These days, MIDI keyboard controllers can do so many things that you’ll find them in most of the world’s best studios. But, sometimes, having too many functions and features can be pretty daunting and slow your progress as a beginner.
So, I’ve picked out the best MIDI keyboards for beginners in 2023. My picks are easy-to-use controllers that provide excellent value for money for any beginner.
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What to look for in a MIDI keyboard as a beginner?
Here are a few things that you should consider when buying a MIDI keyboard controller as a beginner.
Sticking to your budget
Everyone wants value for money, but it’s especially important for a beginner to make the right purchase. If you have yet to invest enough time in music to be sure that it’s a long-term endeavor, you don’t want to spend a lot of money that might go to waste.
Set a budget, and stick to it.
Identify must-have features
Forget the idea that more functions and features are always better. Think about what inspired you to get into making music. If it’s piano-driven music, your priority might be getting the most keys for your money. If it’s beatmaking, you might want a controller with some performance pads.
Whatever it is, identify the features you can’t do without, the things that will help you learn how to make the kind of music you enjoy, and forget the rest.
Keep it simple
Look for a controller that’s easy to set up and easy to use. Avoid controllers with a convoluted workflow; for example, if you have to press multiple buttons to do a straightforward thing, it’s no good.
These are the best MIDI keyboards and controllers for beginners:
The best keyboard controller for beginners
The Nektar SE61 is perfect for starters who want to make piano-driven music but aren’t yet ready for a serious investment. It has 61 keys, no unnecessary distractions, and is under $100. It ticks all of the beginner boxes.
Nektar’s SE61 is a simple MIDI controller with 61 velocity-sensitive keys and four levels of touch sensitivity. Adjusting the touch sensitivity level can make a significant difference when changing your style of play or virtual instrument type.
You’ll have plenty of virtual instruments to choose from as the SE61 comes with a free copy of Bitwig Studio 8-Track, including over 50 instruments and effects.
The SE61 is larger than most controllers on this list, but it’s still light enough to be considered portable at under 7 lbs.
It has full-size pitch bend and modulation wheels, along with basic transport controls and octave buttons. It also has a 1/4″ pedal input. There are no more significant features to discuss, which, in this case, is a good thing.
Another thing that might appeal to beginners is the black and red design; it looks pretty cool.
The most fun MIDI controller for beginners
The Arturia MicroLab is one of the best starter MIDI controllers because it’s fun! It’s a quality product, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously, which inspires learning.
The MicroLab is a portable MIDI keyboard controller that comes in a range of colors. The available colors are bright and vibrant, which takes away the seriousness of learning.
It has 25 velocity-sensitive mini keys; the keys are very light, and most beginners will prefer that. There are no pitch or mod wheels, but you get a pair of touch strips instead.
Above the touch strips are some octave buttons and the Chord Mode button. Chord Mode is a fantastic feature for beginners and one I don’t often see on such small controllers. It allows you to trigger advanced chords from a single note. Not only does it make it easier to play complex chords, but it also encourages beginners to learn about harmony.
The MiniLab comes with Bitwig Studio 8-Track, Analog Lab Lite, and more.
Alesis V25 Mk2
The best all-rounder for beginners
The Alesis V25 is one of my top picks because it provides features that will help beginners develop without overwhelming them. It’s a serious production tool, but still incredibly easy to use. I also love that it has full-size keys.
The Alesis V25 Mk2 is a small keyboard controller with 25 full-size, velocity-sensitive keys. It’s not typical for such a compact controller to have full-size keys, so that’s a massive positive for the V25. It also has a few more production tools than most controllers on the list.
It has eight velocity-sensitive performance pads that are slightly small but not too bad, considering the size of the controller. The pads are good, not great, but certainly more than enough for a beginner.
Next up, it has four assignable knobs, pitch/mode wheels, and dedicated Full Level and Note Repeat buttons. Note Repeat adds an authentic drum machine feel to using the performance pads.
Once you get to grips with those features, it has a six-mode arpeggiator built-in, with tap tempo, time division, swing, and gate controls. It’s a proper music production controller.
An ultra-portable controller for starters
Keyboard controllers don’t come much more straightforward than Korg’s microKEY-37. It’s extremely compact, has an expressive keyboard, and has very few controls. It’s perfect for beginners.
The microKEY-37 is a compact, portable MIDI keyboard controller with 37 mini keys. Korg has done a great job with the keyboard; while it’s never going to feel like a piano, it does share the same expressive keyboard as the microKORG XL+.
Despite its small size, it still has proper pitch bend and modulation wheels, which makes it suitable for playing anything from piano sounds to synth leads.
The microKEY-37 is just over 2 lbs in weight and a little over 20 inches in length, making it one of the most compact controllers on the market. If you don’t have a designated studio space and want to make music wherever your imagination and laptop/tablet takes you, the microKEY-37 is ideal.
It comes with the latest versions of the Korg Module and Module Le apps.
Akai LPD8 Mk2
The best beginner controller for beatmakers
The LPD8 is everything a first-time beatmaker needs: high-quality MPC-style pads and thousands of free samples. Even as a relatively cheap unit, the pads are so good that it will stay with you through advanced playing. Of course, you have to be sure you can live without keys for now.
I’ve gone for something a little different here; no keys, one for the pure beatmakers.
The Akai LPD8 is a simple but effective pad controller. It has eight MPC-style velocity-sensitive pads that are amongst the best available. The pads are highly responsive, and that’s important if you want to make tracks with realistic and impactful dynamics.
It has eight fully-assignable endless rotary knobs that you can use to control levels, plugin parameters, etc. Combining the ability to tweak parameters on the fly with live-triggering samples makes this tiny unit capable of seriously creative performances.
The included software bundle is just as impressive as the MPC-style pads. The bundle starts with the MPC Beats DAW, which is a fantastic starting point for beginners. It also features a selection of AIR Music Tech plugins, including Hybrid, Velvet, and MiniGrand.
Last but not least, you’ll get a collection of MPC Sound Packs with over 1000 samples.
I love these MIDI controllers, but keep in mind, it’s not about which ones are best, it’s about which ones are best for beginners. My picks are MIDI controllers that I believe will help beginners start making music quickly and develop new skills along the way.