A computer as a synthesizer, or something about MIDI keyboards …
Once, while walking around the expanses of the Web, I accidentally stumbled upon a forum where the main topic was creating music on a computer, and this was done exclusively at home. And one of the words, in particular, used in those conversations, was the word MIDI keyboard.
For the first time, I came across a MIDI keyboard about ten years ago in the department of electric musical instruments of a music store. “On a shelf among synthesizers of all kinds, capabilities and cost, a wide and flat box with a row of piano keys and a big Roland name on the case lonely lurked. It seemed strange to me that I did not find any buttons other than the actual keys mentioned above.
The seller explained to me that this unit is called a MIDI keyboard, and it is intended solely for connecting to a computer.
A lot of time has passed since then, and, interestingly, I have never seen more such devices in retail (by the way, even now only one company in Minsk constantly sells MIDI keyboards).
And then a random forum again confronted me with a forgotten term, and I decided to find out more about creating music on a computer, moreover from the point of view of an inexperienced user, and certainly not a professional music maker.
For starters, a little history …
Once upon a time, when musical synthesizers were analog, the keyboard, the main part of the device, was literally a set of contacts electrically connected to a sound generator. When one of the contacts was closed, the current passed through the corresponding variable resistor, which, in turn, was “tuned” to a certain note. This design was exclusively self-sufficient and did not imply absolutely no option for interaction with the “outside world”.
The number of synthesizer models was increasing, and manufacturers decided to get together at the round table in order to agree on a way to ensure some kind of “interaction” between them. Special connectors have appeared to provide, for example, the ability to play sounds from one synthesizer while playing on the keyboard of another. However, the present “symbiosis” was still far away. The possibilities of such a control method were limited, and the synthesizer quickly failed if the wrong control voltage was applied to it, especially since most instruments of that time had different values and polarity.
And finally, the era of digital technology has come. The synthesizers, retaining the analog sound-generating part, gained convenient digital control, it became possible to separate all control means, including the keyboard, from the generator. Simply put, now the keyboard had no electrical connection with the sound generator, but simply sent it a digital control signal when the contact was closed.
It was then that there was a need to create a single standard, which was subsequently called MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface – Musical Instrument Digital Interface) and literally solved all problems. Now it was possible to connect any synthesizers to each other, buy a sequencer (a device capable of memorizing and voicing a certain number of notes) without worrying about whether it would fit this synthesizer model, share melodies, and so on.
But most importantly – the sound generator finally separated from the keyboard, and both of them became completely independent devices.
It was then that the first keyboardless synthesizers and the first MIDI keyboards appeared, which could be connected to several synthesizers and controlled all of them using one keyboard, which allowed saving space and money at the same time. Well, why do you need five keyboards when you can completely manage one?
By the way, the keyboard is also called a MIDI controller; this emphasizes that it performs purely “managerial” functions. And, by the way, the MIDI controller does not have to look like piano keys. There are controllers in the form of a guitar, button accordion or, for example, a flute.
However, let’s dwell on the midi keyboards of the so-called “piano” type.
To get started, I want to tell you about some of the advantages of MIDI keyboards over keyboard synthesizers:
As you understand, a separate keyboard is incomparably cheaper than a synthesizer with a similar keyboard. If the budget of your home studio is small, and you want to limit yourself to one sound card with a set of appropriate software, then the option with a MIDI keyboard will be a more profitable acquisition for you. A four-octave keyboard with full-sized keys can be purchased at a price not exceeding one and a half hundred dollars. You will probably have to pay more for a synthesizer, unless it is a children’s model with small keys and no MIDI interface at all.
Since the keys are almost the only significant part of the midi keyboard, manufacturers, as a rule, focus on keyboard mechanics.