Should I buy a midi controller instead of a keyboard?

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Post by danpaiva » 11-23-14 12:18 pm

Hi guys!

I am a piano student and I am about to buy a new keyboard to use with synthesia and I need some advice.

First, some considerations:

I would love to have a 88 key digital piano. Mostly because of its "charm". But I just read at synthesia website that keyboards are better to use with the software because it has many more instruments. That already convinced me. But I can't spend too much money on a 88-key keyboard. So I just found the 88-key "midi controller" (200 dolars, from M-Audio). But I don't know how usefull it would be, how it works exactly and if I would get all functions I would have with a keyboard (actually I dont care about the keyboard functions. Only the instruments might be of some importance, I guess). I do know that I need a computer to play with a controller. So here is what I was thinking:

If I buy the midi controller, I would be connecting it to my ultrabook, and my ultrabook would be connected to bluetooth speakers.

Can anyone tell me if this configuration above is good enough? Is there any limits comparing to a regular keyboard? (I dont mind having to connect it to a computer all the time).

The other option would be buying a keyboard... I saw some 120 dolars option but it has only 61 keys (as my previous and first keyboard). The 76-key option costs more than double (260 dolars). And the 88-key option costs around 500. If the midi controller is not a good option, should I buy the 61-keys keyboard? Is it a good purchase? Or should I opt for the 76-key?

I would LOVE to use the iphone 6 plus with synthesia. I know that it is available only for iPad users... is that right?

Thank you!

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Post by Nicholas » 11-24-14 2:05 am

1. The main challenge you'll run into when you're using a computer to generate sounds is audio latency. The built-in Windows synth is really slow. Like... a quarter second after you hit a key before it makes a sound. There are workarounds though. Using the free synth mentioned in this FAQ answer mitigates a lot of the problem. So long as you're comfortable setting up "weird" solutions like that, a controller should be fine.

2. This will depend entirely on how serious you end up being with the instrument. If you start playing very advanced pieces, you'll outgrow 61 keys quickly. If you go even deeper into advanced repertoire, 76 will start to feel limiting too.

3. For now, it's tablet-only. The iPad Mini is just about the smallest screen I'd consider a good experience. When you play Synthesia, you're either holding a device in your hand, close to your face (playing on the touch-screen) or you've got it sitting on your keyboard's music stand. With a tiny phone-sized screen, in the first case there isn't enough screen real-estate for the on-screen keyboard and in the second case, the small screen is too far away to really do any good.

Granted, the 6 Plus is nearly the size of the Mini... that's getting close. I think despite my concerns about it not being a good experience, users seem to be demanding it anyway. I hear that request on the Android side all the time (where historically there is almost no distinction between apps made for phones vs. tablets). I should probably just give in at some point and make you people happy. :D

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Post by jimhenry » 11-24-14 10:10 am

If by "piano student" you mean that you are seriously studying piano performance, you will want weighted keys. Those are expensive.

If you are just learning to play for your own amusement and amazement, then you can use an inexpensive keyboard. I prefer something that generates sound so that you can play it stand-alone if desired. A no-sound controller is less versatile.
Jim Henry
Author of the Miditzer, a free virtual theatre pipe organ

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Post by kiwi » 11-27-14 5:58 am

A keyboard with built in sounds can use also sampler on you're mac and 'll have less latency out of the box.
If you bought a midi controller who are not so expensive with good quality you' ll have need to buy a pro soundcard for maximum enjoyment i use my keyboard with good sampler with 2.9 ms latency.
So it depend on you're choice do you sometimes want to play with friends so you move you're setup (and you 'll have to move the pc and the soundcard together with you're keyboard.
For keys number 61 do the trick 76 better and 88 are perfect.
If you haven't so much space 76 is really good imo if you have a plan to not transport you're keyboard stick with 88 keys.
You can also buy a cheap 61 keys keyboard for the beginning then buy a second keyboard better at a later time for to use them together.
If you plan to play only classical /piano pieces only a good 88 keys is a good choice.

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Post by Birdman87 » 01-02-15 11:31 am

First time i started learning piano i got a really cheap 100 dollar yamaha with 61 keys and lots of voices about 351 i think, the voices were somewhat ok'ish and i could hook it up to external speakers. I played on this for 9 months, and upon visiting a friends house that had a real piano, i could barely press the notes or play a single song, i had no feeling for dynamic touch so i was banging on it as hard as possible with no emotion. Later i got an 88 keys yamaha p 85 and started to learn playing properly.

If you are serious in any way about playing piano, weighted keys and dynamic touch are crucial in your learning process, the cheapest yamaha that has those right now is the yamaha p 105 which is about 500 bucks, but you can find second hand ones at about 300.

If the voices are the only thing you care about, a crappy yamaha with 61 keys will work just fine, mine even had an option to shift the octaves lower or higher so you can reach the notes.

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