you played one, both of them sounded. MIDI was simply about remote control of another electronic musical instrument, neither more nor less.

Any Sounds In MIDI?

No, MIDI does not transmit sound. Even though the cables may look like cables used for audio, no audio signals are sent between the instruments, only control signals pass through the MIDI cables. The MIDI signal contains important information about what the user wants, such as:

The desired tone

When will the tone start?

Tone length

The volume

Any vibrato

Harmonies (more notes)

The desired sound, such as trumpet, violin, drum or something completely different

Sound Card & MIDI / USB Interface

Keyboards with MIDI are available in a variety of sizes and in different price levels. If the keyboard should be mobile, you may not want to buy one with the most keys, but if it’s going to be stationed somewhere, it’s okay with a bigger keyboard.

To use MIDI on your PC, you need a MIDI interface. This is simply a slot where you insert standard MIDI cables (DIN plugs). If your device has USB, use a USB IN-OUT MIDI Cable Converter or cables with only USB connectors. The most common multimedia sound cards have built-in support for MIDI, but often require that you purchase a MIDI adapter plug. If desired, you can also purchase external sound cards for connecting MIDI. Most keyboards and computers currently have USB connectors that make your connection easier and then it’s usually simple plug & play. Many keyboards have the ability to send MIDI over USB, but also to use traditional MIDI cables that require you to either use a sound card with MIDI inputs (and outputs) or that you purchase a MIDI / USB interface.

Types Of MIDI Keyboards

There are actually several types of MIDI keyboards:

  • The digital piano, the electronic keyboard, and the synthesizer, all which can be played normally, produce their own sounds and equipped with MIDI connections.
  • The MIDI keyboard that does not produce sounds when played normally is sometimes called the Master Keyboard and must be connected to other MIDI audio devices to sound. A Master Keyboard is in fact only a number of keys with control buttons, adjustment wheels, and sliders that sends MIDI signals to other connected devices when the keys are pressed. One could say that a Master Keyboard that lacks its own built-in sound features is designed to enable sounds found in computers and so-called sound modules, ie. synthesizers without keys.

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Both types of keyboards if they have MIDI or USB connectors, can be used to control music programs on computers, the difference being that one has built-in sound features and can be played normally, while the other only send signals without sounds meaning the sounds must be embedded in the computer or in other audio equipment connected in the MIDI system.

Keyboard Play - Midi Recording Studio

The Home Recording Studio

The MIDI keyboard is an important element in a home recording studio. In addition to being played, it will be used for remote control of the other MIDI devices in the studio.


Home Recording Studio Setup - Keyboard Play
Home Recording Studio Setup

If you are planning to build a home recording studio, here is a brief overview of which devices are needed:


Whether you’re using a laptop or desktop PC, Mac or iMac, it’s nice to have a couple of good-sized high-resolution screens to give you better overview and control while working.


It is important to choose the software that suits your needs and your wallet. There is a selection of music production programs to choose from, just make sure the software is easy to work with. If you are a singer/songwriter, it should have the right tools for this and if you want to make electronic music, it should have synthesizers, drums, effects, etc.

Sound Card

There are many types of sound cards with a variety of features. One tip is choosing one that has a digital mixing feature on the software that allows you to listen without delays while recording.


Even if you only make electronic music, you need a good microphone. Choose one that is of slightly better quality than the cheapest models, it will pay off. It would also be a good idea to get a pop filter.

Microphone with pop filter

Microphone Stand

You can choose anyone as long as you choose a tripod boom microphone stand that is more flexible than a no-boom.


You should choose a closed and comfortable model with good sound quality.


Do not use the living room hi-fi speakers in the studio. Regular speakers are designed to provide the best sound, studio monitors are designed to provide the most accurate sound.


Go for a USB / MIDI keyboard of any kind and size. The MIDI keyboard is comparable to a remote control that “accidentally” is shaped like a musical instrument. It does not have sounds itself but plays the sound built in the computer.

Keyboard Play - USB / MIDI Keyboard
AKAI Professional MPK Mini MKII | 25-Key Portable USB MIDI Keyboard

There will always be some technical challenges when dealing with MIDI and electronic devices. Getting a home recording studio to work optimally requires time and a lot of experience, and as you become more picky about the sound quality, you may want to replace some of the devices for more expensive ones.

What Is The MIDI Keyboard – A Musical Instrument Or Remote Control?

So what is the MIDI keyboard? Is it a musical instrument or just a remote control? It can be both if you want to. All digital pianos, synthesizers and electronic keyboard with either MIDI or USB connections will function as a MIDI keyboard, either live in a band or in a home recording studio. However, if you do not have space for the digital piano or synthesizer on your desk, in most cases, a smaller MIDI keyboard (with no sounds) will do the same job. The result will be about the same.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my post on the subject. If you have any questions, please leave them below and I will be more than happy to help you out.

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