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How To Connect A Midi Controller To A Computer… SOLVED!

Setting up a midi controller has never been so easy! We break it down...

Connecting you computer to a midi controller can seem like anything but easy.

Let’s face it, as music production gets more technical, the onslaught of firmware updates & extra installations you need to wrap your head around before diving into your actual music, can get a bit daunting – especially if you’re not the ‘techy’ type! And (not meaning to judge) but if you’re asking this question, that’s likely you.

Someone who’s an ‘old skool’ musician & has finally made the leap from analogue to digital production. Either that or you’re just fanatical about details & want to know exactly what you’re in for before buying a midi keyboard. But whoever you may be – ever if you’re a ‘techy’ type – connecting a midi controller to a computer isn’t always as easy as it seems. Because aside form your specific computer, there’s also other variables like the type/ manufacturer of your midi controller that can also determine the setup process.

Something that understandably could influence your buying decision & potentially even how you choose to kit out your studio! So with that in mind, how do you set up a midi controller? Does it require you to get technical? Or are all midi controllers plug-in-&-play? We reveal all.

After something specific about setting up a midi controller? Or just curious whether there’s a difference in setup between Mac & PC? Jump into the menu below to get your answer in just 1 click…

ALL CONTENT IS WRITTEN BY OUR IN-HOUSE AUTHORS & BASED ON REAL WORLD EXPERIENCE.

NOTE: Yet to buy a midi keyboard? Be sure to also check out our blogs on the Best 25 Key Midi Conrtollers + the Best Full-Size 88 Key Midi Controllers.

Relax – setting up a midi controller is NOT as hard as it sounds… even if you’re tech virgin.

The only real things to bear in mind are (A) what midi keyboard you’re buying & (B) the type of computer you have. Reason being that setting up a midi controller on Windows typically comes with a few more steps than it does on a Mac, especially if your midi keyboard isn’t exactly new. But with that in mind, here’s how to setup a midi controller with your computer in a matter of minutes…

  1. Take a good look at your midi controller & find the USB out port.
  2. Connect the USB lead (included with the midi controller) into one side & push the other side into your computer. In the case you buy an old controller or your computer is old, then you may need to purchase an adapter. Most midi controllers these days are USB type C.
  3. Once connected, look on your computer desktop to see if you can find signs of the controller. If you go to the ‘devices’ drop down in your DAW, you may be able to see whether the controller is connected. If not – assign some virtual instruments to a track & give the keys/ buttons on your controller a press. If you hear sound, you’re more than likely good to go. Told you it was easy! If not though, proceed to step 4…
  4. In the case your midi controller hasn’t registered then you’ll likely have to download some sort of driver. To do so, either consult the instruction manual or visit the website of the brand who makes your controller. Most midi controller brands will have a section on their website where you can find resources like drivers & extra info.
  5. Once downloaded, unzip/ install the driver on your PC. In some cases, you may have to go through a setup wizard, but to be real, even drivers themselves aren’t that hard to fathom. Once installed, try using the controller to make a sound. If you can do so, rejoice – your mid controller is connected.
  6. If you’re still unable to connect your midi controller, then take a deeper dive into your DAW & check that the midi controller in question is selected as an input device. This may be the fix you’re after. If not, then contacting the customer service team of the brand who make your midi controller would eb the next best thing.
person pairing a midi controller with their iPad

Whether you can use Bluetooth to connect your midi controller to your computer, really depends on what midi controller you buy.

Some small controllers like the Akai MPK Wireless do come with wireless connections, most likely because they’re relatively low power devices & are designed for use out & about. Both things that the typical midi controller is not for good reason. See, as much as Bluetooth connectivity is great, there are some drawbacks that you should be aware of…

  • You connection can be interrupted – Midi controllers are all about enhancing your relationship with your DAW & helping you be as expressive as possible. So if you connection isn’t the strongest, then it’s worth baring in mind that this could impact your playing. Believe us, there’s nothing worse than having what you think is ‘the perfect take’, only to find out that your controller lost connection & none of your input has been fed into your DAW. Worth noting!!
  • Batteries will be required – As of now, if your midi controller does allow for wireless connectivity, then you will need to have sort of battery in order to power it. Usually this will be a 9V or a couple of AAs. Without it, the midi controller wouldn’t be able to send out a Bluetooth signal to connect to your computer. And while this isn’t perhaps an issue if you use the controller once in a blue moon, it can quickly become a regular hinderance if you’re a full-time producer.

Too right there is.

In fact, with the majority of music software originally being designed for Mac, it’s with a Windows system where things get more complicated. This is because with most Windows computers, you may also have to install drivers to ensure that your controller can talk to your midi keyboard. Fail to do so & your midi keyboard won’t work.

Much the same logic also applies to DAWs (no pun intended), so if you’re yet to choose a DAW, be sure to also read up on compatibility & whether your chosen controller will work with that DAW. If not, switch up your setup.

However, if you’re a Mac user, things are a bit less stressful. In the vast majority of cases, midi controllers will be plug-in-&-play with a Mac, regardless of size. The only things they really require to connect is the correct USB lead or a strong bluetooth connection.

NOTE: The majority of modern midi keyboards do come with USB C. However if you’re going for a budget midi controller, then you may need to purchase an adapter – just one of the many drawbacks of having a controller that’s USB type A.

Enjoy what you’ve read and eager for more? Be sure to check out all our latest Advice On Midi Controllers, as well as other Types Of Production Gear. We recently also published an article on the best 49 Key Midi Controllers, as well as another on popular 61 Key Midi Controllers, which you may also find a good read.

Or if you want to know even more details about using your midi controller with a computer, jump into the FAQs below…

Drivers are a form of software that allows midi controllers – keyboards, pad controllers etc. – to communicate with a computer. Think of it as a translator. One that bridges the gap between the midi keyboard & your computer, should the two find it difficult to communicate.

Something you need if you plan on using a midi controller to make your music!

Providing the driver is the job of the midi controller manufacturer, who will usually include download details for the driver in the box or have a section on their website where it can be downloaded. And don’t worry – drivers for midi controllers are 100% FREE!

This is software you DON’T need to pay for.

This really depends.

While some midi controllers (usually expensive models) come with an ‘on/off’ switch, not all do. In fact, some midi controllers simply come on automatically when they’re connected to power. In our experience, those midi controllers that do come with a power switch are usually the most power-hungry.

So in most cases, all you have to do to feed power to a mid controller is simply plug it in. Be that via USB to your computer or a more ‘musically-minded’ connection to some form of analogue gear.

REMEMBER: You can use midi controllers with both software instruments & physical instruments too – keyboards, synths, the list goes on.

Not immensely.

In some cases, your DAW may make it easier/ more difficult to connect your chosen controller, but in most cases connecting you midi controller is a breeze. If it is your DAW preventing you from using your midi controller, then you likely just need to go to your ‘devices’ panel & ensure that your midi controller is set as the primary input.

Simple.