If you have carefully followed my first advice to get started with beatmaking, you may have noticed I’m talking about a MIDI keyboard. And, who knows, you may have discovered one under the Christmas tree ? As I already said, I am using the MPK Mini by AKAI. It is widely used in the world of beatmakers, which encouraged me to have one. In four big steps, I’ll try to guide you so that you can manipulate it the best way possible.
1. The MIDI keyboard, what is it ?
Indeed, it seems better to start with that. At first sight, a master keyboard looks just like a synthesiser. The main difference is that it does not make any noise. Its function is to send MIDI data (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) to another device that will be used as a receiving body. Generally speaking, the midi keyboard sends information to a sequencer, which will transform the notes you’re playing into sounds thanks to technological magic.
In short, while the synthesiser can work independently and has included speakers, the master keyboard must necessarily be associated with a computer, for instance, if you want it to make a sound. Regarding the AKAI MPK Mini, I’m only plugging it to my Mac, which has a sequencer thanks to Logic Pro X as I told you before. Of course, my keyboard is not the only one, there are other brands such as Yamaha, Arturia or Native Instrument.
2. The required software
You probably understood that a sequencer is a must-have in beatmaking. It allows to gather MIDI sequences recorded through the midi keyboard controller and then modify, refine it… Broadly speaking, the sequencer is the software you’ve selected. In a previous article, I’ve listed various ones, from REASON to FL STUDIO and PROTOOLS. To better understand the utility of a software, I invite you to check this link.
More specifically speaking about my MPK Mini, I’d like to note that a software called AKAI MPC is offered when purchasing the master keyboard. To be honest, after trying to get familiarised with it, I realised that it didn’t suit me. Too complex to handle, not efficient enough. In short, if you are more experienced than me and want to give it a try, I recommend you this series of tutorial , which is detailed enough to acquire the basics.
3. The sound
Once you have understood how the MIDI keyboard and the sequencer are working together, it’s time to clarify the link between the keys and the sounds made. From now on, it is about associating what sound (or more exactly, what instrument’s sound) will be made when you push on a key from the MPK Mini. To make it clear, chose one key from the keyboard, then, thanks to the software, you’re free to select the sound it will make: percussion, piano… It depends, of course, the presets you have in your software’s sound bank.
If it’s not precise enough for you, feel free to have a look at the video tutorial I’ve made above (only in french, sorry). I want to remind you that the sounds I’m using in my covers are set up through my sequencer Logic Pro X. For a clearer illustration, in my cover of “In my feelings – Drake ” , the synthesiser sonorities you can hear are obtained thanks to the presets I’ve put on Logic Pro X. For those who are interested, I’ve put all the sounds of my covers in a pack that you can buy here.
If you wish to obtain the sound of an instrument in particular, you can totally invest in additional plugins: keep in mind that the MIDI keyboard is only a simple “controller”.
4. The pads of Akai MPK mini
The pads, what is it ? Nothing really complicated, it refers to small squares located on the top of the MPK Mini. When you press them, they work as keys from classical keyboards (producing a sound chosen by the sequencer), except that they penlight to the touch. The number of pads on a MIDI keyboard can vary but mine have eight. On my side, I’m using them to play the drums of my musical productions because I found them more adapted to the snares and kicks game for example. To learn how to assign the pads, I advise you to have a look at this tutorial. Once again, this manipulation is possible with the white and black keys of the keyboard, it is yours to decide each key function !
At the end of the day, to make a good use of an AKAI keyboard, you need to start with an easy to use sequencer, before making the links between keys and sounds produced thanks to the plugins. I told you about my preference regarding the pads, it’s only a personal point of view (I can’t help it, I like the touch of it !). But like everything in beatmaking, it is a question of choice so enjoy yourself !