The vast majority of MIDI keyboards on the market today can be plugged into any computer through the USB port, and most have auto-mapping programs available for download for easy integration with your GarageBand software. There are a wide range of models available across different price points, with the more expensive models generally having more knob and fader options, larger keyboards, and additional features. Pads can be useful especially for programming percussion and rhythms; knobs are helpful for panning tracks; faders can be utilized for a host of mixing applications, like volume or reverb. Consider which of these controls you’d ideally have on your MIDI controller before starting to shop so you know exactly what you’re looking for. Here are our recommendations for the 4 best MIDI keyboards for GarageBand on the market.
Akai Professional MPK49
Designed for use both in recording studios and live performances, the MPK49 has 49 semi-weighted keys along with 12 MPC pads with adjustable sensitivity. It also features 8 pots with 3 banks each, giving you 24 to work with to give you full control of your sound field. The features (see full specs) on the MPK49 are what truly sets it apart, like note repeat and an arpeggiator that allows you to quickly create lines. It also has presets for a host of other features, making it the ideal all in one MIDI controller.
Novation 49 SL MKII
The 49 semi-weighted keys on the Novation MKII (see full specs) play like a real instrument, which makes it an especially excellent controller for pianists who want the feel of a keyboard on their MIDI controls. A 61-key version is available for a bit more money, if you’d also like a full keyboard, but given the wealth of other controls this model offers, you won’t need more than 49. The area above the keyboard features eight knobs and eight sliders, all of which can be automapped to the controls of major production software, including GarageBand, while the easy to read LCD display shows you exactly what each knob or fader is controlling without breaking your creative flow. Bar none, this is one of the best MIDI keyboards for GarageBand.
M-Audio Oxygen 49 MK III
For under $200, the Oxygen 49 can satisfy all of your music production needs. It has eight knobs and nine sliders, all of which can be customized, and a DirectLink mode to automatically map the controls to commonly used functions like a mixer or a track pan; you can easily download a DirectLink package for GarageBand. The controller is easy to install and use, and the dedicated select buttons let you switch quickly between channels and presets. Though affordable it’s anything but cheap in quality, with a solid construction and great response on the 49 velocity-sensitive keys. This just might be the best GarageBand MIDI controller for the money.
Korg equipment is well-known for its performance and durability—and for under $100, you can’t beat the Microkey25. It’s a simpler controller than the models above, making it perfect for both relative beginners and more experienced users who prefer a cleaner layout. It has plug and play connectivity through USB to your computer and the compact size makes it very portable. Other features include arpeggiation and sustain controls, easy octave shift and key transpose to access the full tonal range, and a joystick that can be assigned to a range of controls, including pitch bend and modulation.
MIDI Controllers vs. Digital Keyboards
Conventional wisdom for a digital keyboard that’s used in performance is to get as many keys as you can afford—the full 88 is considered ideal—along with a weighted touch to emulate a true piano’s play. For a keyboard being used to control software, like GarageBand, the requirements are significantly different.
Unless you’re a professional pianist who prefers the controller to feel like an actual piano, the full range of 88 keys is unnecessary for the purposes of composing and arranging. Even for the most complex arrangements, the best MIDI keyboard for GarageBand might only need 49 keys, strictly speaking. If you are a professional pianist and have a MIDI keyboard, it may work just fine as a controller for GarageBand if you’re using it mostly for the notes and less for the additional functions. Even so, many pianists find a specific keyboard designed for MIDI control is more helpful than the full range of keys when it comes time for digital composition and arranging.
The other major difference between a digital keyboard and a MIDI controller that’s ideal to use for GarageBand is that the typical MIDI controller is not designed to play audible music. You can hear the notes you input into GarageBand through your headphones or computer speakers, but most keyboards designed for use as a MIDI interface will not have built-in speakers and are not generally designed to be played as a musical instrument. Again, if dual functionality is important to you, you can use any digital keyboard to control GarageBand so long as it can be connected through the USB port, but for most people the lack of speakers is actually a benefit, preventing the sound coming out of your instrument from interfering with the sound from the program.
While you can program your new keyboard by knob, there are also programs to map the most common and useful functions to certain controls on your keyboard. This can save a great deal of time, and is especially helpful for newcomers to the world of GarageBand who aren’t yet accustomed to the controls. To map the controls to the keyboard, the device shares its profile with the software program. Each profile is unique and tailored to the specific model of your controller. You can download these profiles from the website of the company who manufactured your MIDI device. Typically sliders are mapped to fade or volume controls and knobs are mapped to pan settings or device controls; these settings can be adjusted later, if you’d prefer a different set-up.
But . . . these mapping functions are after you purchase what you consider the best MIDI keyboard for GarageBand, and we hope this article has narrowed down your choice. Good luck!