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iLife '04: The Missing Manual by David Pogue

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MIDI Synths and Controllers

The best way to record keyboard performances, though, is to bite the bullet, break the bank, and buy an actual, external musical instrument. It might take any of these forms:

  • A MIDI controller. MIDI (pronounced “middy”), you may recall, stands for musical instrument digital interface. It’s an electronic language that lets musical equipment and computers communicate over a cable.

    Because your Mac is perfectly capable of playing any of hundreds of musical-instrument sounds (like the ones built into GarageBand), you don’t really need an electronic keyboard that can produce sounds; all you really need is one that can trigger them.

    That’s the point of a MIDI controller; it looks and feels like a synthesizer keyboard, but produces no sounds of its own. It makes music only when it’s plugged into, for example, a Mac running GarageBand.

    Apple sells (or, rather, resells) a MIDI controller for $100 called the M-Audio Keystation 49e. If you can live with 49 keys, it’s a very nice keyboard. It draws its power directly from your USB jack, so you don’t need a power adapter, and it’s velocity-sensitive, which means that its keys are touch-sensitive. The harder you play, the louder the piano sound, for example.

  • A MIDI synthesizer. If you already own a MIDI synth—an electronic keyboard that provides an assortment of sounds and has MIDI connectors on the back—there’s no point in buying a MIDI controller. You can connect the keyboard directly to your Mac and use it the same ...

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