MIDI keyboards come in all shapes and sizes. So a common question is how many keys do need in the midi keyboard?
A midi keyboard is an essential item in any modern home recording studio.
Maybe you’ve created some cool sounds in your DAW and manually inputting notes into your composition using the mouse and computer keyboard just isn’t going to be enough.
Perhaps the most important factor in choosing the best MIDI keyboard is selecting the correct size for you in terms of the number of keys. The smallest keyboard you can buy has 25 keys.
After that, it’s 49, 61, and 88 (full-size pianos have 88 keys, so that’s maximum). Another size you can see in nature is 37 keys.
According to the data on our website, 49 keys appear to be the size of most producers. That’s large enough to be able to play 4-octave tunes, but it won’t take up too much space on your desktop.
Therefore, these keyboards come in a variety of sizes and costs to suit different needs.
I recommend that if you want to use it for piano you invest in a MIDI keyboard with no less than 61 keys. But if you’re using it for drivers and bass, 49 keys should be fine.
But why? Well, read on and I’ll try to explain. Why is that a good number of keys to have and why you might want to get more than you think? And why, in some cases, it may be a good move to go for less.
Table of Contents
Different Size of MIDI Keyboards
There is a wide range of key number options from a wide variety of brands. These range from some that have as little as 25 keys. What you believe me feels real, very small. Up to 88 key monsters the size of a full-size piano.
So, including the two, I just mentioned. The most common MIDI keyboard categories are:
- 25 key
- 32 key
- 49 Key
- 61 key
- 88 key
But how many keys do I need on a midi keyboard?
What factors determine what to look for?
Well, we will start with the most obvious factor and that is space.
Getting the largest keyboard that is available on the market is great if you have a large home studio to use. But not everyone is blessed with such luxury. You may not want to dedicate a large chunk of your space to a MIDI keyboard.
Below is a rough idea of the approximate size of each of the keyboards, so you can start measuring. Note that the size of the keys may vary in some of the smaller keyboards do not have piano-sized keys. But it should give you a rough idea.
- 25 keys: approximately 31.7 cm (12.5 inches)
- 32 keys: approximately 43.7 cm (17 inches)
- 49 keys: approximately 32 inches (81 cm)
- 61 keys: approximately 39.5 inches (100 cm)
- 88 keys: approximately 58.5 inches (145 cm)
If you are at the beginning of your home music studio journey. You may want to make room for other instruments, such as hardware synths, keyboards, amplifiers, and other bits.
You don’t want to be frustrated later on having dedicated half of your available space to that MIDI keyboard. So keep that mind.
If you want to have it on your desk along with a computer keyboard, computer monitor, and an audio interface. You may also be cursing the lack of space. Having to constantly move things and ruin your workflow.
There are some MIDI keyboards that have smaller keys so they can fit more octaves in less space. Personally, I would advise against these unless you have very small hands.
If you try to play chords or notes in rapid succession, the chance for mistakes is much higher and you can start to freak out.
If you plan to use the MIDI keyboard in a live environment or if you plan to make it not a permanent fixture in your home studio. You may want to go for a smaller keyboard.
Larger keyboards are not only more difficult to move from place to place. But they can also weigh much more with the 88-key keyboards. It weighs around 17 pounds (8 kg) with 25-key keyboards mostly weighing less than 2 pounds (1 kg).
So if you already have a lot of gear, adding a large keyboard to the party may be something you will regret. On the other hand, if it stays glued to the study site, it won’t be a concern.
Skill Level and Musical Requirements
Another factor to think about when deciding how many keys your MIDI keyboard should have is your current skill level.
If you don’t really consider yourself a pianist or keyboardist. And mainly we are going to use the MIDI keyboard to write simple bass lines or soloists. So the smaller keyboards 25-49 may be all you need.
So I only had a small 32-key keyboard which I liked because it took up minimal space, was light and portable. It allowed me to play a simple riff and then raise and lower octaves with the Octave Up and Down buttons.
For a bass line, for example, you will very rarely find yourself covering more than two octaves. So for that, even the 25-key keyboard would suffice.
Similarly, if you want to make lead lines that mimic woodwind or brass, for example. Most of these instruments only cover 2 octaves, so once again a small keyboard will be all you might need. At the ends of the spectrum, these will sound strange on a large keyboard.
On the other hand, if you are, or have the ambition to be, an accomplished pianist. So you may want to expand up to a full-size 88-key keyboard, allowing you to play piano pieces, etc.
If you want to compose anything with a piano, it must have an absolute minimum of 49 keys. But probably 61 keys or more to be honest.
A larger keyboard also allows you to potentially assign the drums to one end and a synth sound to the other end of the keyboard. If that’s something you would like to do when you play live.
Your budget will, of course, have an impact on the keyboard size that you can stretch as well. It’s no wonder that the bigger the keyboard, the higher the price.
Some of the smaller keyboards can be more expensive if they include other features. This could be drum pads or color display screens, etc.
But in most cases, a large 88-key keyboard will cost you much more than a mini 25-key one.
Other things to think about before buying
What other features might be useful?
Some keyboards are very basic and come with a simple USB connection. With very little in the way of other nobs, buttons, and flashing lights. When you start, this will save you money and confusion too.
But many keyboards now come with additional extras to give you a little more for your money. These extras can save you space and even cash in the long run, as they will potentially mean you won’t need to buy other equipment. These include:
- Drum Pads – Even some of the small keyboards have a space dedicated to a few drum pads. A little addition that will save you from having to buy a separate drum machine.
- A variety of knobs and faders – These can allow you to fiddle with the settings within your DAW. Like ASDR envelope settings without having to keep lifting the computer mouse.
- Pitch and Modulation Wheels – Let you add live modulation or pitch bend effects as you play.
- A specific DAW controller – If you’re using Ableton Live, some keyboards have a built-in Ableton Live controller. This allows you to trigger different samples when playing live.
- A screen – Some keyboards now come with large screens and sometimes even color. These screens allow you to see what MIDI instruments and plug-ins you are playing without even looking at your computer screen.
Are the keys weighted?
The subject of different key weights is complex and I won’t go into too much detail here. But there are a couple of things you might want to keep in mind when choosing a MIDI keyboard. And words you will likely see appear in product descriptions.
On many of the larger keyboards, they are better suited to mimic a piano. Keys can be fully “weighted”. This acts to mimic the feel of the keys on a real piano.
If you press a key hard, you get a loud sound, and if you play it softly, you get a softer and quieter sound.
With fully weighted keys that work well for piano sounds, it doesn’t lend itself as well to playing percussion or many synth sounds.
With the weighted keys, you’ll end up with a variety of different volume levels for each note that you’ll have to readjust afterward, and it may sound strange otherwise.
So, check the product specifications carefully to see what you get.
So there are many things to consider there. But there is no one correct answer, one for everyone.
If you have a room as large as your big budget, then you can go for a large keyboard.
If you can afford it, you might even want to buy two! A large 88-key weighted keyboard to use to compose those piano parts and then a smaller medium-heavy keyboard to compose other parts … I’m getting carried away now.
On the other hand; If you are just starting out and struggling to make everything fit in your studio as is, then a smaller keyboard may be suitable.
As I said at the beginning, from the experience of owning a variety of these things. Personally, I’d save a little more money, free up a little more space, and get at least 61 keys.
This will allow you to do all kinds of things and will allow you to grow as a musician if you decide to work on your piano.