While your QWERTY keyboard and mouse are very useful tools for carrying out standard computing tasks - typing documents, browsing the internet and the like - they’re not the most creative of input devices.
They’re far from redundant when you’re using your music software - your mouse can be used to click and drag, and even the numbers and letters on your keyboard can serve as handy shortcut buttons - but when you’re feeling creative, you’ll hanker for something different.
This is where MIDI controllers come in. These are devices that connect to your computer (usually over USB) and send signals that can be interpreted by your music software, which then acts upon them.
If that sounds a bit techy, let’s consider the most popular example of a MIDI controller: a musical keyboard that doesn’t contain any sounds of its own but enables you to play the software instruments that you have installed on your Mac or PC.
The advantages of doing this are obvious, particularly if you happen to be a keyboard player. However, even if you haven’t had a piano lesson in your life, you’ll find that recording basslines, leads, chord progressions and even drum parts is a whole lot more satisfying if you’re using white and black keys as opposed to those familiar QWERTY ones.
For some people, a keyboard is all the MIDI controller that’s required, but the fun doesn’t stop there. You can also get devices that feature knobs, faders, buttons, drum pads and more, all of which can be used to tweak the controls that you see in your software. Other more esoteric MIDI controllers appear to have been beamed down from space and don’t look musical at all.
You can use multiple MIDI controllers in your setup, but if you’re only going to buy one, your best bet is a keyboard that also contains a variety of other controllers (those knobs, faders, buttons and pads that we mentioned).