What is a MIDI Controller?
MIDI, short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, is a protocol that allows instruments such as synthesizers and drum machines to communicate with each other, and also with other devices such as computers and effects processors. A MIDI controller is a device that can send commands to a MIDI-equipped device. MIDI is a wide ranging protocol: it can be used for triggering (playing) notes on a keyboard workstation, turning functions on and off within a computer program, changing presets on a multi-effects processor, and countless other applications. Because of this, there are a wide range of MIDI controllers available. While the form and layout of a MIDI controller is dictated by its intended use, all have one thing in common: they are all able to interact with any MIDI-equipped device.
MIDI controllers for playing music
MIDI Controllers do not generate sound on their own - they are used as an input device for other instruments. Some of the most common MIDI controllers are piano-style keyboard controllers, such as the M-Audio Keystation. These are used to play synthesizers, sound modules, software instruments, and other MIDI-equipped instruments. Also popular are pad controllers, such as the Akai Professional MPD26, which feature an array of buttons instead of piano keys. These are often used to control percussion instruments like drum machines, but can still be used to play synthesizers and other "keyboard-style" instruments. There are also wind controllers that can be played like a clarinet, guitar- and bass-style controllers, and many others. Again, the common theme is that these controllers allow you to play digital instruments in a way that mimics a familiar instrument such as a piano, drum, woodwind, and so on.
MIDI controllers for other applications
Because MIDI is simply a way for different devices to communicate with each other, there is a vast selection of MIDI controllers for applications other than performing music. Some are quite simple, for example the Tech 21 MIDI Mouse: it's a small box with three buttons that you can use to switch between presets on a MIDI-equipped effects processor or guitar amplifier. At the other extreme are multi-purpose controllers such as the Mackie Control Universal Pro. It has lots of buttons, knobs, and faders and is designed to control many different functions in computer software simultaneously. With it you can stop and start music playback, adjust audio levels, toggle software functions, and more, all without ever having to use the computer's keyboard and mouse. Learn More
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