Help a newb record from a keyboard and try other fun things!

August 31, 2010 1:53 PM

What programs can be used to record from a MIDI keyboard connected to a computer? Also, (bonus points) what else can I do with a keyboard / computer combination?

Just got a digital piano and MIDI connecting cord. The piano is mostly for practicing (it will be in my dorm room when I start school in a week) but I like to compose, also. It would be nice to have a way to record what I play in real-time. What are the (cheap/free) programs that can do this?

posted by non-kneebiter (6 comments total)

Might help if you mentioned what sort of computer you have? For example, if you have a Mac, then you probably already have GarageBand on it, which would work just fine for what you're asking to do.
posted by dnash at 3:57 PM on August 31, 2010

well you can either record the Audio output of the Electric Piano and say mulit-trackk that.

or you can record the MIDI output from the Piano and have that trigger Software Synthesizers / Software Pianos / Software Drums etc.

programs - Garageband, Reaper, do a search for Freeware DAW or Digital Audio Workstation.
posted by mary8nne at 6:50 AM on September 1, 2010

Thanks mary8nne, I'll try some of those.

Also, just to be clear, I don't have a Mac so Garageband is sadly out of the question.
posted by non-kneebiter at 10:05 AM on September 1, 2010

I'll reccomend Reaper too - it's free for thirty days, and only $60 after that. The evaluation version is not at all crippled - you'll end up buying a license because you like the software (and the guys behind it) so much.

I don't think Reaper has a MIDI piano out of the box in the same way that Reason or Garageband does, but you can surely find a free VSTi* piano on the net somewhere that will work with Reaper.

(*a VSTi is a software instrument, like a synth or a simulated piano or a drum machine, that plugs into other audio programs. Some are free, others can cost as much as a genuine real-world synth or piano. You basically download the VSTi, unzip it and stick it into your reaper/plugins folder or whatever. Then you tell Reaper to look for new plugins. Usually it finds things automatically, and then you're ready to go. It can be a little counterintuitive at first - MeMail me if you need any more thorough explanations.
Here's a thread on about good piano VSTs
Here's one of their free recommendations)
posted by Cantdosleepy at 2:53 AM on September 7, 2010

Oh yeah, and if you're using Windows, the chances are that the drivers that make your computer talk to your soundcard are awful. This will result in there being a small pause between you pressing a key on your piano and hearing a note from your computer, which makes it difficult to play in time.

There is another, free driver out there for making music. It's called ASIO4all, and should be the first thing you stick on your music-making computer.

This is a good thread about setting up your computer to record guitar - most of it holds true for piano too
posted by Cantdosleepy at 3:03 AM on September 7, 2010

I just wanted to point out that you asked for advice about "other fun things" as well--there's a bunch of cool stuff you can do with a MIDI keyboard apart from just playing piano.

Cantdosleepy mentions VSTis, but there are also effect VSTs. For Windows (but not Linux, to my dismay a year ago) there are a _ton_ of these, of varying utility and quality. For example, there are free VSTs that add reverb to your vocals.

That's nice... but then there are VSTs like the ones from Destroy FX that "play back the delay buffer at different speeds. Think of it like a tape loop with two independently-moving read heads."

I have no idea of what that actually means, but the result (after hitting the "randomize" button a bunch) is like the weirdest chorus of goblins mangling your input into bizarre noises. So you could drop that VST (which is free) on top of your regular piano VSTi and have a weird sound, or you could put it on top of your vocals and use your keyboard to control the various switches and dials. If you like random, fun, noise, of course.

If you want to try this sort of thing, I'd recommend AudioMulch. It isn't really a DAW (although it can save the output to a file) but more of a space to chain together various inputs and effects.

I also has a native looper, which can also be controlled by keyboard. Hold down the key and sing a verse, let the key up and it will repeat itself while you harmonize / beat box, whatever.

No idea if that sort of thing is your cup of tea, but it's a lot of fun. Personally, I use Ableton Live. There's a free trial, and an "intro" version for a hundred bucks, but I don't know if that counts as cheap. AudioMulch is free for two months, and then exporting is disabled (but everything else still works).
posted by Squid Voltaire at 11:12 AM on September 22, 2010

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