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Recently, I've been doing bedroom productions as a personal hobby, and I've been thinking of buying a midi keyboard, a digital piano, or a synthesizer to help me produce songs.

Right now, I'm using only Launchpad to create music, which is quite a challenge.

This is why I decided to buy a midi keyboard, a digital piano, or a synthesizer, taking advantage of my experience of playing the piano in the past, but when I looked into it, I found that there are quite a few different types. Not only the number of keys, but also the presence or absence of pads, knobs, sliders, and so on, there are a wide range of differences.

So, after a while of research, I settled on one candidate. Since my room is not very big, so the number of keys is small, but I am thinking of Novation's Launchkey with 49 keys or 61 keys.

Not only because I use Novation's equipment, but also because from what I've researched it seems to fit what I want to do.

So my question is, is it better to have more keys, or is it okay with fewer keys for music production? How important is it when you are creating music?

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  • FYI: I've removed the production recommendation part of your question. Product recommendations are off-topic on this SE.
    – Aaron
    Aug 25, 2021 at 5:12
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    @Aaron Oh, thanks. I just read the Tour and was about to delete the last sentence when I realized that this was a bad idea.
    – Skye-AT
    Aug 25, 2021 at 5:13
  • The question for you is: are you a skilled pianist and can you imagine making use of the additional octave? Or do you think you can get away with using octave transpose buttons? It's a dilemma between convenience vs desk space and price. For some people 25 keys are enough. Aug 25, 2021 at 5:14
  • I'm an experienced pianist, but no experience with production, so I can't give a good answer. It might help get you better answers, though, if you describe the kind of music you're working on. It's easy to imagine that something ambient and electronic just needs a single octave midi controller; whereas something Chopin-esque or orchestral might be easier with a full 88 keys.
    – Aaron
    Aug 25, 2021 at 5:21
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    It’s easy to use fewer keys than you have. It only gets tough when you need more… I can’t subscribe to the idea that you can have ‘too many’
    – Tetsujin
    Aug 25, 2021 at 11:59

4 Answers 4

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An instrument is a set of easy-to-do vs. hard-to-do factors. The instruments and tools you use for composing and arranging - just like your personal skills as well - are bound to affect the actual content you produce, not only how quickly you get it done. If something is very hard to do with your tools, you may find yourself seeking to do something else instead, even if your music requires that hard-to-do element. And if something is very easy to do with your tools, you may find yourself doing that more than would be good for the end-result.

For some genres and types of music production, it's not important to have a keyboard at all, but for others it might be essential. Many hip-hop producers do everything with a 4x4 drum pad.

Do you want to play full-range piano? Then you need a full-range piano keyboard. But on the other hand, if you have a full-range piano, you may be tempted to play full-range piano, even if it is detrimental to your music. For a lot of types of pop music, it's better NOT to have a wide range, NOT to play too many notes simultaneously, and NOT to have velocity sensitivity for each note. Instead, have a very controlled number of elements, each with a very controlled range of pitches and dynamics. This might be perfectly doable on a 2-octave keyboard.

  • Backing chords: 2 octaves are enough
  • Lead melody: 2 octaves are enough
  • Drum pattern: 2 octaves are enough
  • Bass line: 2 octaves are enough

For sketching out a full chord progression with low bass and chords at the same time, 2 octaves is too narrow, 3-4 octaves are needed. But you don't have to do it that way, and there's a danger that you'll start making pianist-style things.

If you have too many keys, too many tracks, too many instruments, too many presets, too many plugins, too easily available, you might lose control and focus over what you're really trying to do.

Still, if you want to play a full-range piano part like a pianist, it's better to have a full-range piano keyboard. It's not the tools, it's what you do with them.

You could even look at your current situation as an opportunity. :) The Launchpad makes you think about the notes you play in a different way, doesn't it? Personally, I sometimes like to play new unfamiliar instruments where it's hard to produce notes, because then I'll have to think more about what notes to play and when. These notes are expensive, so I'll have to make every note count! If notes are cheap, you'll produce low-value music... right? ;)

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  • Oh... Now I think I know why my friend has been composing songs with the OP-1 for so long. The last sentence you added is certainly understandable, and the spirit of trying to compose good music out of a difficult to use device is definitely in me. (or maybe the OP-1 just looks difficult to use to me, but is actually easy to use?) It's very gratifying to have these realizations. Thank you very much.
    – Skye-AT
    Aug 25, 2021 at 9:51
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    There are lots of interesting tools for writing music, and each one gives a different result. I've written chiptune music in assembly code, because I had read that Rob Hubbard used to do it that way. It takes a lot of time and focusing, but is completely doable and produces its own unique results. I added a remark about sketching bass+chords at the same time requiring more than 2 octaves, if that's a thing you want to do. Aug 25, 2021 at 10:21
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    I spent a year back in the day making what was in effect chip tune music for a living. . I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than go through that again;)
    – Tetsujin
    Aug 25, 2021 at 11:57
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    @tetsujin A book! A book!
    – Tom
    Aug 25, 2021 at 20:56
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    @Tom - this would not be an exciting chapter ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Aug 26, 2021 at 5:12
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Regardless of the genre of music you’re interested in or your proficiency level on keyboard the difference between the two is 163mm or less than 7” in length. I’m pretty sure you will at some point wish you had the larger keyboard if you get the 49 key controller. You probably will never wish you had those 7 extra inches of space if you get the 61 key controller.

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  • I did say that I don't have a lot of space, but this question is less about space and more about if the number of keys is important, why is the number of keys important? That's what I'm wondering. If you think that if I buy a 49-key keyboard in the future I will wish I had bought a 61-key keyboard in the future-future(?), why did you think I would think that in the future-future-future(???)?
    – Skye-AT
    Aug 25, 2021 at 7:20
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    61 keys gives you more range for playing. You have access to more notes without having to press an octave transpose button. It especially comes in handy when you are playing with both hands. It sounds to me by your comments that you’re interested in playing the keyboard, not just producing music. The more you play the more you will discover the limitations of 49 keys. For example, if you want to practice scales in both hands you can only play a C scale for 2 octaves. Any other key you will run out of notes trying to play 2 octaves. Aug 25, 2021 at 7:41
  • @Skye-AT If you already have 8x8 pads and your goal in expanding to a controller with keys includes to do piano lesson books and develop keyboarding skills I would really consider a midi keyboard with weighted keys and continue to use the Launchpad as controller. If you just want to be able to add chords and melodies while DJing from an all-in-one unit, people do amazing things on 25.
    – Affe
    Aug 26, 2021 at 19:32
  • @Affe I do have plans to use Launchpad in the future. That's also why I chose Launchkey in the first place. If it's made by the same manufacturer, I can use it with some understanding of its peculiarities. Well, now I'm thinking of another midi keyboard based on the ideas I got here... but that will be another story.
    – Skye-AT
    Aug 26, 2021 at 21:24
  • @Skye-AT understood, just saying, as a Launchkey user myself, I think of it more as a controller with key-shaped pads than a piano that also has controller features, and always go back to my actual piano to do any piano practice/keyboard playing :)
    – Affe
    Aug 26, 2021 at 21:38
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As an erstwhile pianist, you will probably regret not having a full size keyboard for when you decide to be a pianist again. Trouble is, there aren't that many controllers that have weighted keys, which narrows the field even more!

If all you'll be doing is production, then a range of 4 octaves will do for most, but you'll be using the octave shift button quite a lot. There's also 76 key controllers, which might fill the compromise. But from my prespective, I'd be moving furniture round to accommodate the most keys possible, making it more future-proof.

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  • Hmmm. Actually, there's a possibility that I'll be moving to a larger room in the near future, due to work. Maybe I should wait a little longer and think about this after I've decided whether or not I'm going to move. Actually, there are a few 88-key ones that I like. I decided not to buy one because of the size issue, though.
    – Skye-AT
    Aug 25, 2021 at 8:43
  • I used to have a 61-key midi keyboard, and when it died I bought a full 88-key version. I used the 61-key one to compose all the time, but now I do 97% of my compositions on the guitar because the 88 is just too bulky to keep it set up all the time. I now find it's easier to pick up a guitar and start jamming than it is to pull a 5 ft long instrument out of the closet, set it up, play with virtual instrument settings for 30 minutes to find something that sort of matches the sound in my head, etc... Aug 25, 2021 at 16:02
  • @dissemin8or There may be a way to do that, but I don't think stringed instruments are for me... I tried many stringed instruments in the past, but none of them worked out. Well, I can't argue if you say that piano is technically a string instrument. I wish you all the best on your path to success with stringed instruments!
    – Skye-AT
    Aug 25, 2021 at 18:18
  • @Skye-AT I wasn't suggesting that you take up guitar, just offering a contrasting view to Tim's answer that more keys = better doesn't always work out, especially with space constraints or where you don't have a permanent music setup. Aug 25, 2021 at 18:20
  • @dissemin8or I see. If so, I don't see a problem with that. While composing music is my personal hobby, but my job itself is to contribute articles to music-related magazines and occasionally DJ on live streaming sites, so I have a room for music. Right now, that room is a bit small, but I may be moving to the bigger room in the near future, so I'll think about it again then. Thanks for giving me another perspective.
    – Skye-AT
    Aug 25, 2021 at 19:08
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Although I'm more of a "performing" pianist/keyboard player than producer-of-tracks, etc., my long-ago self-delusion that cheaper-and-smaller keyboards would "be perfectly fine", especially since full keyboards, and touch-sensitive ones, were much more expensive... proved indeed to be that: delusional.

Even though piano music, whether Beethoven-Brahms or Tatum/Peterson, doesn't so often go to the extremes, sometimes it does. Also, a person who semi-seriously studied piano with the full 88 will have acquired some sense of that, and will expect those extreme keys to be available when desired, even if rarely. When playing on shorter keyboards, and accompanying, I've found my fingers hitting outside the keyboard for quite innocent reasons... and it's distracting.

And having weighted keys, although a further expense, is another thing a person will be thankful for, years and years after the investment. "For just pennies a day", as they say.

On the other hand, if you really are not thinking of yourself as a keyboard person at all, and truly never want to be, then, yeah, a keyboard is just yet-another controller, and need not conform to any sort of performance issues... Still, you might change your mind later...

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