MusicRadar basics: connecting your digital piano to a computer

Everything you need to know to get started with digital pianos

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While many digital pianos have built-in tools for learning and making music, you can expand your possibilities even further through your PC. A digital piano can be easily connected to your Windows or Mac computer, opening up a universe of music education, composition and recording software to explore.

One of the main reasons you might wish to connect your piano to a computer is to record your performances, either for self-evaluation for sharing via social media or for sending to family and friends. When you record yourself playing on a digital piano, you are recording data and not actual sound. This has some big benefits. Recording data means you store all of the actions you make when you play a piece - both key presses and control actions. This data is stored in a format known as Standard MIDI File (SMF) and this data format allows you to do many things that you couldn't do with a simple audio recording.

For example, if you recorded the right hand part of a piece, you could slow it down while practising the left hand. You could perhaps change the sound if you didn't like the instrument. If you recorded your piece straight into a PC you could even edit individual notes. It is worth noting that some pianos give you the option to record your performance as SMF data or audio – useful if you want to transfer it to a PC and email or burn a CD.

How do you connect?

Connecting your piano to a computer is very simple. All you need to send MIDI data from your digital piano to your computer and back again is a USB cable. There are two types of USB connector – type A and type B. Type A is a USB to device connector and allows direct connection to a variety of external memory-storage devices such as a USB key. Type B is a USB to host connector and allows connection to computers. If you plan to use these connections, you need to check the type of USB connections available on the instruments you're considering before you buy. Simply stating USB in the specifications doesn't tell you the type of USB connectivity provided.

Just like a digital camera or printer a digital piano needs a bit of software called a driver. You will have to install a driver for your digital piano. All of the major digital piano manufacturers are very good at providing these at no charge.