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When it comes to making music, creating beats, and experimenting, having a MIDI keyboard controller is one of the more important things that you can purchase. With this being said, finding the right MIDI controller for beginners can be challenging as you’re often confused as to what you need.
My opinion is that beginners don’t need anything extravagant, however, they also need something that is functional and not challenging to use.
I created this guide for beginners as I feel like there’s a lot of incorrect information currently on the web. I’ve been playing keyboards for 20 years plus and I’ve been touring professionally for the last 6 years.
Over the years I have gained a lot of knowledge and insight as to what exactly you need when starting up as a producer and I want this to be the guide that really helps you decide what you need.
|Editors Choice||Novation Launchkey MK3 49||
|61 keys||Nektar Panorama T6||
|Mini||Novation Mini MK3||
|88 Keys||Nektar LX 88+||
What Is A MIDI Keyboard Used For?
To understand what a MIDI keyboard does, let’s first break down what MIDI stands for:
A MIDI keyboard doesn’t make noise on its own. It needs to be connected to either a PC, Macbook, tablet or cellphone. The technology with these controllers continues to improve year after year, as you are now able to connect via a cellphone.
A MIDI keyboard is used for creating beats, triggering samples, and writing melodic parts. It is one of the most important tools for a modern producer as it allows them to easily control and play an abundance of different sounds.
What Do You Need To Use A MIDI Keyboard?
To use your MIDI keyboard, you will need the following:
- A laptop, PC, tablet or cellphone
- DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
- Usually a USB cable (typically included in your purchase)
- Different VSTS
Once you hook your controller up, you will be able to make noise. It’s important to note that most MIDI keyboards do not have speakers.
If you’re confused as to what a DAW is or does, in short, your DAW is your home base. This is basically your recording studio, depending on your setup. You will use this for recording, producing, and editing audio in various ways.
What Beginners Should Look For
There are several factors that I take into consideration when determining the best controllers for beginners. Here’s a good look below:
- Keys: How many keys your controller has can be important depending on what exactly you want to do. If you’re looking to simply create beats with your MIDI controller, you won’t need a ton of keys. Key-action in a MIDI keyboard for beginners isn’t really a huge ranking factor in my opinion.
- Price: How much you spend on your controller is important as I think you can save money getting a controller and still save money for VSTS and other production equipment.
- Bundled software: When starting out, you will most likely be looking to find free VSTS and free DAWS. You can save yourself the hassle by getting a controller that includes both of the above.
- Pads: Most beginners will want to create beats. When doing this, pads will greatly help as you can lay down the drums easily, and trigger samples that will be instrumental in creating your beats. Most drum pads will be velocity-sensitive, which means you can play them with expressiveness. If you hit them harder, it will be louder and softer, the volume will be quieter.
- Compatibility: Some controllers are more compatible with more DAWS than others. I specifically have kept this list short as I want to dial in on the ones that work well for all major DAWS.
- Knobs: The more controls, the better on a controller.
What Should Beginners Focus On With Their MIDI Keyboards?
The best advice I can with this is to do the following:
- Pick a DAW and stick with it – if you do this, you will start to learn the functionality, which will allow you to switch DAWS if needed in the future.
- Experiment heavily with different VSTS. There’s an abundance of amazing virtual instruments out there, so make sure you take advantage of them.
- Learn how to quantize. This basically is the art of making everything in time.
- Go to Youtube frequently. Any questions that you have about beats will be answered there for almost all MIDI keyboards.
I believe that you should be spending as much time as you can when you first get your controller. Become familiar with exactly how to use it. Each keyboard will have different features, so depending on which you go with, you could have a ton of things to learn about.
Best MIDI Controllers For Beginners
Novation Launchkey Mini MK3 – Best Overall For Price
The Novation Mini is specifically built for Ableton. It's small enough to fit in your backpack, yet powerful enough to allow you to create beats on the go.
The Novation Launchkey Mini MK3 is Novations latest creation and I personally believe it’s a great one for beginners and advanced players.
This keyboard is loaded with a ton of features including a MIDI out. MIDI out is what allows you to control a hardware synthesizer.
One thing to note with this keyboard is that it has pitch-bend sliders instead of wheels. This is a great feature if portability is a concern of yours. The slider wheels are prone to breaking quite easily.
This is a mini controller, so be aware that it will have smaller keys than normal. If you’re a pianist, you may want to go with one of the following options as they have more keys and larger keys.
If you don’t know a lot about DAWS, this controller is designed for Ableton. A free version comes with it and Ableton is currently one of the most popular controllers available.
- Great bundled software
- Easy to use
- Built-in arpeggiator
- 16 pads
- 8 Encoders
- Small keys
Quality Of The Pads
The drum pads are a great improvement from the previous MK2. The MK2 had really stiff pads that you had to slam pretty hard to get a response. These pads have great functionality and you will be able to lay down parts easy with them.
16 LED-backlit drum pads for a mini controller is pretty impressive. This is one of the reasons why I believe this is one of the top controllers available in the budget range.
Bundled software also makes this controller great for a beginner. It comes with Ableton Live Lite, Addictive Keys, and AAS Session bundle. Addictive Keys in itself is an expensive VST, so this is a steal.
The Novation Launchkey Mini MK3 is a solid choice for beginners and it is ultra-portable.
Nektar LX 61
The Nektar Impact LX 61 doesn’t get the love that it deserves. When you really break it down, this keyboard is absolutely perfect for beginners. It works well for making beats and it works great as a live controller.
The pad functionality is surprisingly really good. When talking with a few people on tour recently, we had some laughs over how bad certain pads can be and this controller is the opposite.
They are responsive, sensitive, and pretty big compared to their competition.
The keys aren’t too bad on the LX 61. I often say that it’s hard to find a great key-bed on a MIDI controller and I still believe this to be 100 percent true. With this being said, the keys have some nice velocity curves and they play nicely.
I find the 61 key MIDI controller to be a nice in-between keyboard. Don’t miss my roundup on the best 61 key MIDI keyboards on the market.
I often do hours of research when it comes to each product, even after playing them, and I have to say, not many people complained about the key-action.
- 61 velocity-sensitive keys
- Includes Bitwig 8 track DAW
- Has pads, faders, and knobs
- All controls pre-mapped
- Easy to use
- Doesn’t come with VSTs
- No aftertouch
I believe that this is the perfect 61 key controller for beginners. It has a ton of features that work well and it’s cheap.
Novation LaunchKey MKIII 49
The Novation Launchkey MK III 49 is the newest version of the famous Launchkey series. The MKIII 49 is an incredible option and one of my favorite choices on the market.
The Novation Launchkey 49 MKII is my choice for beginners using Ableton Live. I believe that Ableton is a great DAW for beginners and that this keyboard pairs extremely well.
I used the original Launchkey 49 on tour for about 3 years and it worked great at first. As time went on, it got pretty beat up and it started to bug out. With this being said, I toured extensively with it and beat it up pretty good.
This is also the updated version of it and I believe the functionality is superior.
The pads are easy to use and they are pretty reliable. They’re wide and easy to push down. You will find that they are also velocity-sensitive, meaning you can play them with dynamics.
The faders on this controller aren’t very durable. You will want to take good care of them and make sure you’re not beating them up. As long as you’re good to it, you shouldn’t have any major problems.
The keys on the Launchkey MKII are standard. They’re not going to blow you away, but they get the job done and allow you to do what you need to do.
Be sure to not slam these keys often. MIDI keyboard keys are not built for great durability, especially at the lower end of the price spectrum.
The Korg MicroKEY49 isn’t talked about as much it should be. This is as simple as you can get for a beginner. It doesn’t have pads or really many features at all, however, it offers a great key-bed and great functionality.
Pitch-Bend & Modulation
Korg used the wheels for these functions. I am more of a fan of wheels than sliders, the one knock on them is that they can wear out with a lot of use.
Both the pitch-bend and mod wheels work great on this MIDI keyboard.
If you’re looking to read more about 49 key controllers, view my article on the best 49 key MIDI keyboards on the market.
- 49 high-quality velocity-sensitive keys
- Pitch-bend and mod wheels
- Great bundled software
- Lacks aftertouch
- Minimum features
The Korg MicroKEY49 is the perfect in-between for beginners. It’s affordable, it works great with all major DAWS, and it’s super easy to use as there aren’t many features.
Akai Professional MPK225
The MPK 225 is a portable, yet powerful option for beginners. With a solid number of pads and controls, the MPK225 provides producers with everything they need when starting.
This controller is a little bit more expensive, however, it’s also one of the most popular controllers to this day. It has aftertouch on the keys, incredible drum pad functionality, and great included software.
The pad functionality is one of the best things about this MIDI keyboard. I believe this is perfect for beginners because it is all pre-mapped, and it has a ton of features and software to take advantage of.
As far as playability, the keys are great. The downside is that there are only 25 keys. With this being said, if you want something small and portable, but still want to create beats, 25 key MIDI controllers work great.
While we’re on this subject, don’t miss my roundup of the current best 25 key MIDI keyboards on the market.
- Great bundled software
- Velocity-sensitive keys
- Easy to use
- Lightweight & compact
- A little more expensive
- Only 25 keys
The Akai MPK225 is a great MIDI keyboard for beginners as it is easy to use, moderately affordable, and will last for years into your music journey.
When it comes to picking out the best MIDI keyboard for beginners, I believe these are the best options available. I put this list together after playing on these for the last 5 plus years.
I believe that price, functionality, and ease of use and features are the most important things in a MIDI controller for beginners.
Are there any options I left out? Let me know in the comments below!