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Dumb Keyboard/Midi Question

1318 Views 6 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  kat_
Basically what I'm looking for is a synth (capable of piano, organ, dogs barking, helicopters, etc) that is plug and play into my computer (a la Line 6 UX2) for home recording...but I don't have a clue where to start. Anybody know of anything that could help?


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Hoo....where to start on this one.

The classic way to get synth sounds has for years been the sometimes-confusing world of MIDI. MIDI was originally invented ( I think) as a way to get all sorts of keyboard gear to talk to each other regardless of who made it. However, as with most things, it ended up not being nearly that simple.

There's a few ways to get bloops, beeps and cheesy 70's string sounds into your computer. In no specific order, these include:

- buy a second-hand keyboard and plug it into your sound card just like you would do with your guitar. You will need patch cables that connect the output jack on the keyboard to the audio input of your sound card. You could then record tracks of keyboard stuff to add to your compositions. You would be limited to the sounds that are programmed into the keyboard itself.

- buy a keyboard that is MIDI-capable, and use it to record MIDI data instead of sounds. You will need some way of getting the MIDI data into your computer, as it doesn't go in through the audio part of your sound card.
Most sound cards ( even cheap ones) have a connector on them that joysticks plug into - this connector doubles as the MIDI input and output when you plug a special cable into it. The trick is finding a MIDI cable. Computer stores won't generally stock them - some music stores do.

Once you have connected your MIDI keyboard to your computer, you need to set up your music software to record MIDI data. Each system and software sets up a little differently, so I won't get into a long discussion about that here. Some quality time with the computer-recording guy at your local music store might be helpful, as will the discussions and tutorials here:

MIDI records information on how things sound, but not the sounds themselves. That way, you can change sounds, tempos, instuments and so forth, but keep the actual performance of the music. So, you could record a track that sounds like an organ, but then later change that sound to a piano or strings without having to record the track again. MIDI also does drum tracks, bass tracks and stuff like that.

A few years after MIDI, the world got a lot more complicated when entire MIDI-capable synthesizers got built into sound cards. Now the cards themselves could generate sounds instead of needing an external music keyboard, and you could program tracks on your computer without needing a music keyboard at all. ( basically you create music one note at a time using music software and your mouse.)

And now, the world has got even more complicated, with simulated keyboards and drum machines being built right into the music software, and thus bypassing the internal sound card synthesisers entirely. These "virtual keyboards" are called a number of things - VST modules, Direct-X modules...but they all do the same thing - create "virtual synthesisers" inside your computer completely in software. The advantage is that you can simulate just about any sound ever heard by man, not to mention every effect pedal or piece of studio gear on the planet. But, it will take many late nights to learn how to use all that stuff.

If I'm doing demos that include key boards, here's what I do:

- Program a basic drum track using a free drum machine software called Hammerhead. The drum track can then be saved as a .wav file ( this ability is built into the Hammerhead software.)

- I put that .wav file into Audacity, which is a free recording software for my PC.

- I then add rhythm guitar and bass tracks by playing them into my computer thru my sound card and recording them into Audacity.

- If I'm adding a keyboard part, I have an old Yamaha keyboard that I plug into the sound card and record into Audacity. ( as an audio track, not a MIDI track)

At this point, I usually have to adjust some of the individual tracks I have recorded so they all play in sync all the way through - this is fairly easy in Audacity, and it's just a quirk of recording on a computer that all tracks are not in sync all the time.

The finished file can then be saved as a complete song and put on CD or whatever.

Sorry if this got long and complicated, but synthesisers and MIDI is a big subject. Sometimes we guitarists have it easy...we just hit "record" and start bashing away.....
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