If you make music on a computer, then you need the power of a MIDI controller. Even a basic MIDI device can make your experience and your music so much better.
The challenge is not so much the expense or even how to use it.
With all the options and the flexibility, the biggest challenge in using a MIDI controller is choosing what you want to do with it!
In this video, I demonstrate some ideas for how you can make a MIDI controller work for you.
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MIDI controller type 1: knobs / faders
MIDI knobs and faders work the same way, sending MIDI CC, or continuous controller, data. To put it simply, they work well for controlling any software parameter that appears circular or vertical.
The first and most important function to control with knobs or faders is volume. I set up the top row of knobs on my AKAI LPD8 to control volumes of individual channels, making it easy to mix my sounds during performance.
There are two other parameters I control with knobs. For keyboard sounds like piano or Rhodes, I set a knob to control effects level for reverb and delay effects. For synth sounds, I typically set a knob to control filter sweeps for dynamic changes.
MIDI controller type 2: pads
While pads can be set to send different types of MIDI data, I only use them to send note messages. In that way, they function like keys on a keyboard, indicating a specific pitch. However, instead of making sounds, I tell them to initiate certain actions.
I assign the first two pads on my LPD8 controller to move up and down my patch list, selecting different sounds.
I assign another pad to tap the tempo of the song I’m playing. A fourth pad is assigned as a panic button, which stops and resets things should a sound get stuck.
Other possible actions include starting and stopping a backing track, muting a channel, or even toggling a rotary speaker simulation.
To see all the controllers in action, click here.
Make it serve you
The most important thing is to make sure the technology works for you and not the other way around. Experiment with different assignments and settings until you have something that gives you all the control you need without getting complicated.
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