There are several ways to connect a digital piano to a computer, depending on the outputs and inputs of the hardware you have. You will not necessarily need additional equipment to connect your piano. To see how to proceed, follow the guide!
A digital piano is connected to a computer using the MIDI protocol. MIDI connections can be made via DIN or USB connections between the input device (Digital Piano) and an audio interface or a MIDI/USB adapter connected to a computer.
MIDI, DIN connector, Audio interface… A bit lost? Let’s see what it’s all about.
What is MIDI?
According to Wikipedia, MIDI is a communication protocol between electronic music devices, but also a music file format. MIDI stands for “Musical Instrument Digital Interface“.
Created in 1981 by Dave Smith, it quickly became a standard in both the largest music production studios as well as first prize digital instruments for the general public.
The protocol allows to transmit the information of the played notes (in real time or not) to other compatible devices. The main information transferred in MIDI are :
- Note velocity (the force at which the note is played)
- The duration of the notes (triggering and release of the note)
- Modulation (for effect control)
- Expression (note intensity variation)
- And the sustain pedal (to keep the notes played without having to hold them)
The classic link uses a round DIN socket with 5 pins, the protocol has evolved to allow the transfer of more information as well as the use of other types of connections such as USB, Ethernet, Jack or Bluetooth.
The file format (extension “.MID“) allows to save a digital “virtual score”, readable by a software such as a multimedia player or a sequencer. It has also become the standard in both professional and amateur circles.
What to plug my piano with?
If you don’t have an audio interface with MIDI DIN or USB inputs/outputs, you can use a MIDI to USB adapter, and then you’ll be able to connect any MIDI compatible device to your computer.
If you wish to connect an instrument such as a guitar or bass to your computer, it is recommended to invest in an audio interface, you’ll be able to connect your digital piano in MIDI or any other MIDI peripheral, but also instruments (in Jack socket) or microphones (in XLR socket) to take vocals for example.
If you have an audio interface with MIDI DIN inputs/outputs, you can connect your digital piano to it. To do this, connect the MIDI output of the piano (OUT socket) to the MIDI input of your interface (IN socket). To control your piano or other device from your computer, you will need to connect the input of your device to the output of your audio interface using another DIN cable.
What is an audio interface?
The audio interface is an audio input and output device, it converts analog signals to digital so that the computer can process them. Most audio interfaces also have analog outputs for connecting an amplifier or headphones. The quality of the converters is crucial in the sound rendering, both in the analog to digital (“A/D”) and digital to analog (“D/A”) conversion.
There are a variety of audio interfaces with all kinds of different connectors and at various price ranges for all types of users. If you don’t have one and want to buy one, a research after estimation of your needs will be necessary to avoid future problems and frustrations.
What are the plugs on the back of my piano for?
The plugs on the back of your digital piano allow you to connect it to various peripherals such as a foot pedal (Jack), a headphone output (Jack), a MIDI device (e.g. an audio interface) via a MIDI jack (DIN and/or USB).
How do I test my piano on my computer?
After connecting your digital piano to your computer or audio interface, you will need to test it to see if your signal is reaching its destination. Make sure your piano and audio interface or MIDI to USB adapter are plugged in and turned on. Then, for a quick test, you can go to this page to test your piano by pressing a note and see if your computer receives the signals.
If you have no signal (no lines displayed in the window), there is a weak link in the chain. If your piano is connected to a DIN, check that the cables are connected correctly (Inputs in the outputs and outputs in the inputs). If your piano is connected to an adapter, try connecting it to another USB port. If your adapter is connected to a USB HUB, make sure that it is a powered HUB (from a power outlet), otherwise connect the adapter directly to your computer.
Why don’t I have any sounds on my Piano?
Look behind your digital piano, if it has no audio or headphone outputs, it is probably a master keyboard. A master keyboard is a digital piano without built-in samples (instrument sounds). It is primarily used to control other MIDI devices with samples or to play with virtual instruments, called plugins, (VST, Audio Unit…) on a computer.
To use virtual instruments, you can use either a sequencer, which will allow you to record yourself or apply effects to your instruments (Reverb, Delay, Chorus…), or an instrument plugin host software, for example “MainStage” (for Mac) or “Kushview Elements” (Mac or Windows).
If you don’t want to record yourself or produce music, it will be easier to use an instrument plugin host, as these are lighter and easier to use.
It is important to note that a number of virtual instruments offer an executable version of their plugin (in “Standalone”), a dedicated software that allows to use the plugin without having to use a sequencer or instrument host.