This is a full how-to guide if you want to record the sound of your keyboard or digital piano straight onto your PC, iPad or iPhone. It’s a complete guide on how you can connect everything to produce high-quality recordings. Being able to record your piano playing means you can listen back as you practice or add keyboard tracks to songs.
Audio or MIDI Recording
A lot of people are confused about the difference between making the MIDI connection from the piano to the computer and actually recording the live audio of it. If you want to record the overall sound of your piano then a MIDI connection will not cut it. MIDI interfaces simply transmit the data but don’t actually record the sound.
If you want to record both the audio and MIDI output then you will need to have a USB-MIDI connection. Some pianos come with this included while others will only have USB audio outputs. In this case you will need to choose some MIDI ports which you can purchase from your local music store or online.
Now you know the basics of what you’ll need let’s go through the process of recording.
Step 1 – Where’s the Sound Coming From
Digital pianos will have speakers that provide you with the audio that you hear. However, in order to record a digital piano, you will need to find the line-level output. If you’re not sure where this is then check the instruction manual that came with your digital piano or take a look online. The information usually appears in the specs section of the manual. As well as the instructions in the manual you may also find the right information you need online, with helpful tutorials on how to connect everything together so that it works properly.
If you have a less expensive digital piano or even just a keyboard then the only output could be for headphones. This is still fine because you can record from your headphones if there are no other recording options. Just remember that this is a very basic level of recording digital pianos and you will get much better results if you use USB connections.
Step 2 – Where Will You Record To?
The next step is to decide where you want to record to. You have the option to record onto your computer, tablet, iPad or iPhone. If you want to record to your laptop then you will need to buy an audio interface. This is a box that takes the sound from your piano and converts it into a digital signal. The signal is then transmitted to your computer. Think carefully about where you are going to make your recordings. If you want to be flexible then choose an interface that works with multiple devices.
Remember that if you are going to be recording onto an iPad and not a computer then there’s absolutely no point in you purchasing an interface.
Step 3 – Choosing an Audio Interface
If you want a decent recording of your digital piano or keyboard then you will need to invest in an audio interface. There are hundreds out there at different prices. The only thing your interface must have is two lots of line-level inputs. Without these, your audio recording won’t be a good quality.
When you are choosing an interface you may also want to think about what else you want to get out of it. Is it purely to record digital piano or will you be recording other instruments and vocals? In this case your interface will need at least one input for a mic. To record a guitar directly you will want to get a Hi-Z input that is suitable to connect your make of guitar.
Step 4 – Connect the Cables
The cables that you buy will all depend on the type of outputs your piano has and the inputs your audio interface has. The correct cable is the one that will join these two things together. If you are connecting your headphones or aux out to just one stereo port then you will need to buy a splitter cable in the right size for your computer. This takes the stereo output from the piano and splits it into two channels on your interface.
For example, if you have R1/4″ and L outputs and R1/4″ and L inputs than you will need two of the 1/4″ mono TS cables. If both the output and input are balanced, which the manual should tell you, then you will need two of the 1/4″ mono TRS cables. The cables you use will have a huge impact on your recording because if you don’t have the right ones, you won’t get any sound.
Step 5 – Recording Software
Recording software can be daunting to a lot of beginners to this but it’s not something you need to get hung up on. The most important thing is the hardware which we’ve discussed in the above steps. Normally most audio interfaces will come with recording software that you can use for your recording. There are also a lot of free and cheap apps available online that you can download on your computer.
If you have a Mac or Windows computer then the Audacity app is a great way to go. It’s completely free and is an excellent midi data capturer that you can use to record digital piano. It’s also easy to use so will be perfect for beginners. On a Mac you can also use the Garageband application.
Step 6 – Listen to Your Recording
If you have been using an interface to record onto your computer then you will usually listen to that audio recording through the interface. This involves plugging in your headphones or computer monitors into the audio outputs that are on the interface. The exception to this would be if you have an interface that doesn’t feature any sort of USB outputs.
When you want to record the actual real sound of your digital piano then you will need to connect the cable out from your piano and attach it to your recording medium. The way you do any of these steps depends totally on your budget and how much you want to spend on equipment. Of course the more you spend the better the equipment will be, so you will achieve a better sound if you’re willing to spend the cash on the right tools for the job.
Recording on a Budget
There are ways that you can record your digital piano without breaking the bank. Many people find that their computer or laptop will have a separate USB port that you can connect to your piano. If you have this port available and the right USB cable to be able to do a recording then this is a super cheap way of recording. However, the sound may not be as good as it would using other methods.
If you don’t have a mic port and still want to record digital piano using midi data then you don’t need to break the bank. You can purchase an external sound adapter for next to nothing. This adapter will have both a headphone and a mic port that connects to a USB port. These are great if you want to record on iPads instead of using the computer.
The Total Package
Buying a digital piano recording package may be a more affordable option for recording your digital piano. They may also have the option of recording other instruments and maybe even vocals as well. Many of the best recording equipment manufacturers out there have made these full studio packs that will include an audio interface, headphones and microphone plus all the cables needed in one box.
The benefit of opting for a recording package for your computer like this is that it usually will work out cheaper than it would if you bought each of the items separately. You will also know that each item contained in the box will be fully compatible with the other and they come with a full set of instructions so you know how to install everything on your computer. As well as the equipment they usually come with the software packages as well.
This was just a very brief look into the world of recording your piano onto your PC. If you want to learn more there’s amazing books and online tutorials that cover MIDI and digital audio recordings in more detail. Make sure to take a look if you want a better understanding on how to record piano on PC.