Keyboard Recommendations

Keyboard Controllers

As a student of contemporary music at Berklee, your work here will make use of a variety of music technology applications on your laptop computer. In many of your classes, you’ll use your computer as a tool to learn about music. To do so successfully, you’ll need to use a keyboard controller to get your musical ideas into the computer. While many of you may already have a keyboard, every student at Berklee, regardless of your intended major, will need access to a keyboard controller to be successful not only at Berklee but in your future career.

There are many different keyboard controllers available. If you do not currently have a keyboard that you can bring to Berklee with you, you will need to purchase one. There are several important points to consider:

  1. USB connectivity: The keyboard should be able to connect directly to your laptop computer using a standard USB connection. (The majority of keyboards you’ll find in music stores and online retailers connect using USB.)
  2. Bus powered: The keyboard should ideally get electricity from your laptop through its USB cable connection, without the need for batteries or an external power supply.
  3. Class compliant: Your laptop should be able to recognize the keyboard once it’s connected, without the need for additional software or configuration to make it work. Think of class compliant keyboards as “plug-and-play.” If a keyboard is class compliant, this will be mentioned in its specifications.
  4. Real time control: Most keyboards have both a pitch-bend wheel and a modulation wheel as standard controllers. To make the most of the software you’ll be using, we recommend that you consider buying a keyboard that has extra knobs and/or faders for added sound control. Some keyboards are also equipped with drum pads, which can be very helpful when programming drum parts.

Keyboard controllers come in different sizes, based on the number of keys. You’ll want to choose a keyboard based on how you anticipate using it and the major(s) or course of study in which you are interested.

  • 25-note keyboards (two octaves) are fine if all you plan on doing is using the keyboard to play single-handed melody and bass parts, as well as simple chord voicings. These keyboards are less expensive than larger models and can serve the basic needs of instrumentalists who are not piano principles, and those who don’t anticipate pursuing a writing major such as composition, film scoring, or contemporary writing and production.
  • 49-note keyboards (four octaves) are the minimum size needed to play two-handed keyboard parts. Anyone who plans on accompanying themselves or playing keyboard parts in an ensemble should consider a keyboard of this size.
  • 61-note keyboards (five octaves) are the standard size for a keyboard synthesizer and cover most of the note range found in popular music. Piano principles should consider this size keyboard for practicing basic repertoire. In addition, students planning to pursue a writing major will want to seriously consider a keyboard of this size. (Some professional orchestral sample libraries that are available have a feature called “key-switching” that allows you to change instrumental articulations as you play a part. The extended range of a 61-note keyboard makes this much more practical for the user.)

If you have questions about any of this, please feel free to discuss your needs with your teachers. Berklee’s Student Computer Support Center is also available to answer any questions you may have.

While Berklee does not endorse any particular brand or model of keyboard, below are three manufacturers that offer models incorporating the suggested considerations. Here’s a comparison chart of keyboards that you might consider. The cost of these can vary, so check local and online retailers for current pricing.

 

Make and Model

Keys

Controls

Drumpads

AKAI MPK Mini

25

8

8

AKAI MPK 25

25

12

12

AKAI MPK 49

49

16

12

AKAI MPK 61

61

16

16

M-Audio Oxygen 25 MK3

25

8

0

M-Audio Oxygen 49 MK3

49

16

0

M-Audio Oxygen 61

61

16

0

Alesis QX25

25

8

4

Alesis QX49

49

16

4

Alesis QX61

61

16

4