Throughout this guide, you’ll see the term DAW used – this means Digital Audio Workstation and is the software you use to make music on a computer. So a lot of the best MIDI keyboard software falls into this category.
What Is The Best Free MIDI Keyboard Software In 2022?
For Apple users, Garageband is hands down the best free MIDI keyboard software out there. It has all modern DAW features found on much more expensive packages such as Ableton Live or Pro Logic, but for free! If you’re on PC, we recommend BandLab CakeWalk.
If you own an Apple setup, especially one of those powered by the new M1 chips, there’s no denying that GarageBand is the way forward.
For on-the-go functionality, an iPad or iPhone with GarageBand installed can be like having a multi-track studio on the road with you when paired with a mobile interface like a RØDE AI Micro.
In this article, we cover 6 of the best free MIDI keyboard software solutions available today:
GarageBand is a fully equipped music creation studio inside your Mac — with a complete sound library that includes instruments, presets for guitar and voice, and an incredible selection of session drummers and percussionists.
GarageBand is the clear winner of this roundup, and is one of the best free music apps period. As you may already know, it’s only available on Mac computers, but Windows users can check out our list of free Windows alternatives to Garageband.
GarageBand was one of the first widely available apps to download for free, making music production accessible to everyone.
With built-in lessons for both piano and guitar, GarageBand can help you become a more competent musician, or even just find your way around your new MIDI keyboard.
In addition, you can use many of the included instrument effects to record, edit, remix, or lay down your latest beats. Quite often I have used GarageBand on my iPad, or even iPhone, to edit my latest production on the way to the next gig!
If you already own an Apple device it’s likely you have GarageBand already installed – if not is easy to download from the App Store.
With many of the newer Android tablets and phones now sporting USB-C slots, connecting a MIDI keyboard is simpler than ever. A converter cable that has a traditional USB-A or B female connection will work for most MIDI keyboards.
Piano Time is very simple to plug in and start with a new keyboard. It recognized my Novation MIDI keyboard with no difficulty and I didn’t even have to go into the settings.
As you might guess from the name, Piano Time is designed to mimic the sound of a piano. You can’t really add other virtual instruments or add reverb or delay, but the sound is pretty convincing.
With the ability to record and save clips this is the ideal MIDI keyboard software for beginners.
Preloaded with a few basic tracks for you to play along with, there are also some simple scale exercises to try. Supported keyboards will even light up the keys to show you how to play along.
Very simple and easy to use – perfect for kids learning to play the piano
Record feature allows you to play multiple tracks simultaneously
Sound quality isn’t perfect – lower notes can sound quiet and often merge together
Recorded files can not be exported unless you upgrade to the paid version
What Is MIDI And Why Do You Need MIDI Keyboard Software?
MIDI data conveys information about a musical performance. Most notably, which notes are being pressed, how hard they are struck, and how long they are held for. Many of the controllers DJs use will also utilize MIDI to communicate with apps like Serato or Traktor.
In the analog world, instruments make sound as soon as we strike them. With MIDI keyboards, it’s not that simple, and they can’t really be considered instruments per-se as they do not produce sound themselves.
A MIDI keyboard or MIDI controller only produces a digital control signal that tells MIDI-equipped synthesizers what notes to play, amongst other things.
However, some might be thinking “Why do I even need software to use the keyboard?”.
That’s because MIDI (Musical Instrument Device Interface) is a language, and it needs something to talk to.
If you’re looking to pick up a MIDI keyboard, before you do anything check out our review of the AKAI MPK Mini Mk3!
Developed in the 1980s, it was designed to help music gear communicate and perform together with as little difficulty as possible.
Initially, MIDI cables were used to carry this data and patch together MIDI compatible devices so they could talk to each other. While this is still common, nowadays many synths can send MIDI over USB, and MIDI can also be used entirely ‘in-the-box’ as is the case with many DAWs. So you don’t necessarily need a MIDI cable to use MIDI.
So your computer or DAW may recognize the MIDI keyboard as a plug ‘n’ play device, but you will still need something to send the MIDI to that will make sound (like a VST synth).
All the apps/software packages we have looked at here can be used with your MIDI keyboard and many also feature key mapping to allow you to use a standard computer keyboard.
We don’t have time to mention every little detail, so why not download a few to see the many other features they have to offer?
If you live in the Apple ecosystem, GarageBand is a fully-featured piece of music production software that you probably already own without realizing.
In addition to offering a professional DAW interface, you can also use your MIDI keyboard to learn how to play the piano.
For Windows and Linux users the options are much more varied but there is nothing quite as good as Garageband when it comes to free MIDI keyboard software. Having said that, the options for Windows are still viable and there’s no reason to throw out your PC just so you can use your MIDI keyboard.
At the end of the day, with the correct software for your MIDI keyboard, it can become a powerful tool to take your productions to the next level.