Can You Use MIDI Controller As Keyboard?

The piano has to be one of the most popular instruments which people like to learn to play, and it is often the basis from which they begin their musical journey. The problem, however, is that a full-sized piano takes up a lot of space, and therefore people often opt for a keyboard instead; but can we use a MIDI controller as a keyboard?

A MIDI controller, like a keyboard, can be used to produce music and some keyboards even have MIDI outputs. However, when it comes to the reverse, trying to use a MIDI device without the assistance of a device like a computer or a laptop is not possible.

A MIDI controller is designed for music production, while keyboards are more for playing music. But, okay, let’s say for argument’s sake, though, that you only have a MIDI controller, and a keyboard just is not an option; well, there are ways around this. Thankfully we have all the information you will need on the quandary above. So be sure to read on to discover what your options are.

Understanding The Differences Between The Devices

From the start, it is a good idea to make yourself aware of the two devices’ differences. If you are unsure of the purposes of each, then you will find it challenging to discover which one you ought to be purchasing or using for any specific task.

Both of them have their designated purposes, and although they do overlap, they cannot always be used interchangeably. So when you are considering which to use for your music production or playing, you should be aware of what makes them unique.

A MIDI controller is intended to create MIDI data which, in essence, means that you will play on the device, and it will feed into a computer with a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) running. Then you will be able to make music.

Now when it comes to the keyboard, you are looking at something which in general is only meant to be an instrument, but it is worth reiterating that some keyboards can act as MIDI controllers. So if you happen to be in search of something that can be used for both playing music and music production, it would be advisable to find a keyboard that offers the extra features.

Another bonus of having a keyboard is that it is a standalone device that does not need any other hardware or software to aid it in playing out its purpose. Now a MIDI will usually have a USB Port, or similar form of connection, that allows you to pair the device with your computer.

Be sure to look for a MIDI that has this capability, though, so that you do not additionally need a separate MIDI interface. Also, as mentioned before, another factor is that you will need to use a DAW when using your MIDI controller.

Which Of Them Is Best For Music Production

The first thing that you need to be focusing on is your skill level and intention for the device. If you solely want to use a device to create music within a DAW, then a MIDI will more than do the job you require.

However, if you want to play music or are only just starting out and want to learn how to play an instrument, then it will most definitely be the keyboard you should be opting for.

Also, you need to be aware that different MIDIs and keyboards come with varying features, and not all of them are made equally. Something else one needs to consider is your budget and what features you may ultimately want from the device.

For music production, though, especially if you want to use it solely as an input device is to go with a MIDI controller. But if you, as you are asking by visiting this article, want to be able to have the functionality of a keyboard, then it is better to get one from the get-go.

The Key Features Of A MIDI Controller

MIDI controllers predominantly have a keyboard input, and they are used to send MIDI information to another device which in most cases will be your computer. As we have mentioned, a MIDI controller cannot be used in isolation, and that is because it is not an instrument, but instead a controller.

(You can use a MIDI keyboard without a computer – learn how to do it here).

This is why you will need to use it with an external component such as your computer, a VSTi (Virtual Studio Technology instrument), or a sequencer. Another reason you will need to do this is that most MIDI controllers usually do not come equipped with a built-in sound system of their own. This essentially means that by themselves, they cannot generate any form of sound.

So you will need to use the MIDI in conjunction with another device to allow it to produce the sound you want to receive from it. Now do not get me wrong, there are plenty of benefits to solely owning or using a MIDI controller, and these are:

  • In general, they are more affordable than purchasing a keyboard.
  • You can use a MIDI controller to compose and sequence.
  • They can deliver sound synthesizing outside of your computer.

There is also a vast range of MIDI controllers, with various features such as faders, pans, and aftertouch. However, if you are looking for these more advanced features, you will need to spend a little extra. Now seeing that we have examined some of the benefits, there are also some downsides to solely having a MIDI keyboard:

  • The MIDI controller is rendered useless if it cannot be connected to any devices, as mentioned earlier, such as your computer.
  • MIDI controllers are limited in their capabilities, especially when compared to actual electronic keyboards.
  • Although up for debate, there is a consensus that a MIDI does not offer the same feel as a keyboard and lacks that “piano” quality.

What Does A Keyboard Offer You?

To reap the best results from your keyboard, the first and most important aspect is that you need to learn how to play it, if you do not already possess that knowledge. We will get to the pros and cons of a keyboard in a moment, but one of the main features that a keyboard offers that a MIDI controller does not is that it requires no other device to produce sound. So the pros:

  • If you want to perform, as in use the device like a musical instrument, then this has you covered. A keyboard will be the better option if you’re playing in a band or even solo. There is also no possibility for latency and other complications that may arise when connecting one device to another.
  • They are easier to transport as you do not need any additional equipment, save perhaps a speaker output system, but that is another can of worms.
  • The options and controls on a keyboard are generally more than that found of your typical MIDI controller. And they have internal sound, so they do not need an external source to allow for that.

Now, although there are these significant aspects of a keyboard, there are also downsides to them, and these are:

  • There are usually fewer features on a keyboard than on a MIDI controller, especially the more complex MIDIs. Things like pads, knobs, faders, and extensive displays are not always available on keyboards.
  • Unless you are willing to fork out quite a bit extra, you are unlikely to get yourself a keyboard with aftertouch and the expression pedal input.

Which Will Meet Your Needs Better

Although we have dissected both of these devices to quite an extent, it is a good idea to have a clearer picture of which one would better suit your needs. So what follows will hopefully enable you to make the best choice in terms of what to buy or use.

From the get-go, the first thing that often comes to mind when looking for a new device is the cost that we will incur to procure the item. It is no secret that a keyboard, for the most part, is going to cost you more and, but they are also more to the likeness of the traditional piano.

A MIDI controller is a wonderful option for anyone looking to produce music, particularly at a lower cost. This is assuming, though, that you have already got yourself a computer and a DAW to use in conjunction with your controller.

If you want to have great control over things such as volume, tone, sound, and such, then a MIDI controller will be the better option for you. This device will allow you to produce music, and it links directly to your computer for input purposes. However, they are often known to not have the same feel as a piano and does not function in that fashion.

If you have played piano before and are looking for something similar, you are more likely to opt for a keyboard. The wonderful thing about most modern keyboards is that they are velocity and pressure-sensitive, so they respond to how hard and long you press the keys. Also, the bonus of some keyboards is that they can actually be used in the sense of a MIDI controller.

What If You Are Unable To Choose Between Them?

In a perfect world, I would tell you that you might as well buy both as each has their pros and cons, as well as specific areas of music-making for which they are intended.

However, this may not be possible for you, and you need to consider what your actual needs are and what style of music you want to create, and by what means. Some options are available on the market that allow you to essentially have a keyboard and a MIDI controller wrapped up in one, but they are relatively uncommon.

For most of us that are into making and playing music, we have to decide between the two, by looking at what best suits us. Now, if you choose to buy a MIDI controller, it is advisable to select one with full-sized keys, and you may also wish for it to have semi-weighted keys.

However, if you are still on the fence about the best option for your needs, I would suggest that you go for a portable keyboard with a MIDI output. This is because you will ultimately be able to get the best of both worlds.

You’ll have a device that you can plug into your computer and use with your DAW, as well as having an instrument that you can use just to play music.

Adamant On Using A MIDI As A Keyboard?

Unfortunately, a MIDI controller is not designed to be used in isolation, and therefore if you wish to use it as a keyboard, you will have to use a computer, a VSTi, or a sequencer.  With the VSTi, you will need a computer to run the software, but if you want, instead, you can use a sequencer.

A sequencer will likely be your best option for using the MIDI as a keyboard as what it enables you to do is record, edit and play back music. This device can handle note and performance information from various forms, including from a MIDI input. 


Overall, it has been established that trying to use a MIDI controller and a keyboard interchangeably is just not feasible. However, some options will allow you to have the best of both, such as a keyboard with MIDI output functions or using a MIDI in conjunction with the aforementioned tools.

Finally, though, it must be reiterated that they are two unique devices with their own benefits and disadvantages, which you will need to consider before you decide which one will be ideal for you.

You can learn about MIDI keyboards with varying numbers of keys (25, 49, 61, 88) here.


Devlon Jarrod Horne

I am passionate about everything I undertake with music being my first love! I started playing guitar and singing at the age of 13 and have toured extensively throughout the UK, SA, and the UAE, playing and recording in original bands, cover bands, theatres, shows, and productions. I graduated top of my class at Damelin College of Music in South Africa and have his graded classical theory and composition from the Royal Schools Of Music in London. I have taught privately, for schools, companies, and online since 2006, and have founded Master Music Talent Academy where I employ and share my love of music with some of the top pro players, performers, and teachers in the South African music industry.

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