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What to Look for When Buying a MIDI Keyboard for FL Studio

This article will help you when viewing my reviews section.

We will discuss what I look for when buying a MIDI Keyboard, specifically for FL Studio.

It’s important for you to know that FL Studio’s MIDI Scripting now allows for any MIDI hardware device to have full control inside FL Studio (if you know Python scripting).

Sometimes there are free MIDI Scripts available.. they are easy to install and give you the best experience in FL Studio with that MIDI device! – I wrote a MIDI Script for the Oxygen Pro 49!).

This is very good news, as it no longer matters what MIDI Keyboard you buy.. you can get it working!

What are the Main Areas to Look for in a MIDI Keyboard?

Explained more below, but a good MIDI Keyboard for FL Studio should have:

  • Transport buttons with LOOP.
  • Quality semi-weighted piano keys.
  • Be at least 49-Keys
  • Priced fairly

Anything passed these points I consider an “extra feature” which adds to the cost of a MIDI Keyboard purchase.

Also, it’s hard finding a 49-Key MIDI Keyboard with semi-weighted keys, that is priced fairly! Semi-weighted usually becomes available on 61-Key models.. but I think a 61-Key is quite big..

These “extra features” MIDI Keyboard manufacturers add are things like drum pads (your keys are drum pads you know), bundling “free sounds”, and even the knobs and sliders, which increase the price of a MIDI Keyboard.

As long as a MIDI Keyboard has good semi-weighted keys, and transport buttons that work well in FL Studio, this is all I look for in a MIDI Keyboard.

GratuiTous

New producers get confused and think they NEED sliders, knobs, and the BEST MIDI Keyboard.. but I’m here to tell you as cool as it is to get “hands-on” in FL Studio, your mouse is most often the easiest way to do things, and you do not need to spend $899 on a MIDI Keyboard.

“Hands-on” in FL Studio requires lots of planning and configuring.. and still requires using your mouse during this “hands-on” process. I didn’t listen to this advice when I started up.. I even went as far as purchasing a Mackie Control Universal to get “hands-on”.. until I realized, “Yeah.. a mouse is easier”.

So.. Quality semi-weighted keys, transport buttons that function properly, and 49-Keys. These are the main things to look for when you’re out there buying, okay?

You can view my MIDI Keyboard reviews aimed specifically at FL Studio usage.

Do You Need an Expensive MIDI Keyboard for FL Studio?

The first question you have to ask yourself is..

Do you understand how a MIDI Keyboard operates?

A MIDI Keyboard has no sounds in it by itself.. It plays the sounds inside your computer!

(These sounds are called VSTs. They are virtual instruments, which allow us to play pianos or guitars, or design our own).

This was a huge shocker to me when starting, as I realized.. Paying more for a MIDI Keyboard isn’t going to give you better sounds, or allow you to make better beats.

When you press down a note on a MIDI Keyboard, it sends a MIDI message into your music program, so price doesn’t matter!

This is an example of a VST (it’s called Harmor). If it looks complex, that’s because it is! It requires a lot of reading and learning, but some others aren’t this intense, and are more of a “click a preset” and you’re good to go!

Now a more expensive MIDI Keyboard will typically have a better overall build quality, better piano keys (semi-weighted), and add TONS of extra features (which you probably don’t need).

Low-End MIDI Keyboards

At the low-end of the price range, you will get a MIDI device that functions properly, but it will feel cheap. There’s nothing wrong with that, but just know around the $100-150 range, you’re not getting that nice semi-weighted key feeling.

Mid-Range MIDI Keyboards

At the mid-range.. (no more than $400), is when MIDI Keyboards start including semi-weighted keys, which I think is worth it.

Non-semi-weighted keys feel way too cheap and springy for an enjoyable play, if you like to play the piano.

Mid-range MIDI Keyboards are also where companies start bundling extra features which add to the cost of your purchase, so you have to be careful that it is being priced fairly.

I recommend mid-range semi-weighted key MIDI Keyboards to my students. You can read my midi keyboard reviews.. especially my Oxygen Pro 49 review.

Expensive MIDI Keyboards

I would be very cautious at the high-end for MIDI Keyboards. Remember, they do not have sounds in them.. so you’re now paying for features.

Other DAWs often have deep integration with MIDI Keyboards.. FL Studio however usually doesn’t.. So it’s not worth purchasing something which you can’t take advantage of.. that’s why I say semi-weighted keys are a strong focus point for me.

Remember, FL Studio’s MIDI Scripting gives you total flexibility with how you want a MIDI Keyboard’s buttons to work.. if you know what you’re doing, and have the time to do it..

What are Transport Buttons on a MIDI Keyboard?

These transport buttons are from the Oxygen Pro 49.
You can see it has Play, Stop, Record, Backward, Forward, and the Loop Button!

To have a good experience with your MIDI Keyboard in FL Studio, your transport buttons should contain at least Play, Stop, Record, and LOOP.

Forward and Backwards are not necessary, as you can also use / or * on your number pad to do the same thing, but I do think it’s nice when they are there.

Here’s how these transport buttons normally operate in FL Studio:

  • Play should PLAY/PAUSE..
  • Stop should STOP the song and bring you back to your marker. If you double press STOP, it sends you back to the beginning of the Playlist (or the beginning of your highlighted area)..
  • Loop should switch between Pattern Mode and Song Mode..
  • Record should arm and dis-arm the record button..
  • Forward + Backward should go 1 BAR forward or backward..

I like when a MIDI Keyboard has the LOOP button. It’s very powerful for switching between pattern and song mode while making beats in FL Studio!

Before MIDI Scripting, it was hard knowing if a MIDI Keyboard’s transport buttons would work properly. But now, any MIDI Keyboard’s transport buttons can work with a MIDI Script!! This is such a big move from FL Studio to open this up for us!

Good Semi-Weighted Keys on a MIDI Keyboard + Minimum 49-Key

As soon as you upgrade to a MIDI Keyboard with semi-weighted keys, it will give you a much better playing experience.

They have a little extra weight to them, which allows you have more emotion while you play.

If you take the piano seriously, I strongly feel paying for a MIDI Keyboard with semi-weighted keys is worth it.

Now I’ve always used a 49-Key MIDI Keyboard, and I want to tell you why I recommend a 49-key.

The first thing with a 49-Key is that they are more affordable than keyboards with more keys.

The second thing is that a 49-Key is already quite big to fit on a desk, but is still a nice size to never be restricted in terms of beautiful piano playing.

The third thing is that all MIDI Keyboards have an octave button which allow you to go up and down the keyboard’s notes!!

And it’s annoying… because many companies start adding semi-weighted keys in at the 61-Key model.. (I would say 61-Keys is the max I’d go.. but my personal recommendation is a 49-Key.)

Producers Play the Piano Differently Than Classical Piano Players!

As a music producer, we do not play piano in the normal way as classical piano players.

We are focused on loops. And very often, we play with only 1 hand, and only a couple notes for each loop while recording.

Then when we are done recording, we go into our Piano Roll to edit our notes.

So from a production stand-point, and knowing that we as producers work this way, a 49-key is a perfect sweet spot in terms of performance and price.

I have never been restricted in my 10 years of making beats with a 49-key MIDI Keyboard.

Nice Features to Have, Not Needed, But Would Miss Them If I Didn’t Have Them:

The pitch wheel, mod wheel, knobs, and sliders are all things that are nice to have, but I never use.

M-Audio Oxygen Pro 49 - PITCH AND MOD WHEEL

I don’t think companies should remove these from their MIDI Keyboards, as they are useful, and provide a great experience for “hands-on” stuff.

However, I never use them.. so they don’t bring much value to me, and I would rather have a more affordable MIDI Keyboard with great feeling piano keys, and transport buttons that have the loop button and work properly in FL Studio.

What Do You Not Need in a MIDI Keyboard?

There’s a couple things which I think should not be included in a MIDI Keyboard..

However, once you start paying passed a certain price point, these features are often added in and you don’t have a choice.

Should I Get Drum Pads on a MIDI Keyboard?

M-Audio Oxygen Pro 49 - DRUM PADS AND KNOBS

I’d say MIDI Keyboards should not have drum pads on them.

I think they are an added cost, which are the same thing as piano keys (when you press a drum pad or piano note, they are both sending a MIDI message.. it’s just that they feel different.)

Companies make users feel like they are getting a “bundle package” in these MIDI Keyboards thinking they are getting piano keys PLUS DRUM PADS!!!! .. But in reality, they are typically low to middle grade drum pads which the user could have saved money on. If they wanted that feature, they could buy a dedicated drum pad which is probably better built.

Once you understand this, you will see the way I’m thinking here.

I use a MIDI Keyboard to play/record melodies, and use the transport buttons to play and stop my music inside of my DAW. I want this experience to be as good as possible, without paying $500+ !! Remember.. there are no sounds in a MIDI Keyboard.. so when you think this way, you can see that it makes sense.

Advanced Auto-Chords, Repeaters, Arpeggios, and Other Features

When I see a MIDI Keyboard offering advanced features like “auto chords”.. so you press down a single key, and it plays chords for you, I see this as actually damaging to the music industry.

I feel this is stealing away the true abilities of talented producers who have worked hard to learn their instruments and skills. Yes, the user still has to create their own melodies/loops while using these types of “done-for-you” features, but I think it’s wrong that companies are trying to “make music making easier”, rather than providing education into how to actually play and use the instrument as it’s meant to be used.

These extra features also add to the value of your MIDI Keyboard purchase, as companies have to spend research/development/testing time. I’d rather see this type of stuff removed to save money, and focus more on a solid semi-weighted key MIDI Keyboard with good transport buttons.

Bundled Sounds and LITE DAW Editions Included

Companies will also offer free sounds, or restricted versions of DAWs if you buy their product.

Remember, the word “FREE” is always baked into anything you buy.

Even if these sounds are from a different company from the MIDI Keyboard company you’re buying from, there is some type of business relationship going on behind the scenes on your purchase of that MIDI Keyboard.

To be honest, usually these sounds are mediocre.. and just a good selling feature.

However, on the Oxygen Pro 49.. when I purchased it, it did come with a lot good VSTs.. some were older, but that doesn’t mean they are bad, as audio fidelity hasn’t changed in years!

But I’d rather companies not include this and save again. Or actually price it in to give a better deal over their competitors.

I Hope This Allows You To Make a Good Purchasing Decision when Buying a MIDI Keyboard for FL Studio

To recap.

Good semi-weighted keys, and transport buttons with LOOP is what I am after for a good experience in FL Studio.

You may think you need the knobs, sliders, and drum pads.. but once you have been making music for a couple more years, you will start to realize, you really don’t use those things too often inside FL Studio. (At least I don’t!)

The mouse is your easiest way of doing the technical stuff, as much as I’d hate to say it! (I always wanted that “hands-on” stuff, too..)

This is where I wish companies would focus more on bringing quality to customers, rather than slightly deceiving them into thinking they are getting a great deal because they jam-pack features in.

These are what I use as factors when I do my MIDI Keyboard reviews.

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About the Author:  GratuiTous teaches producers how to use FL Studio, and become well-rounded producers.

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