If you have a music studio, this essential instrument can play an important role in your music projects, and you should know how important it is to have a MIDI keyboard.
A MIDI keyboard is a valuable musical tool not only for its cool functionality but also for its portability and quick connect feature.
This equipment allows you to effectively increase your workflow between your computer and the MIDI keyboard via a USB connection, which means there is no more time wasted waiting to transfer large files.
Trust me, that would save us a lot of time.
However, without software, you won’t be able to get the most out of this MIDI keyboard.
That is why in this article today, I want to bring you a list of the best MIDI keyboard program. Hope this software helps you increase your workflow and make more impressive music production.
So after that, I set out to find the best FREE MIDI keyboard software out there on each of the most common Windows, Mac / Apple, and Android platforms so you can plug in your MIDI keyboard and start playing right away.
Table of Contents
How does MIDI Work?
First things first, I always find it helpful to briefly explain how MIDI works.
If you, like me, come from playing a traditional acoustic instrument like a piano or guitar, the world of MIDI and digital music production can get a bit confusing. If you already know how it works, feel free to skip this section!
MIDI is a digital signal, basically a series of 1’s and 0’s that allows different electronic devices to communicate with each other. This code communicates all sorts of things, from the note pressed, to the force with which it is pressed and when it is released.
This is different from traditional instruments that produce an audio signal that can be heard immediately for acoustic instruments or through an amplifier for electric instruments.
With a MIDI keyboard or other MIDI device that doesn’t produce an audio signal, you need to connect to another device that can convert the code into something we can hear.
In the modern era, this is usually a laptop or computer.
Modern MIDI devices almost always connect and communicate over a USB connection. But simply plugging in the device is not enough.
The computer will receive the code, but to produce a sound it will need some software.
Best Free Midi Keyboard Software on Windows
1. Piano Time for Windows 10
Piano time is a good option if you just want to connect and play the piano.
It’s an “app”, but that doesn’t mean you need a tablet or phone to use it. Windows is changing to become more Apple-like in the way they present software, creating less disconnect between computers, tablets, and phones.
This means that if you have Windows 10, you can now head over to the Microsoft store and download apps to your computer.
There are paid apps in the Windows Store, but as with the Apple and Android “stores” you may be more familiar with on your phones and tablets, many of the apps are free to download and use.
Piano Time is very easy to plug in and gets started. I plugged in my Novation Impulse MIDI keyboard and it instantly recognized it without me having to go into setup.
Piano timing is intended to be simple and to mimic the sound of a piano. For this reason, you can’t really adjust the sound.
You won’t find different instrument sounds, reverb, or delay, for example. But this could be a good thing if all you want to do is play the piano.
You can record and save clips of what you’re playing, which is a nice feature, and this allows you to record one part, play it back, and then play something else on top.
Useful if you are writing a little. However, note that in the free version these clips will only stay in place while the program is open, to save or export the tracks you record as MP3 files, you will have to pay a small fee to update.
It comes preloaded with some very basic tracks for you to play like Amazing Grace or Mary Had a Little Lamb. The keys will light up and show you how to play, and you can slow it down or speed it up to suit.
Perhaps this is more suitable for the absolute beginner or for a child learning to play the piano. Some basic scale exercises that you can play with are also useful for anyone using this to learn to play the piano.
Other features include a metronome that can be adjusted. I found the click a bit annoying, but it works.
As with most pieces of MIDI software, you can use your computer keyboard to play if you don’t have a MIDI keyboard.
I wouldn’t recommend this because it’s very difficult to do, but Piano Time has a feature called “key mapping” that will display the corresponding keyboard letters above the relevant keys to help you play.
Sound and Performance
I found the sound to be fine. A bit of sustain and reverb make it sound quite realistic.
However, the lower notes can sound a bit quiet compared to the higher notes, and the chords don’t sound as good.
This is annoying if you are trying to play notes with your left and right hand, as the notes in the right hand tend to drown out those in the left.
This can be frustrating since a quick “stacatto” press of a key is no different than when you hold it down. This causes the notes to merge when you don’t want to or don’t sound for as long as you would have expected.
Other people have noticed that when ads load, the app can crash. This happened to me once, which was a pain.
You can get rid of the ads by paying only a small fee, so it might be worth doing if you have this problem.
If you want something a bit more advanced that allows you to edit and export your MIDI tracks, then MIDI Editor is free software that is a great introduction to some more advanced techniques.
In terms of downloading and installing, things are pretty simple.
However, unlike the previous two options, it is more traditional software that is downloaded from a website rather than the Windows app store.
Once downloaded, the setup is easy to find and here you can select your MIDI device and connect.
You should then hear a basic piano sound.
So in terms of getting a sound, it’s pretty simple. However, if you are not familiar with MIDI, you may find the software a bit confusing due to the more advanced features it has.
The display shows what is known as a “piano roll.” This is something to familiarize yourself with if you plan to use MIDI in production.
As you play on your MIDI keyboard and press record, you will see lines appear on the screen. This is a display of the digital code for each note. You can see that it shows what note was played, for how long, and other parameters like velocity.
This is what separates digital MIDI data from a traditional audio recording. It is stored as a series of numbers and then a sound is layered on top of that.
So you could play the original notes with a piano sound, but then change that to strings or a flute, for example.
Features like quantization, which automatically move poorly timed notes to the correct beat are great to play with.
Sound and Performance
As a free introduction to MIDI editing software, MidiEditor does a pretty good job.
However, there are a couple of things that frustrated me.
For example, when you record a track, you cannot see the notes displayed on the screen, you must wait until you have finished recording, and then they will appear.
This felt weird compared to the MIDI input I’m used to on a digital audio workstation (DAW).
There are also no other built-in sounds to try apart from the piano and I also couldn’t find a way to import my own sounds. Perhaps I expect too much from free software.
3. Piano 10 for Windows 10
Piano 10 is very similar in many ways to Piano Time. It is available to download from the Windows app store on any Windows device.
I plugged in my keyboard and this time it didn’t work right away. The app menus are also not the easiest to find with a series of symbol buttons to press, so I had to do a bit of random clicking to figure out how to do it.
A button that says “General MIDI” opens a menu when clicked where you should be able to activate MIDI support and then select your MIDI keyboard from the list.
So once you figure out what each button symbol means, it’s not too difficult to use.
Unlike Piano Time, Piano 10 has a few different effects and 126 different sounds that you can choose from. Including reverb, sustain, and echo, but unfortunately, only one of these can be activated at a time.
An auto chord feature is great and is a great way to help you learn different chords and chord types, as the chord keys light up as you play.
As with piano time, you can record short clips of yourself playing. You can save these clips but only as .xscore files to reopen in Piano 10 at a later time.
Also included is a metronome with adjustable bpm.
Sound and Performance
When testing the default piano sound it was fine, but pressing the keys too lightly meant that no sound was playing. So if you are trying to practice soft playing, it can be frustrating.
However, when the sustain effect is on, I thought it sounded much more realistic and felt nice to play.
While it’s great to have 126 different sounds to choose from, keep in mind that most sound pretty terrible. They are fun to play with, but you never want to use them in a performance.
Best Free Midi Keyboard Software on Mac (Apple devices)
GarageBand has to be my favorite of all the free music creation programs available. I have written entire songs on the bus using this software on my iPad and I have been happier with the sound than some tracks I spent weeks in the studio on!
It comes pre-installed on most Apple products, but if not, it can be downloaded from the app store for free.
GarageBand is a bit more advanced than some of the simple piano apps already mentioned in this article.
It’s the closest you can get to having a proper audio app without paying. A DAW is a digital audio workstation. It’s where all song artists create songs by putting tracks together.
There are many different people with different preferences. But if you’re new to the world of music recording, GarageBand is a great place to start.
This is where GarageBand excels over the other simpler applications. The possibilities are almost unlimited.
You can choose from hundreds of preloaded MIDI sounds. There are pre-made drum loops to add and play. Then when you want to add even more sounds or effects, you can download free plugins.
Because it’s a DAW, you can layer multiple tracks, MIDI, or audio to create entire songs and there are great built-in features like EQ and compression so you can even try mixing!
Sound and Performance
The preloaded sounds sound quite robotic and it is difficult to compose a complete professional sounding song using just the MIDI samples.
That of course depends on your genre, for some electronic music you can do a good job.
This may not bother you if you just want to practice the piano.
Performance is pretty good, I rarely experience latency when gaming. This depends on the age and specifications of your laptop.
Best Free Midi Keyboard Software on Android
Yes, it’s true, these days you don’t even need a computer to use a MIDI device. Now you can connect your MIDI keyboard directly to your phone or tablet and use it to create music.
As with the other devices mentioned above, you will need to download some software to do this and there are many great free options to choose from.
You may already know how to connect your Android device to a MIDI keyboard, but if you don’t, it’s very simple.
Once plugged in, the Perfect Piano app should automatically detect that a MIDI keyboard is connected and should work right away without you having to mess around with any settings. A real bonus for those who just want to connect and play.
The application has a keyboard that is configured by default for a piano sound. But you also have the option to choose from many more, from strings to synths and tons of additional free sounds to download.
There is a sustain button to create the effect of using a piano pedal and you can record your efforts in MIDI format or in audio format.
The app has some cool additional features, like “learn to play”. Where you can play while the notes descend on the screen, very similar to Guitar Hero, except that you are actually learning a real instrument.
Sound and Performance
With my Android phone, I didn’t have a noticeable lag which surprised me. I have experienced many issues with MIDI latency when using computers and laptops over the years.
I can’t guarantee you won’t have a problem, but if your phone is newer than mine, I’m sure it will be fine!
The sounds are really impressive. The piano has that programmed sound, but no more so than most MIDI pianos out there. Synths and strings are great fun to play too.
I like how you can adjust the number of keys on the screen. A feature that is often lacking in many mobile MIDI applications.
Best Premium Program For MIDI Keyboards
Now I guess you may have heard of FL Studio many times before. This two-decade-old software has been around for years and is used by many professional music producers.
Martin Garix, Avicii, Afrojack, Madeon, etc. whatever is.
Known as FruityLoops by long-term fans until 2003, they changed their name to FL Studio.
FL Studio specializes in electronic music production and allows you to create any type of audio project with its tools and features.
Whether you are a beginner or a professional, the software has a friendly design made for any level of user.
Does FL Studio work well with other instruments?
Yes, and not only the MIDI keyboard but also with other equipment.
FL Studio has four versions, including Fruity, Signature, Producer, and All Plugins Bundle. Each of them has a different price, starting at $99.
Unless you are working on a large project, you can go for the basic version, which is very inexpensive.
Released in 2001, Ableton Live has earned its way and become the most popular choice for artists looking for real-time performances on stage.
There are many reasons why you will love this software.
And what is that?
First of all, Ableton Live lets you create an automation clip directly. Second, you can turn everything into MIDI melodies, harmonies, and more. A feature that I found very limited in other DAW software.
Plus, once you purchase the highest version, you’ll have full access to your library of 70GB of sound files, 15 different instruments, and 56 audio effects to make you as creative as you want.
However, you can also go for other versions that come with a lower and affordable price, although your library will not get as much as more.
expensive version. A free trial version is also available for you to try.
Acid Pro 365
Next on the list is a solid and powerful DAW on the Windows platform.
Are you some kind of mixer who loves to play with tracks and loops?
If so, Acid Pro 365 is your perfect choice. This software was first developed as a loop-based application. Over the years, it has become a complete DAW program with advanced features that most producers will need.
Acid Pro 365 not only allows you to work with the MIDI keyboard, but also supports many other instruments while offering recording, editing, and mixing functions to streamline your workflow and create a masterpiece.
Sounds good, but is it cheap?
Although the full purchase license doesn’t come cheap, here’s a great thing you’ll love to hear.
Acid Pro 365 allows you to subscribe monthly at a very low price instead of making a one-time payment. And of course, you can still access all of its functions and library.
If you want to try the software, please take the free trial before making a decision.
Reaper is a California-based company digital audio workstation (DAW) established in 2006.
Unlike other programs, Reaper allows you to freely create your menu (toolbars, macros, etc.), as well as customize the entire look to suit your style.
The software provides you with some great features like live video, virtual instrument recording, mixing console, and many more to explore.
Do I need a super-fast computer to operate it?
Not really, you will be surprised to know that such a powerful program only weighs 66MB when fully installed, and it works perfectly on both Mac and Windows OS (Linux is in beta).
Probably the best thing about this software is its price. Reaper is very much for a personal and small business license. And you also get a 60-day trial before you buy it.
For beginners, this software takes a little time to learn and can be quite complicated. However, there is a 400-page pdf manual that you can download from their website; It could help you master the software in no time.
Producers who have been working on music production long enough since the ’90s will know this software, one of the oldest DAWs on Windows in its day.
If you don’t remember, this may ring a bell.
It started as an application called Cakewalk, it was one of the first DAW software for digital audio recording.
The software has an intuitive interface that is completely beginner-friendly. Simply put, Sonar is an easy program to learn, but it would definitely take some practice to master.
Although it was initially developed for the Windows platform, Mac users will now be happy to join in on the fun.
Sonar offers you three full-featured versions with many add-ons and functions for professional music production. It’s quite generous that buyers can access the same feature regardless of which version they pay for. Only the plugins would be different.
And don’t forget to try their free trial program, you might just love it.
Today there are many free MIDI applications and software to choose from. The key is to ask yourself, what do I need the software to do?
If it is simply to practice the piano or play games, then focus on something simple. But if you think you might want to create full tracks or use more advanced techniques, there is probably something for you too.
These music production programs listed here are our top pick for working with a MIDI keyboard. They are among the best and cheapest, including the limited-time trial for you to try them.
Once you are ready to progress, the best option is to move to a DAW of your choice. I personally use Ableton Live, which is especially good for MIDI. But there are many others to choose from. My suggestion would be to download a free trial, watch some “how-to” videos, and see which one you find best.
The possibilities for music production using MIDI are endless!
However, we all have different musical tastes as well as skills and experience, am I right?
That is why I hope this article can help you get the right software that suits your needs and style.