- Learn how to take your productions to the next level with your MIDI keyboard.
- What can you do with free MIDI keyboard software?
- We look at the best free MIDI keyboard software for all platforms in 2022.
Maybe you have just bought your first MIDI keyboard. Or perhaps you’ve found one hiding in a corner of your studio. So you get it set up and plugged in but it doesn’t seem to do anything…
Thankfully, there is an abundance of professional MIDI keyboard software now available for all platforms, as the technology is nearly 40 years old at this point!
In this article, we take a look at the best free MIDI keyboard software in 2022 for turning those “1’s and 0’s” into music
(If you’re still deciding on your first MIDI keyboard, we’ve got you sorted with our roundup of the Best MIDI Keyboards For Beginners!)
What The Heck Is A ‘DAW’?
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 by Apple (Our Pick For Apple users)
- BandLab CakeWalk (Our Pick For PC users)
- Perfect Piano
- Piano Time
1. GarageBand by Apple
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.
- Free, yet a sophisticated DAW in its own right
- Built-in lessons for both piano and guitar
- Quality organic sounds
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.
Starting life as a simple sequencer app, GarageBand has evolved into a very sophisticated DAW with MIDI capabilities over the years. GarageBand can be considered the younger sibling of Apple’s flagship Pro Logic, with a more beginner-friendly feature set.
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.
GarageBand for iOS makes it incredibly simple to play, record, and share your music, no matter where you are. Tap into a wide range of instruments from around the world.
- Streamlined GUI
- Can upload your own samples
- Large selection of built-in virtual instruments like piano, organ, synth, and more
- Quality organic sounds good enough for professional use
- Easy to publish any projects
- Only available on Apple devices.
- Add-on packs can be expensive.
2. BandLab CakeWalk
Fueled by over 30 years in the relentless pursuit of innovation, Cakewalk by BandLab is the new standard for the modern recording studio.
- Sleek mixing experience
- A complete music production package
- Large selection of built-in sounds
If you are looking for more of the Garageband experience but are on a Windows PC, this free MIDI keyboard software is a complete music production package.
As one of the first DAW software solutions for recording artists, Gibson produced the software for many years until handing it over to BandLab who made it a free app.
Although initially a software used for recording the guitar, CakeWalk supports many virtual instruments and also includes a large selection of built-in sounds.
For keyboard players, all you have to do is drag and drop your MIDI keyboard into the mixer and start producing.
Being a previously commercial paid-for DAW, CakeWalk has all the features you would find in many of the upmarket DAWs including sequencers, effects, loops, and multi-instruments.
One of the best features is the highly customizable interface with many templates for mixing and arranging.
- 64-bit mix engine and mixing console combine for a sleek mixing experience
- Help Module makes learning the different DAW functions simple and quick
- Only available for 64bit Windows
- Not as suited to live performance when compared to paid-for software such as Ableton Live or
MidiEditor is a free software providing an interface to edit, record, and play MIDI data.
- Simple to learn
- Great for editing MIDI data
- A great introduction to advanced techniques
Looking like a throwback to the days of MIDI in the 2000s, MidiEditor is a capable DAW with MIDI features available for both Windows and Linux.
The no-nonsense graphical interface actually reminds me of MIDI software on the old Atari ST range of computers – one of the first home computers to feature professional MIDI inputs!
A large number of patches are readily available on the web to add a selection of virtual instruments to the already built-in virtual piano and drums sets.
Unfortunately, this is more of a workhorse DAW and doesn’t offer the lessons found in many of the other free MIDI keyboard software packages we have looked at.
For Windows users, this is, without doubt, one of the best recording software apps available for free to use with your MIDI keyboard.
If you find the user interface not as creative as you need you can always export the MIDI files into another DAW for added functionality.
- Simple to learn DAW for playing the keyboard, recording, and editing the MIDI data
- A great introduction to some of the more advanced techniques (such as the quantize feature)
- Notes are not shown on the screen when recording which can be hard to get used to
- No built-in sounds to test other than a basic piano
Learning with Pianu is a lot like playing your favorite video game: fun and exciting. Earn trophies for every level completed, and level up to earn more.
- Simple to set up
- Great latency
If you are looking to get playing your MIDI keyboard straightaway then Pianu.com is a great web-based option. As a browser-based app, you can use this on virtually any platform you like.
This is perhaps the most simple software to use that we have looked at – just head to the pianu.com/keyboard address and plug your keyboard into your device.
Once you have pressed the “Detect My Keyboard” button on-screen you are ready to go.
Pianu.com is not a complex DAW software like Garageband but is great if you just want to play the piano.
What Pianu.com is really designed for though is learning the piano with many built-in lessons starting with the basics.
What I really like about this app/web page was the ability to play along with songs from contemporary artists such as Taylor Swift, Coldplay, and Lady Gaga to mention but a few.
It certainly makes a change from the usual fare of Amazing Grace or Ode to Joy.
- No need for any downloading
- Simple to set up with better latency than expected from a web-based app
- Not a strong enough sound for recording or live performances
- Notes don’t fully ring out and can sometimes stop suddenly
4. Perfect Piano
Perfect Piano is an intelligent piano simulator designed for Android phones and tablets.
- Online multiplayer mode
- Supports the standard MIDI protocol
- Impressive for a free app
Not everybody owns an iPad or iPhone – poor souls! (Only joking, there are many top-quality Android alternative tablets and phones on the market too).
This app is one of the few available for Android devices which supports the standard MIDI protocol.
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.
This extremely versatile free MIDI piano software features many functional modes including single or double row, dual players, and multi-chords.
One feature we particularly like is the online multiplayer mode – where you can participate in weekly events like online chat, competitions, and song challenges.
Like most of the apps available the sounds are not recorded from a real instrument but rather are preprogrammed.
Surprisingly for a free app, the sounds are quite impressive and you can even download additional instruments such as synth, strings, and horns for free.
- “Learn to play” mode and online features makes playing the keyboard like a game
- The flexible interface allows for a number of keys on the screen to be changed
- Pop-up adverts can get annoying, although you can upgrade to the premium version for $2.99/month
- Latency can be an issue with less powerful or older Android devices
6. Piano Time
Ready to learn, practice, explore, and wow your friends with your new-found musical forte? It's Piano Time.
- Perfect for beginners
- Very simple and easy to use
- Plays multiple tracks simultaneously
We finish with a free MIDI piano software app for Windows for those merely wanting to play the piano and very little else.
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.
If you are interested in music production and synthesizers, you will have no doubt come across MIDI before.
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.