Home studios are simpler to put together than ever before. For bedroom music producers, beat making and hip-hop makers, this is a massive plus point. A Keyboard or Midi Keyboard is usually central to any home production setup. That said, with a huge amount of products available and more being added day to day, it can be tough to work out which are the best keyboards for beat making. We’ve got you covered with our set of reviews.
Do I Need a Keyboard to Make Beats?
Strictly speaking, no you don’t. A lot of sample-based production and even some instrumentation can be controlled within your computer. Most DAWs have the ability to ‘draw’ midi, which means tell the software what notes you want to play. That’s all well and good, but there are so many benefits to having a keyboard, whether you use it to make beats or the accompanying sounds such as synthesizers and instruments.
- It is easier. If you can play a bit of keyboard (or learn a little on YouTube) you can record MIDI with much more ease than ‘drawing’ it, which can be a very fiddly and annoying process.
- You can play much more naturally than you can draw. Your DAW will record any imperfections and variations in volume and you’ll end up with a truer, more natural and less wooden sounding track.
- Trying things out is much easier. Load up a sound and compose naturally on your keyboard rather than trying to algorithmically compose within a computer screen!
- Many keyboards have extra features such as drum pads, pitch bend, and effects, opening up a world of possibilities in your music production.
Features of Keyboards for Beat Making
There are a few features and functions we’re specifically looking for with these music production keyboards.
- MIDI. Music instrument digital interface. It really is the language of recording studios and production setups and is essential for a beat-making keyboard. Whether you buy a digital piano, keyboard or specific MIDI keyboard, it should at the very least be able to send MIDI signals. Most can nowadays.
- Reliability. There is nothing worse than a keyboard that stops playing a few notes after a while and can’t handle the rigors of studio use.
- Extra functions. Not many keyboards are just a keyboard anymore. For making hip hop and rap beats having controller pads and other extra features can make life ten times easier and ultimately lead to more effective tracks.
- Compatibility. You need a product that can work with whatever software you are using, whether you are on PC or Mac, making music using Logic, Garage Band, Reaper or other DAW software, a keyboard which can work with anything is important.
- Size. This is up for some debate. Keyboards often come in 25-key, 49-key, 61-key and 88-key sizes. You want enough keys to be able to play what you need too, but a big 88 key digital piano may be a bit cumbersome.
Recommended Keyboards for Beat Making. Its Review Time!
Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII
The MPK Mini is a very small 25-key Midi Keyboard and drum pad controller. It is small and compact, great for taking out and about and performing or producing on-the-go. Make no mistake, though. In spite of the tiny, lightweight design, the Akai MPK packs a huge amount of features into a small package.
What makes it great for beat making and hip-hop production? Well, for a start, the drum pad controls are amazing for making beats (of course). You can assign eight drum sounds to the velocity-sensitive pads and create beats on the fly with ease. The fact that it is so flexible means tapping in your beats just like a performance is an absolute joy.
In terms of the keyboard itself, there are 25 keys. This may not be enough for some, but for simple melodies and basslines, it is absolutely fine. A built-in arpeggiator is a real bonus and can hugely help with composing melodies. Eight assignable Q controls also mean you can set up reverbs and other effects or parameters within your VSTi to be controlled by the knobs.
In terms of ease-of-use, this could hardly be any simpler. With plug and play compatibility for both Mac and PC, and power is provided straight from the USB port, it really couldn’t be simpler to set up. It also comes with its own software which you can download in order to control samples and effects on the MPK.
M-Audio Oxygen 49 MKIV
M-Audio is another brand who have some great options for home studios. Their Oxygen range has a lot of good USB products and their keyboards come in 25, 49 and 61 key options, so they’re great for playing in synth lines, piano and much more.
Just like the MPK, this has eight built-in drum pads which make it a great choice for making beats, you can use these velocity-sensitive pads for programming in your beats.
It also has eight assignable knobs that you can set to control pretty much any parameter you want in your DAW and virstual instruments. It is a very flexible and easy to use MIDI keyboard and has pretty much all the features you could wish for when it comes to beat making and producing music.
The hammer-action gives a piano sort of feel to the keyboard, you can also add a sustain pedal for even more audio possibilities. This is very flexible and has such a huge amount of possibilities. To add even more value, this comes with music production software to provide all you need to get started, so even if you are a beginner beat maker the Oxygen range can suit you. The vast majority of reviews for this are very positive as people find themselves happy with their purchase.
Samson Graphite M25 Mini USB MIDI Controller
I wanted to include a keyboard that was more affordable than some of the others. There is a small compromise in terms of some of the features, but the Samson Graphite is a great budget model and is very good for beginners.
There are drum pads included, though only four trigger pads. This is enough for many applications. Octave, sustain and modulation controls are all included as well as assignable knobs.
It isn’t as well built as some of the competitors, but for the price, it is hard to argue with the features on offer. If you are looking for the very best then it may be best to look at the MPK or one of the other amazing keyboards on the market but if you are looking for something affordable which will still help you to produce beats and hip-hop music, the Samson Graphite M25 is worth considering.
Novation Impulse 25 USB Midi Controller Keyboard
It may be a case of saving the best for last. The Novation Impulse is an amazing tool for producers which has basically all of the features of the other models mentioned plus a few extras. The Novation is designed to be used with Ableton, and you will get the most flexibility out of it if this is your DAW, but this can be used with other software.
The Automap 4 built-in control software lets you control most aspects of the DAW hands-free, so you can use it as a performance interface with ease and come up with ideas on the fly.
Another amazing feature is the fact that the drum pads have the ability to mess with arpeggios, roll beats and even launch audio loops and clips from Ableton. The two go together beautifully and if you are an Ableton user you should think about the Novation Impulse. It comes in 25 key, 49 and 61 key sizes, whichever suits your needs.
Making hip-hop and becoming a producer for any type of music seems like it can be done on a laptop. Software is key, and being able to use music production software or a DAW is nothing short of essential, but having a keyboard as a central hub of your home recording studio or just to lay down ideas can make your life 100 times easier, and it can open up new possibilities for your audio production.
If you have any recommendations or experience with keyboards for music production, drop a comment below.