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Using a keyboard with a computer and MIDI

Connecting your keyboard or synthesizer to your computer allows you to use music software through MIDI. MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, and is the technology that allows your keyboard to communicate with your computer. Creating music with MIDI is also known as sequencing.

Below is a basic guide for connecting your keyboard to your computer. For more information about using MIDI, check the manual that came with your keyboard or see the links on this page.

How to connect your keyboard to your computer

  • Turn off all power to your keyboard and computer to avoid accidental damage to your equipment
  • Plug one end of your MIDI cable into the MIDI port on your soundcard (see Cables section on the Keyboard Accessories page for help on buying a MIDI cable).
  • Plug the other end/s of your MIDI cable into the MIDI port/s of your keyboard. The MIDI Out port on your soundcard should plug into the MIDI In port on your keyboard and vice versa. Plugging the MIDI cables in the wrong way is the most common cause when you can't hear any sound.
  • If you're unsure of what port is what, check the manual that came with your soundcard. There's usually a diagram showing the different connections on the soundcard.
  • Plug one end of your audio cable into the Audio In port of your soundcard. Plug the other end of your audio cable into the Audio Out port on your soundcard. If you're using optical cable, simply plug one end into the S/PDIF port on your keyboard and the other end into the S/PDIF port on your soundcard.
  • Check your keyboard manual for the correct sequence of powering up your equipment. Usually you turn on your keyboard first, then your computer.
  • When your keyboard and computer have been powered up, play your keyboard to test the sound. If you can't hear any sound:
    • Check your connections to see if everything is correctly plugged in. (Don't unplug cables while your keyboard and computer are on to avoid damaging your equipment). If you think you may have a faulty cable, check it on a friend's computer or at a music store to confirm.
    • Check that the volume switch on your keyboard is not turned down to the minimum volume.
    • If you have a soundcard which is semipro/pro quality, you may need to change some settings. Open up the control panel for your soundcard software (usually in Control Panels in Windows or on the right side of the task bar) and set the 'Sync Source' option to 'External'. In the output section of your soundcard control panel, check that nothing is muted or turned down to the minimum volume.
    • If this still doesn't work, call the manufacturer of your soundcard. There may be other settings that need to be changed for your soundcard to work with your keyboard.
    • If you still have no sound, you might have a faulty soundcard. This is quite rare but it has happened to me before. In that case, you need to call the manufacturer or your soundcard and/or take your computer to a computer store for fault testing.

    To create music using your keyboard and computer, you need software with MIDI capability such as a sequencer.
  • Books ~ DVDs ~ Online courses


    Basic MIDI: entry level pocket-sized guide.

    MIDI Power: in depth guide.

    The S.M.A.R.T. Guide to Producing Music with Samples, Loops, and MIDI: covers MIDI as well as using audio samples in your music.

    Crash Course MIDI: a more in depth guide by the author of Basic MIDI.

    MIDI for Musicians: entry level.

    Creative Sequencing Techniques for Music Production: looks at sequencing techniques popular sequencers like Logic and Cubase. Intermediate to advanced level.


    MIDI Made Easy: entry level.

    Understanding MIDI / Understanding Samplers and Sampling: covers MIDI and sampling techniques. Entry level.

    Online courses

    MIDI Sequencing Basics (Berklee College of Music): entry level. Learn how to use a MIDI software sequencer (Reason) with your keyboard. Software discount for Reason is available through Berklee.

    MIDI Sequencing Intermediate (Berklee College of Music): intermediate level. Develop your skills in proudcing MIDI arrangements in both the electronic and acoustic styles.

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    Disclaimer: Information in the links section is provided for personal use and is correct at the time of writing. For the latest detailed specifications, click on the product links. Informational advice written by the author may not be reproduced without authorization.