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Can someone without any instrument experience create a song "by ear" using a midi controller?

Or would you recommend getting a piano keyboard, learning how to play it first, and then use the midi controller?

The goal is produce a pop song, for example Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You".

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This seems naiive. My electronic drums are effectively midi controllers, and would be hard pushed to create a pop song. My keyboards are all midi controllers, but unless one knew how certain keys worked with others when pressed, any 'music' would be random notes which more than likely would not become a pop song.

Makes sense (to me at least) to get a midi keyboard, and learn (by ear if you want) what works sonically. Then you're on the road.

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I like to use the old adage. "Garbage in; garbage out." It doesn't really matter what you use as much as what you put into it that counts. I have used all manner of instruments, acoustic and electronic; recording to tape, to sequencer, to digital; and when something doesn't work, it just don't work.

I would recommend getting a MIDI keyboard controller since it allows you a lot of possibilities in sound generations, either with hardware sound or software sound modules. Then take some time to pick out some songs to learn to play by ear. As you learn them, your understanding of common song structure will increase and you may be able to reach your goal much easier. Perhaps picking up a Piano Chord dictionary will add some extra options to how you can play chords to achieve different flavors of the same song. I always keep one around to show me some options.

The equipment is not as important as the understanding you develop in your head. That will make it far easier for you to express yourself in the long run. This has been my experience.

I can't really tell you what kind of music will come out of your head. But whatever it is, it will likely be in your own style, so don't be disappointed if you don't produce something similar to Sheeran's music. But keep working on it and share it with others. You may be the next Pop sound the world is looking for. Best of luck and don't give up!

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Can someone without any instrument experience create a song "by ear" using a midi controller?

It's certainly possible. In fact you don't even need a midi controller - many pieces of music software allow you to enter midi notes in a piano roll editor or similar, allowing you to just build up a piece with a mouse and keyboard.

Actually, if you really knew what you wanted to play, you might be able to enter many simple musical lines just fine - but probably more awkwardly and slowly than playing then in real time. Another place you might suffer is when you're actually trying to come up with and refine your ideas - that's where being able to play would help.

Or would you recommend getting a piano keyboard, learning how to play it first, and then use the midi controller?

Maybe that's not such an important choice. You can get a piano-type keyboard with MIDI out and use it as a midi controller later, Or you can get a controller-type keyboard and practice learning to play keyboard with the sounds in your computer.

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