Using your computer to make music

I had a composer friend who is trying to setup his computer to do notation. We talked a bit about whether to also include audio recording [which I recommended]. I thought I would post and edited version of what I emailed him.

First decision: Do you get a box that does just MIDI, or both MIDI and audio?

  • MIDI will allow the computer to memorize what notes are played on the keyboard, and then the computer can play the keyboards [i.e. mimic exactly what you played].
  • If you get a box that will do both MIDI & audio then you can ALSO record the audio [the computer can be a big tape recorder]

Here is an article on connecting the keyboard and the computer if you get just the MIDI box. It also has links to Amazon for midi interfaces:

Midi + Audio boxes range from $100 to $3000.

In general the more $ you spend the better the quality – but fortunately for your wallet you are not trying to create a professional recording studio at your house! The inexpensive ones will do just fine.

The big thing decision is how many audio tracks do you want to record at the same time? Some boxes will only do one, some 2, some 4, or 8 or 16 or 24.

Note that you can playback multiple tracks at the same time with all of them – the limitation is how many audio tracks you can RECORD at the same time.


Here’s a list of several audio+MIDI interfaces:


Personally, I prefer the PreSonus interfaces – they come with recording software that is excellent {Studio One “Artist”}. I actually use the “Producer” version in my studio to record albums. You can think of Studio One as Garageband on steroids.


The only other thing you’d need to record audio would be  a Microphone and Mic cable – if you wanted to record your bass or Marina’s violin – and/or some 1/4″ cables to connect your keyboard to the interface box.

Oh – and you’ll need to hook some speakers up somewhere – or you can use headphones.



Notation Software

Since you already have Finale, you have the software in place. The idea of just playing something on the keyboard and the software magically creating the notation is a nice dream, but the reality is much more complicated. That is primarily because Notation is complicated!

Finale DOES have the ability to record the MIDI data from the keyboard a few ways.

  • The first method gives you a metronome – you play the part, and it transcribes the music. How well it works depends on how accurately you play.
  • The second method lets you play the whole part. Finale records what you played. Then you go back and mark where the barlines and beats are – THEN Finale creates the notation.
  • The 3rd method – what I use most of the time – is a bit more manual. You plunk the key on the Karma, then a number on hte computer keypad to tell Finale what the note value is [5 = quarter note, 6 = half note, etc]

There is a free piece of software that does notation as well – Musescore. It doesn’t do as much a Finale does, though.


Audio Software

If you get the Presonus audio/interface interface, it will come with a copy of Studio One Artist. You can use that for any audio recording.

They also have a free version of Studio One available – it doesn’t do as much as the Artist version, but works quite well and has unlimited tracks. It also records and plays back MIDI data – so you can

  • play something on the keyboard,
  • have the software memorize [record] the midi notes
  • Then you go in a edit the midi note – delete extra notes, move them around, change pitches, add notes, etc.
  • When it is perfect, you hit the play button. Computer “plays” the keyboard, keyboard makes the sound, and computer records the resulting [perfect] audio


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