Although it would take a special person to use solely a keyboard, learning how to DJ with a MIDI keyboard and adapt it as part of your setup is simple. However, as stated, it is perhaps best that you don’t attempt to use one as the main feature of your setup. It will be very difficult to scratch and crossfade, as an example, without a turntable and a mixer. Although this isn’t to say that it’s impossible for someone to create something new and special with the current technology.
It wasn’t that long ago that people were blown away by a DJ’s ability to rhythmically match the tempo of two different tracks to perfect the transition between songs. This technique, not too long ago sought after, is now one of the most basic and traditional skills of a professional DJ. With the advent of computer software and digital pairing, it is now possible for one person to run a DJ setup alongside a MIDI keyboard.
How to DJ With A Keyboard
This page will assist you in first setting up your keyboard before providing more information on how to DJ with a MIDI keyboard. Since every DJ has a different style, and possibly, a different setup, there are many different ways to approach answering this question. For starters, let’s go ahead and break down the simple steps involved in including your MIDI keyboard along with for your setup. This will include information for both the rising digital setups which use software and the more classic ones without a computer connection of any sort.
Learning how to DJ with a MIDI keyboard can be difficult for people who are not used to using a keyboard. A typical keyboard comes with its potential use in mind. There are portable MIDI keyboards which are great for software which can map the buttons for different uses. There are also full-scale keyboards which can come with their own voices and simply just need a PA system to boost them. For DJ systems, the first example is probably the most likely candidate for your professional setup.
Table of Contents
Step 1. Get a Suitable MIDI Controller
Depending on your setup, you need to get a certain type of MIDI controller. If you plan on using a DJ software which can turn a MIDI controller into a sampler, for example, there are certain things you need to consider. Keyboard expression is another thing to consider for those who want their sounds to vary based on how hard they hit the keys, how quickly the sounds cut in and out, and so on.
Those who use classic setups (shout out to those who still use turntables), will need to get a controller that can hook up into their mixer itself. These sorts of controllers need to have their own synth voices since you don’t use a computer to program certain samples and synth voices. If you use a computer, odds are high that you will be able to pay a lot less and have a smaller controller than those who need one with its own synth voices.
Step 2. Reconsider Your Software
When getting new equipment for DJing, you start a stressful process. We all know the joy that comes with a setup that is familiar and has been tested for several gigs. Adding new equipment, however, is always one of the most difficult, time-consuming, and threatening processes to your mental health. Sure, getting nice gear is always a huge plus. However, learning how to use it and set it up can be a terrible experience if you aren’t sure to do all of your research.
This starts with the software. If you use any of the “Big 3” DJ software options: Serato, Traktor, or Virtual DJ, you are more than likely fine. However, if you use software which isn’t, or doesn’t match up with these, then you should reconsider whether or not your software is suitable for handling a MIDI keyboard in the first place. Finally, make sure that you will be comfortable working with your software and troubleshooting when the inevitable happens and the keyboard doesn’t work properly right away.
Step 3. Map Out Your Controls
This can be either simple or seemingly-impossible, depending on your level of skill and the software that you use. If you don’t use software which supports MIDI, you will never be able to DJ with a MIDI keyboard. However, those who aren’t comfortable with their software (hint: Step 2) might spend all night using search engines with their exact products trying to find detailed instructions on how to map out your controls.
Those who use one of the major platforms are in luck. There are already detailed instructions on how to map MIDI controllers for Virtual DJ, Traktor, and Serato. Start by ensuring that your controlling is supported by your software, then make sure you can map the controls by yourself. If not, you can always get some help from that friend of yours who knows audio equipment really well. We all have a friend like this. Worst case scenario, spend hours on the internet searching your MIDI controllers name next to your software until you figure things out.
For External Systems: Plug Keyboard into Mixer
Although using a MIDI controller might imply that you want to use a computer along with it, this isn’t always the case. In fact, many MIDI controllers come with their own synth voices, allowing you to simply plug in the controller and start playing through the PA system. To plug in your keyboard to your mixer, first, start by glancing at the audio outputs of the controller and seeing what your options are. If you are lucky, you will see red and white RCA audio plugins on the back. Of course, these are one of the most common plug-ins on a traditional DJ mixer.
However, it’s also important to look at your mixer to see what needs to connect to the controller. In all reality, there are many different possible means of connecting your controller to the mixer. If it doesn’t appear that you have the right cords, or that they are available, there is likely an adapter you can find easily online to help you connect the controller to your mixer. You might, for example, need an RCA to 1/4″ adapter to plug the keyboard into your mixer.
For External Systems: Experiment with Synth Voices
Many people who want to use a keyboard as part of a DJ setup might have a friend that they bring along with them who can really play the keyboard. These people might already be in luck, since their friend may have a keyboard that is suitable. However, if this scenario doesn’t apply to you, you will need to find the right synth voices or features which will add the right flavor to your live sets.
Synth voices are the “voices” which come out the speaker when you press down on the keys. They can sound like a traditional piano, or even be used to sounds like a guitar or endless other possibilities. With a little bit of experimentation, you will quickly be able to find a collection of voices which will work well with your sets. However, try to avoid the dry and over-sampled synth voices and make your selection a sample of your individual style.
How to DJ with a MIDI Keyboard: Different Uses
Using a MIDI keyboard along with a DJ setup is actually quite practical. When you consider the many different ways you can use some creativity and make your sets sounds original, those who are already comfortable with their setup may consider trying a MIDI keyboard. It could be used as a sampler, for adding harmony, for adding a bassline, some extra personalized control, or for something of your own creation. In the end, your personal creativity is the limit for what you can do. In most cases, this is endless.
DJ with a MIDI Keyboard: As a Sampler
Sampling is when you take the files of your choosing and play them at certain points in your set. This is not to be confused with the production term “sampling” where you take a new track and flip it to make it something suitable for today.
In DJing, samplers are a popular tool which allows you to take sounds of your choosing and play them using buttons. Using a velocity-sensitive MIDI keyboard, you can recreate your favorite sounds in a harmonious and beautiful manner. Since samplers allow you to constantly add new sounds to the mix, this can be an endless source of fun as a DJ.
DJ with a MIDI Keyboard: Adding Some Harmony
Note: many DJs need not apply here. This is for people who can both play the piano and the wheels of steel. Sometimes, a song seems so bare by itself. Many older songs, for example, could use an extra kick while you are gigging at a wedding. If you can play the piano: use this to your advantage.
Adding a little bit of harmony can make you stand out. Imagine how awesome it would be for past clients to go around and so that their DJ could add harmony (or melodies!) to the track. Stories like this are usually also the ones that translate into more work for the future.
DJ with a MIDI Keyboard: Adding a Bassline
Like the previous idea, this is for people that can play the piano. However, the stipulation here is that you also need to have an ear for the key, basic music theory, and so on. With an extra bassline at your disposal, you can quickly turn a dull transition full of snare and hi-hats and transform it into something unique.
Putting some bass on the track will separate yourself from a small-time bar DJ to one that should be working at various venues full-time. Since clubs and bars tend to be the gigs more focused on the bass, being able to use bass as a tool for transitions and effects could be a very powerful one to add to your resume.
DJ with a MIDI Keyboard: Personalized Control
Sometimes there is something missing from your setup. Usually, this is something which can be fixed with an extra button. As an example, some DJs like to cut the bass when they are dropping the bass of the new club banger. However, knobs can sometimes make this very difficult. Especially if the bass is cut and quickly again boosted.
This is just one example where you might want to have a MIDI controller at your disposal and then mapping it to be used as a bass-kill. However, there are countless other things that you could do. In the end, whatever needs you have the most for your individual setup which you imagine a button could be used to fix is what could actually be easily fixed.
DJ with a MIDI Keyboard: Adding Your Own Flavor
We all love to hear something new. When somebody has a sound or technique which is innovative, we become excited about the craft again. As a child witnessing the magic of a professional DJ, there is something magical about hearing a new technique today. As a result, try to push yourself and separate from the crowd. Try new techniques, experiment with that new idea you had, use a new synth voice, try a new type of software, and so on.
DJ With A Midi Keyboard: Summary
In the end, you are the one which is responsible for how successful you become a DJ. If you learn how to DJ with a MIDI keyboard, you will only make one further step towards separating yourself from the crowd. Those who know how the piano will undoubtedly have the most potential for adding a MIDI keyboard to their setup.
However, those who simply need a sampler could gain a considerable amount of satisfaction from having a small MIDI keyboard for their DJ name drops, effects, or whatever sort of file you imagine possible.