If you are starting out in music production, the best MIDI keyboard for beginners is a must-have addition to your set-up, allowing you to create your tunes with ease. There are plenty of different options out there and this best beginner MIDI keyboard guide includes 17 models to suit different players and budgets. Importantly though, each keyboard has been included because of its simple workflow, so offers an easy entry point to the world of computer music making.
MIDI keyboards are an essential product for the modern music producer. They allow you to play and control the latest PC and Mac music software and hardware. They also offer a more traditional and familiar playing experience – based on standard piano-type keyboards – when using a computer as the hub of a music production studio.
Beginner MIDI keyboards can be plugged directly into your PC, Mac or laptop via USB – or, in some cases, even operate wirelessly over Bluetooth – and integrate seamlessly with your computer DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), usually the central component in your music making set-up. You can then use your keyboard to play your DAW's software instruments and any other VST instrument plugins you might have installed by third-party companies.
MIDI keyboards come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. You can opt for a compact, portable MIDI keyboard that fits comfortably in a laptop bag, or you can go all-in with a full-size 88-note model with weighted hammer-action keys. While these tend to be more expensive and aimed at 'proper' keyboard players, we still feature a couple of great options in our guide.
Most of the best beginner MIDI keyboard options we recommend here also come with additional features such as knobs, pads, buttons and faders to boost creativity and give you even more control over your software. However, more features usually means more complexity, so we will only include extras like these if they don't impact on that most important factor for beginners: ease of use.
You can get a perfectly decent affordable MIDI keyboard for way less than $/£100 if you shop around, but up your spend ever so slightly and you'll get your hands on a higher quality model with more features, more (and bigger) keys and higher specs. Spending more might get you a more solid and rugged keyboard; something to consider if you want to take it on the road.
Best MIDI keyboard for beginners: MusicRadar’s Choice
As you can see, the beginner's MIDI keyboard market is a crowded one, with many models vying for your cash. Broadly speaking, though, there are just two types to choose from: more portable devices with 25 keys, and the larger, desk-based options with 49 or more keys.
For the former category, perhaps the smallest and cheapest of our offerings, the Nektar SE25 offers a great way into music production for beginners. You get loads of functionality and a highly portable keyboard, and at a low risk price. The Akai MPK Mini Mk3 also has lots of features, decent keys and pad controls, all packed into a small-form keyboard you can take anywhere. If you are an Ableton Live user, then the Novation Launchkey Mini Mk3 is an excellent choice at this end of the scale. Finally for 25 keys, albeit full-sized ones, Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A25 offers a fantastic entry point into the world of NI's amazing software, also for relatively little outlay.
For more and fuller-sized keys on a budget the M-Audio Oxygen 49 Mk4 is a fantastic buy, being both feature-packed and creative. If you are new to music production but not new to playing, it's hard to ignore the 'proper' playing experience delivered by Nektar's Impact LX88+, with a full-sized keyboard with semi-weighted keys and all for silly money. It's an ideal entry point into the world of computer music making if you come from a piano playing background.
Best MIDI keyboard for beginners: Product guide
If you’re someone who’s always making music on the move, a pint-sized MIDI keyboard that’ll fit in a laptop bag is an essential item. Nektar’s SE25 demonstrates firmly that features and playability needn’t be sacrificed for the sake of size and portability.
Only outpriced in the budget MIDI keyboard controller stakes by the ever-so-slightly cheaper Akai LPK25 (which doesn’t provide any form of DAW integration), Nektar’s new pocket powerhouse represents incredible value for money. We found the SE25 to be thoroughly impressive during testing, and while it's a simple, compact product, it does exactly what you need a beginner MIDI keyboard to do – no more, no less.
Where else can you get Nektar DAW integration for Bitwig, Cubase, Garageband, Logic, Nuendo, Digital Performer, Mixcraft, Reason, Reaper, Sonar and Studio One for such a low cost?
SE25 is simple enough for any beginner but has enough features plus a great free Bitwig DAW to get you going on your production journey.
Read our full Nektar SE25 review
The microKEY-2 Air range includes 25-, 37-, 49- and 61-note models, all of which have the advantage of working wirelessly over Bluetooth. If you want to use this feature you'll have to install a couple of AA batteries, but these last for a good length of time and good old USB bus-powering is also an option.
The microKEY-2 Air 25 isn't the most controller-packed keyboard, but it gives you the basics and plays far better than many of its rivals. In testing, we also found that it's easy to set up and operate, so if you want to free yourself from the tyranny of cables, you've found the beginner MIDI controller keyboard you need.
Read our full Korg MicroKey-2 Air 25 review
Like all Arturia gear, the MiniLab MkII is a good-looking, well-built and functional MIDI controller. It has 16 encoders, providing plenty of scope for tweaking your software, including the 500 Analog Lab virtual vintage synth presets it ships with. Here, the encoders are automatically assigned to the most relevant parameters for each sound.
Weighing in at 1.5 kilos, its compact footprint means that it passes the laptop bag test easily. And while equally at home as the centrepiece of your studio, it is solidly built to withstand being hefted about from place to place.
While there are smaller, lighter beginner MIDI keyboards out there at the same price point, MiniLab MkII’s brawn, fit, finish, playability and general air of confidence put it in a physically superior class of its own, without compromising too much on portability.
Read our full Arturia MiniLab Mk II review
Of the MPK Mini Mk3, Akai says "your entry-point into a world of pro production starts here" and it's hard to disagree, as this is a great beginner choice. Indeed, in many ways it is the ideal MIDI keyboard for a lot of users, particularly those looking for a quick and easy way to add melodies, basslines and simple chords to their projects.
For us, what elevates the MPK Mini MK3 from a simple keyboard, is the addition of eight encoder knobs which can be easily mapped to practically any parameter of your DAW, and eight full-sized MPC style drum pads.
What you get, therefore, is a full-service production powerhouse which excels in many different playing and performing situations. It’s small enough to be thrown in a backpack, yet contains enough useful features and functions to make it a highly useful addition to any studio.
Read the full Akai MPK Mini MK3 review
The Alesis V49 MKII MIDI controller offers a decent balance of full-size, firmly-sprung, synth-action keys and assignable hardware controls for not a lot of money at all – making it a great contender for beginners or those on a budget.
This newly redesigned keyboard sees substantial changes in the layout of the extra controls. Where the original placed its additional controllers – a set of eight pads, function buttons, pitch bend and modulation wheels and four rotary encoders – to the left-hand side, making for a wide, thin instrument, the MKII opts for a more traditional configuration.
Want to use your new MIDI controller to make beats? Well, you are in luck! The Alesis V49 MKII comes bundled with the incredibly easy to use MPC Beats music production software.
Read our full Alesis V49 MkII review
Delivering almost the exact same functionality as the Komplete Kontrol A-Series (see below), this eminently mobile USB 2.0 bus-powered keyboard manages to squeeze 32 mini keys and the full complement of controls into its tiny frame.
The pitch and mod wheels have been replaced with a pair of short touchstrips, but the eight capacitive knobs, 4D encoder and numerous buttons are uncompromised in their size and feel. They deliver the full experience when it comes to browsing and manipulating plugins, operating Maschine, and getting hands-on with the transport and mixer of your DAW.
The surprisingly informative OLED display from the A-Series is also in place, as is the Smart Play feature, enabling scale snapping, chord triggering and arpeggiation. And, of course, it also works as a regular configurable MIDI controller keyboard with any other software.
For us, the mini keys were the only real downside. We felt that we could live with them after some getting used to them, so if you can live with them too, this is one of the best portable and affordable beginner MIDI keyboards you can buy.
Read the full Native Instruments Komplete Control M32 review
Developed primarily for Ableton Live – a version of which is included – this pocket powerhouse is just brimming with features, including pitch bend and modulation touchstrips, a hardware MIDI out, an incredibly flexible and versatile arpeggiator, a chord memory feature, and a great, deal-sweetening software bundle.
Novation Launchkey Mini isn’t exclusive to Ableton, as it plays perfectly nicely with other DAWs too, (with excellent integration with Logic and Reason, for example) but if you’re a Live user, it undoubtedly represents the best solution at this price point.
As a general-use MIDI keyboard, we found the Launchkey Mini to be more than adequate for our dual-octave, travel-friendly needs. If you want a small, velocity-sensitive MIDI keyboard with impressive connectivity, we don't think you can go far wrong with the Launchkey Mini.
Read the full Novation LaunchKey Mini Mk3 review
Keys 2 Mini 25 is the smallest and cheapest model in the iRig Keys range, with 25 mini keys. The range also has 37 mini key and Pro (37 full-sized key) options. Mini 2 25 is small enough to place on any desktop, sturdy enough to stay in place there, and features direct connectivity to iOS devices.
As well as the controls we've listed above, you can delve deeper with an Edit Mode to assign MIDI options and more, using the keyboard keys to select parameters. Program buttons, assignable rotaries, a Set button and useful assignable push-button Data knob complete a good set of controls for a keyboard this size.
The keyboard is not exactly a player’s dream but it’s solid and well sprung. There are no dedicated pitch-bend and modulation dials, but if this is important, there are workarounds when you dig deeper, again with Edit Mode.
We criticised the bigger iRig Keys 2 for being a tad expensive, but this offers much of the functionality of that over a smaller footprint, and represents a well-spec’d keyboard controller for less cash, and there’s a decent software bundle too.
Read the full IK Multimedia iRig Keys 2 Mini review
Native Instruments' Komplete Kontrol experience is the company's way of delivering all the software control your need, with a very tactile experience. This A25 delivers that experience in an incredible value package.
Available in 25-, 49- and 61-key versions (we reviewed the A25), the A-Series borrows many of the S-Series’ best features (see above), including the 4D Encoder (a joystick/rotary control/button combo) for software navigation; eight touch-sensitive knobs for plugin parameter control; beefy pitch and mod wheels; and most of the same backlit buttons, albeit laid out slightly differently.
There are, however, two major cuts: the dual colour screens and the unique per-key Light Guide LEDs. Even with those things taken away, though, and the reduced level of Maschine integration, we’re still very much blown away by the value proposition presented by the A25 and the A-Series keyboards in general.
Komplete Kontrol A25 is perhaps needlessly larger than other 25-key units. But it is incredibly well-built and wonderfully playable and has the Komplete Kontrol experience at a truly irresistible price.
Read the full Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A25 review
Oxygen 49 is the cheaper version of M-Audio's Pro 49, and while it lacks some of that keyboard's features, it's still a worthy MIDI keyboard controller for beginners. The OLED display of the Pro is replaced by a 3-segment LED display, while the 16 multi-coloured pads are stripped back to eight back-lit red ones, but are split into two banks of eight, so you still have access to 16 sound sources from the front panel when programming, just not simultaneously.
Also absent is the dedicated MIDI out port, but perhaps the biggest difference is that the Oxygen 49’s functions are mostly triggered via soft keys and via ‘secondary modes’ from the keybed itself.
That all said, much of the tech introduced with the Pro is here, so you get Smart Chord and Smart Scale modes which aid songwriting and composition, an excellent arpeggiator, plus Beat Repeat so that stutters and repeats can be triggered from the pads.
The Oxygen Pro 49 breathed new life into the Oxygen range and this sibling is also feature-packed and creative, with many of the features for less cash.
Read the full M-Audio Oxygen 49 MkV review
Launchkey 37 Mk3 is a great controller for Ableton Live but can also be used well with other DAWs.
Common to all of Novation’s Launchkey devices (there are 25-, 37-, 49- and 61-key variants) is a sleek, matte-black look and low-profile design, along with a series of new features designed to take advantage of updated elements of Ableton Live.
These include a button to activate Live’s Capture MIDI tool, along with Push-style device-control, which makes use of eight rotaries sitting along the top of the controller. These latest Launchkeys also gain excellent standalone Chord, Scale and Arpeggiator modes, which can be used with or without a computer. All controllers in the Launchkey range get a hardware MIDI out, so users can take advantage of these features to control hardware synths too.
Other than that there are 16 backlit, velocity-sensitive pads, a compact parameter screen and a decent crop of buttons for browsing and transport control. Both the pads and the keyboards themselves have been upgraded for this generation, and both feel great, with decent velocity response (although no aftertouch).
Ultimately, you’ll be hard-pushed to find a better Live-centric keyboard, and there’s little here not to recommend.
Read the full Novation LaunchKey 37 Mk3 review
As you can see, beginners to music production are spoilt for choice when it comes to MIDI keyboards. However, if you are an experienced player who wants to make music on your computer with a piano-like experience, full piano-size 88-note MIDI controllers are a little rarer, especially at an entry-level price.
One great option is this, Nektar’s Impact LX88+. It combines an 88-key semi-weighted USB-powered keyboard with extensive DAW control via nine sliders, nine buttons, eight knobs, eight pads and transport controls.
Despite the number of features, the LX88+ is reasonably compact and light enough to be portable. What’s more, the keys feel good and the mechanical noise is quite low. The LX88+ won’t suit everyone, and some 88-key users will be after a full weighted hammer-action, but at this price it’s a bargain and well worth testing.
Read the full Nektar Impact LX88+ review
ROLI released the original LUMI Keys illuminated keyboard as an educational aid to make learning to play more fun and interactive. It is now available as LUMI Keys 1 and this, LUMI Keys Studio Edition, with extras like polyphonic aftertouch and light-guided composition.
The unit feels solid and well-constructed, with keys that are narrower than on a standard piano keyboard. The keyboard feels a little plasticky under the fingers, and the key travel seems oddly shallow, but not the worst we’ve ever played and it is functional. The light-up keys are a delight, rainbow-colourful and extremely bright. You can, for example, generate full chords from a single note input, all of which are displayed on the keyboard. This is very cool indeed, and a great way to learn new chord voicings.
Also on the educational front, the LUMI iPad app (which connects via Bluetooth) is expertly executed, with plenty of video content. Although the 24-key limit restricts learning to one-handed parts only, the Watch-Practise-Challenge learning formula, together with the presentation of awards and challenges, form an effective and addictive learning process.
ROLI products have always offered an innovative, likeable and refreshingly different approach to expressive control. LUMI Keys Studio Edition offers a serviceable and relatively affordable way into the ROLI ecosystem.
Read our full review Roli Lumi Keys Studio Edition review
For newcomers to music production, iRig Keys I/O delivers several necessary items in one package. It combines a MIDI controller keyboard and audio interface into a single unit, and is designed to be as compact as possible without compromising on playability. It also comes with a seriously impressive line-up of bundled software.
The unweighted keys are light and responsive, with satisfying travel and minimal lateral movement. The onboard audio interface operates at up to 24-bit/96kHz, and sounds good doing it.
The iRig Keys I/O 49 is small enough to find a space on even the most hectic of studio desks, equipped to handle basic recording duties and general purpose MIDI control on stage and in the studio, and is pretty good value. What's more, it comes with a knockout software bundle.
Read the full IK Multimedia iRig Keys I/O 49 review
KeyLab is Arturia’s flagship controller keyboard, and the MkII comes in 49- and 61-key versions in black and white. The MkII’s keyboard and pads are bolstered by DAW controls and deep integration with Arturia’s bundled Analog Lab 3 software. Although similar in layout to the KeyLab Essential, the MkII is a very different unit, with a higher price tag and more upmarket feel.
We found the aluminium case to feel reassuringly robust, and the Pro-Feel keybed felt fantastic, delivering excellent sensitivity across the full range of velocities. The metal pitch and mod wheels are light and responsive. KeyLab MkII is operationally intuitive, with three distinct modes: DAW, Analog Lab and User (there are ten user configurable presets) – selected via dedicated mode buttons in the centre.
The KeyLab MkII not only delivers fine playability, but also tackles DAW control and synth editing with aplomb. Throw in CV connection capabilities and standalone operation and the price seems justified.
Read the full Arturia KeyLab 49 MkII review
Like many other keyboards here, you can plug the Novation 49 SL MkIII into a computer and use it to control your DAW. However it has extra features like an eight-channel onboard sequencer and multiple forms of digital and analogue output, so this latest SL really can do much more besides. Novation has done an excellent job in making set-up as hassle-free as possible, but given how adaptable the SL MkIII is, you’ll still need to spend some time configuring it to best adapt it to your own set-up.
It doesn’t quite match the plug-and-play immediacy of NI's Komplete Kontrol system, but offers much more flexibility for interfacing hardware and software. The ability to sequence and control analogue hardware, MIDI-equipped instruments, plugins and your DAW all from one interface and clock source is excellent, and if you dig into the SL MkIII’s versatile workflow, you’ll find that there’s a deep well of creative possibilities just waiting to be explored.
Full the full Novation 49 SL MkIII review
The A-88MKII is one of the few full-sized and 'full keyboard experience' controllers here. It is compact – good news if you’re using it in the studio – and at 16kg it's not too heavy for live use.
The control section has great backlit pads and knobs, two assignable Control Change buttons, Transpose and Octave selectors, as well as Velocity Curve options and an onboard arpeggiator. The A-88MKII is also MIDI 2.0 ready, so ready for the extras that this advanced communication protocol brings (there's more detail on MIDI below).
Roland’s A-88MkII has a great design, with Ivory Feel keys, 3-sensor key detection and key-specific progressive hammer action, which all deliver the feel of a real piano. If you need something properly playable, this is one of the top MIDI keyboards out there, simple as that. Not only does it feature proper keys but a full 88 of them, and with MIDI 2 specs present and correct, it’s future-proof too. It has winning features and, with a best-in-class keyboard, it’s an absolute joy to play.
Read the full Roland A88 MkII review
Best MIDI keyboards for beginners: Buying advice
What is a MIDI keyboard?
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MIDI (Music Instrument Digital Interface) is the communication standard that enables most electronic MIDI instruments to communicate with one another. Importantly, it allows you to play traditional notes on a keyboard and have them either trigger software instruments or other hardware keyboards or sound modules. The note information (C,D, E and so on) is recognised by the receiving software or hardware so that it triggers the correct note.
Your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) reads the MIDI note value and other data, like how hard you press the note, and gives you the option of recording the notes you play. This is the very backbone of how you put a piece of music together in your DAW. You can play and record a bass sound, or even drums, with your MIDI keyboard, and build a piece of music up track by track in this way.
And the best bit is that MIDI keyboards allow you to 'play in' notes at whatever speed you like, so while they have traditional black and white notes, like a piano, you don't need to play like a professional concert pianist to use a MIDI keyboard!
I'm a beginner, what type should I opt for?
When choosing a MIDI keyboard, most are plug and play and should work out of the box with your DAW or music software. When choosing a beginner MIDI keyboard, you need to look out for the keyboard type and how many extra controllers – the knobs, dials, switches and sliders – the keyboard comes with.
The keyboard type you choose very much depends on the type of player you are. You might be new to music production with a computer, but come from a traditional piano playing background. If this is the case, you will probably want a more traditional type keyboard, with larger keys and even a semi-weighted feel. These are usually more expensive, but we have options at different price ranges in this guide.
If you are not a traditional 'player' and just want something for simple inputting of drum beats, recording bass and melody lines and basic chords, you can get away with keyboards that just trigger the right notes. MIDI controllers with mini keys should do the job just fine.
These can be smaller and cheaper and some people find that mini keys can be just as responsive and easy to play as full-size versions. However, you might find you quickly grow out of cheaper-feeling keyboards, so do try to audition different keyboard styles before you buy.
In terms of knobs and sliders – the control side of a keyboard – again these come in all shapes and sizes. If you just want to play instruments like virtual pianos and synths, you don't need to have too many extra controls. However if you want to play soft synths and tweak their dials and knobs, having a hardware rotary on your MIDI keyboard assigned to a virtual synth knob certainly makes for a better and more tactile experience.
The bottom line is that the more you pay the better your keyboard feel and the more controllers you will get. However, if you are totally new to music production, a sub $/£100 keyboard from our guide will suffice. They have the advantage of being cheaper and more portable than their larger brethren and take up a smaller footprint on your work surface.
Understanding DAW integration
You can use a MIDI keyboard to control your DAW, as well as to play and record its instruments. If you want to do this, then look out for extras like a set of transport buttons to press the Play, Record, Fast Forward and Rewind options in your software. Or you might want your keyboard to come with hardware sliders. These can then be assigned to the various mixer channels in your DAW so you can push your DAW faders up and down to make volume changes, just like on a traditional studio mixer.
Many of the best beginner MIDI keyboards also come with mapping templates for the most popular DAWs – Ableton Live, Logic Pro, FL Studio, etc – making it easy to get up and running and start producing music right out of the box. They usually come with software bundles that are great for beginners too, so we detail extras like this in our buyer's guide.
Connectivity: what do you need?
Most MIDI keyboards work via USB, both for communicating via MIDI and receiving power. This means there isn't always a traditional 5-pin MIDI out, which you will need if you have some hardware MIDI synths to connect it to or want to experiment with external gear. So a traditional MIDI output is a nice tool to have. Other connections available in some of our buyer's guide picks include expression pedal inputs for connecting a pedal (which might be used to add effects via MIDI), or audio connections. MIDI keyboards don't create sound themselves so these connections are not included for this. Where you see them included above, the MIDI keyboard is doubling as an audio interface (in two of our examples) so you don't need a separate device for this operation.
How we test beginner MIDI keyboards
MIDI keyboard controllers come in all shapes and sizes, from small-form desktop units with few controls, right up to 88-note larger keyboards with weighted piano-action style keys. Obviously price is a factor, so we weigh up all of the controls – knobs, sliders, pads and keys – versus the price and what style of player the keyboards are aimed at. This can range from the mobile producer, who just needs a small wired or wireless keyboard to throw into a shoulder bag, to the more advanced player who requires the aforementioned professional standard keyboard and where mobility is not so paramount.
Like audio interfaces, MIDI keyboards should be easy to set up – hopefully plug and play – and many also come with software bundles to get you up and running in music production. Again we'll look at each of these bundles which usually represent hundreds of $/£ of software, seemingly thrown in for free, to see how they really do shape up.
Finally, of course, the actual controls and keyboards are also tested to see how responsive they can be. Keyboards, particularly at the lower price point, can be very cheap in feel so we also test how well they play for velocity (volume) and aftertouch (when you press the keys down further to trigger different sounds and effects).
It's fair to say that the more you pay, the better and more piano-like this response, and the more controls you get, although as with cheap audio interfaces, there are some great controllers out there for less than $/£100.