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This question is motivated by the following reality:

The Brazillian real is a very depreciated currency compared with US dollar; 1 US dollar = 5 Reals.

I want to compose orchestrated soundtracks and ambient/atmospheric music like the references [1], [2] and [3]. Totally with digital instruments. I'm working with a 2 octaves in a midi keyboard app in a samsung tablet, three digital faders from another app called "DawIt" to control the expression/dynamics/vibratos and the HD201 Sennheiser headphone.

Idealy, I would require a 88 midi keyboard controller, a midi faderbox with 4 long faders (or more) and audio monitors. But, I don't know if this ideal set is mandatory to produce something professional or close to it. I'm feeling that with this controller here [4] and their faders, I would do the job. So, please, I would aprreciate if you share your experience.

Therefore, my question is:

With the 61 keys midi controller [4], and its "small" faders, will I be able to produce something professional? Or, in other words, what sorts of problems a 61 keys and small faders would bring to me when I sit to work with it aiming to produce for films and video games?

$[1]$

$[2]$

$[3]$

$[4]$ https://produto.mercadolivre.com.br/MLB-1122837872-amw-p61x-teclado-controlador-midi-61-teclas-pads-knobs-loja-_JM?attributes=COLOR_SECONDARY_COLOR%3AUHJldG8%3D&quantity=1

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    The exchange rate tells us nothing about your purchasing power.
    – phoog
    Apr 14, 2023 at 5:18
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    The vast majority of piano music rarely touches the top and bottom octaves of the 88-key keyboard. Part of this is because prior to the 1800's or so, they didn't even exist. But even more recently composed music uses those ranges sparingly if at all. They're nice to have when you need them, but not very commonly used (especially the upper range). So you can certainly get away with writing good music without them. Apr 14, 2023 at 13:28
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    2 keys can be enough, e.g. for Jaw soundtrack. Apr 15, 2023 at 12:19
  • I appreciate the answers.
    – M.N.Raia
    Apr 17, 2023 at 16:41

3 Answers 3

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No, you do not need 88 keys.

You could produce film soundtracks with 0 keys- everything can be programmed nowadays. Of course, many prefer to record MIDI, and 61 keys will be sufficient at that. How many instruments in the orchestra have greater than a 5 octave range? If you need access to lower or higher notes, just transpose by an octave (or two). Some people get by with 25 keys and transposing, though I wouldn't recommend it.

In the rare event that you need access to lower and higher notes at the same time, there are a few options- you could play the lower notes an octave higher and correct then manually after recording. You could play the wrong notes entirely and correct them after recording. You could first record the lower part and then record the higher, transposing the keyboard as necessary. You could just skip the notes you can't reach and program them in afterwards.

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    Also, many small MIDI controllers have an "octave shift" button. My keyboard skills aren't good enough to play my intent in real time, but I still appreciate using a keyboard to input pitches (e.g. in a notation app, using the other hand to adjust durations). In this scenario one could hop octaves even while inputting. Apr 13, 2023 at 17:38
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    Another way to produce film soundtracks with zero keys is to write out the music and record musicians performing it. Apr 13, 2023 at 18:33
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    @ToddWilcox I guess I did overlook that, but if OP can't afford an 88 key keyboard....
    – Edward
    Apr 13, 2023 at 22:21
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88 keys are very useful if you intend to PLAY the keyboard in a pianistic style. Otherwise your 61 keys will be fine. I wouldn't be surprised to learn of a modern soundtrack composer who didn't use a keyboard at all!

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  • And the faders? The small ones would work properly as dynamics/expression and vibratos?
    – M.N.Raia
    Apr 13, 2023 at 17:00
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    Do you know what you actually need the faders for? I've been programming Midi since the mid 80s & never owned a keyboard with Midi faders. The only time I input with anything more esoteric than velocity, aftertouch, pitch bend & mod wheel is if I'm doing solo sax or violin. You'll find many ensemble patches can't really be programmed real-time, other than articulation-switching, which is an art-form to itself.
    – Tetsujin
    Apr 13, 2023 at 17:44
  • @Tetsujin Faders are for real-time performance of various sample libraries where only mod wheel has a hope of being a usable controller for the parameters in question, and faders are better suited than a mod wheel in many ways. It is very popular to control both expression and volume with two faders that are right next to each other. You could use a mod wheel for one of them, but not only are many mod wheels a bit too easy to move unintentionally, they are not next to another controller that is not sprung, as most pitch controllers are. Finally, sometimes additional controllers are useful, Apr 14, 2023 at 4:49
  • @Tetsujin To amplify on a few points, velocity does not give you any control during the sustain of a note. Aftertouch on every one of the 10+ keyboards I've owned has been impossible to use for anything but certain effects (I find putting a slight amount of filter cutoff on aftertouch can be expressive). Pitch bend is usually sprung to return to center, and for volume and expression that will not work. I have put expression on mod wheel before and left volume alone and gotten some performances I'm quite happy with that way, so it can be done. It's just not popular. Apr 14, 2023 at 4:52
  • @M.N.Raia my experience is with electronic music rather than film score-style stuff (so apply a grain of salt), but IMO small faders, while a little more finicky, are perfectly usable. You just need to get used to them.
    – mbrig
    Apr 15, 2023 at 1:41
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No, you don't need 88 keys. You do need continuous controllers mapped to MIDI CC 1 and MIDI CC 11.

The controller you linked to should be fine as long as you can map MIDI CC 11 to something comfortable for you to use (like one of those 8 faders).

In general, for people creating orchestral music via virtual instruments, the most important features for a controller are the mod wheel (MIDI CC 1) and at least one expression controller (that can be mapped to MIDI CC 11) for the kind of music you want to create with virtual instruments. The expression controller can be a touch strip, knob, fader, or even a foot pedal, as long it works for you. You could also made one of the faders to MIDI CC 1 and use that instead of the Mod Wheel if that feels better.

Unless you're playing the keyboard as a piano, you probably don't need 88 keys. 49 or 61 key controllers are both great options. It looks like the controller you linked to has easy octave adjustment keys if you need them. That controller has the features you need, and depending on how deeply you interact with virtual synths, those extra controllers may come in handy for ambient/atmospheric music too.

Cheers!

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