Which keyboard to buy for game music production?

Rafa Oliveira
Sep 22, 2016 · 6 min read

If you have already started producing musics for games or are thinking about doing it, sooner or later you’ll get to a conclusion: you need a keyboard. Not only if you’re a musician, but having a keyboard will really help you when you’re producing music for games, even if you’re not going to produce songs for games, having a keyboard around will really make things easier for you.

When we start searching about which kind of keyboard to get for our production, we can get confused by all the types of keyboards we find out there: synthesizers, controllers, digital pianos, arranjers and workstations… let’s talk a little about each of those and help you decide which one is the right one for you!

Digital Pianos

As the name suggests, digital pianos try to mimic full-sized pianos on their sound and key weight, generally a digital piano would have 88 weighed keys (just as on a full-sized concert piano) and they are likely to have fewer different types of sounds from the other kinds of keyboards, they’ll have some variations of concert pianos, electric pianos, probably some strings and organ sounds, maybe one or more drumkits and that’s all! The look of a digital piano’s interface is really simple and straightforward, as we can see on the picture below.

Yamaha P-35 digital piano

A digital piano is also likely to not have an USB port (although some do have one), which in our game music production would not be ideal, because in most of cases you’ll want to use a keyboard as a controller keyboard, to play the sounds of your VST software on your favorite DAW.
I’d say that a digital piano is not the best choice for a game music production environment (and they can also be quite pricey!), I’d rather recommend a digital piano for a musician that plays on a church, because their piano sounds really sounds great.

Arranjers

This is the most common type of keyboard that we find on the stores, arranjers generally would have speakers and do not require a P10 jack hooked up with an amplifier or headphone to produce its sounds, most arranjers come with hundreds or even thousands of sounds and built in rythms, so you can play along and build your own songs on top of those built in rythms. Most arranjer keyboards come with 61 non-weighed keys and there is a large price range for them, you can find low budget arranjer keyboards and also arranjers that cost thousands of dollars.

Yamaha Tyros 4 Arranjer Keyboard

Some arranjers come with an USB port, so you can hook it up with your computer and record the sounds straight out the keyboard or even use it as a controller keyboard in you favorite music production software. An arranjer keyboard is a good choice for someone who’s willing to start producing music for games, but my personal best choice for the job is a controller keyboard, we’ll talk about it soon.
If you are considering getting an arranjer keyboard, also have in mind that the most costy it is, the better it sounds and the more features it has.

Synthesizers

Synthesizer keyboards are a slighty more complex kind of keyboard, because they generally have lots of sound parameters to mess with (and I really mean LOTS here). A synthesizer keyboard give you the option to tweak parameters on the built-in sounds and create new sounds and save those new sounds to “user presets” bank.

Korg’s Microkorg XL Synthesizer

Synthesizer keyboards come in all sizes and shapes, you got 32-key synthesizers, and also with 61, 76 and 88 key versions.
Knowing that a synthesizer keyboard gives us the ability to tweak various parameters on its built-in sounds can be a temptation at first sight, but if we do not have the patience to learn how to tweak the parameters and save our work it can become really frustrating after a short amount of time. I’d say that a synthesizer is a very good tool for game music production, but as mentioned before, be aware that you’ll need to spend some time learning how to mess with all the features of the keyboard, because each synthesizer keyboard work on a different way.

Workstations

A workstation keyboard is something that tries to group the best features of an arranjer, a synthesizer and a digital piano in a single piece of equipment. They are found in 61, 76 and 88 keys versions and, of course, they tend to be a little bit pricey too. This kind of equipment would try to provide as many features as possible, therefore, they can have a steep learning curve, because they have so much features and so much things to discover, we can really get lost in the middle of so many features. I would not recommend a workstation keyboard for someone who’s starting to produce musics for games but don’t have previous knowledge or experience with keyboards, because all those many features can be overwhelming for a beginner.

Roland Fantom G6 Workstation Keyboard

Controllers

Ah! We got to the hidden gem of music production, producers from all over the world use and recommend controller keyboards for music production, not only because you can have really good and affordable controller keyboards, but also because of the diversity of controller keyboards we can find on stores. Controller keyboards come in all sorts of sizes and shapes, we have 25, 32, 49, 61, 76 and 88-key versions, weighed and non-weighed key options, some come with drum pads, some don’t…

Korg’s Microkey 37 Controller Keyboard

The key thing here is that controller keyboards don’t have any built-in sound, they are use to control other sound generators, that can be a sound module, or in most cases, a virtual instrument on your computer. In my opinion, a controller keyboard is the best option for someone who’s willing to start producing audio for games, because the sound quality does not depend on the keyboard itself, but rather on the virtual instrument that you’re using to generate the sounds, and nowadays we can find really good free virtual instruments that we can download and use right away, from drumkits to digital pianos and virtual synthesizers. And if you’re willing to really invest some money on it, you can purchase some very realistic virtual instruments, and of course, they all offer a wide range of sound parameters that we can tweak and experiment with until we got the sound we’re looking for. Having all those features in mind, a controller keyboard is my personal choice and it’s the kind of keyboard I’d recommend to anyone who’s beginning (or even for those who are already advanced) with game audio production.

I hope you enjoyed this article, don’t forget check out my tracks on soundcloud by clicking here :D

Rafa Oliveira

Written by

Software engineer & Musician, posting more often on Linkedin Pulse nowadays.

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