iPads are like digital toolboxes – you download a jaw dropping amount of apps that will pretty much cover you for anything you want to do.
One use for an iPad that isn’t more commonly known is using one as a virtual MIDI keyboard.
This will enable you to play your iPad virtual keyboard and control virtual instruments inside your Mac inside Apple’s Logic Pro or other DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
When I discovered this I was so freaking hyped. It worked amazingly well AND you can even get a virtual bank of assignable knobs to tweak. That’s one thing I’m learning with Apple’s ecosystem. Everything works together without giving you crap.
Is there any lag/delay/latency between pressing a virtual key on the iPad and hearing that note being played pack and sending a sound to the speakers/your headphones?
Nope. Well, there’s probably some millisecond amount, but I can’t detect it and my notes appear on Logic’s piano roll accurately in time. It’s awesome.
What Does A Virtual iPad Keyboard Look Like?
Here’s what a virtual keyboard looks like – I’m using the KB1 app available on the Apple App Store. It’s $9.99 and definitely worth the small price. It’s yours to use forever, no subscriptions or anything and it will grow with you.
There are a ton of setup options to customize the layout to your liking. The classic piano view is on the bottom above and I add a row of control knobs on top for tweaking instrument settings.
The knobs on the top are assignable to pretty much anything when you’re playing a virtual instrument in your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). So maybe you want one knob to control a filter or another knob to control the dry/wet effects mix and another to control the decay. It’s all do-able in a few taps/clicks. You can get fancy with it too if you want.
How To Setup Your iPad As A Midi Keyboard On Your Mac
You can connect your iPad to your Mac wirelessly via bluetooth. You shouldn’t need anything else other than your Mac and iPad to do this.
The only reason you might want to plug in your iPad (to an outlet or even your Mac) is to charge it up if the battery is low. I’ve found it’s fine to use your iPad wirelessly and on battery – the hit on the battery isn’t much at all – and it makes for less wires. It’s up to you though and it doesn’t make a difference to the MIDI setup if it’s charging or not.
Connect To The Same Wi-Fi Network
Power both your iPad and Mac up. Your iPad and Mac must be on the same WiFi network.
This is critical.
To make things straight forward, close any MIDI/Audio settings you have open and Logic Pro.
Download KB1 Keyboard Suite On The App Store
Head over to the Apple App Store and buy KB-1 Keyboard Suite. It’s the best option out there for a virtual MIDI keyboard and I personally use it. It’s awesome.
Open Up KB-1 Keyboard Suite App On Your iPad
When you first open KB1 Keyboard Suite, you’ll see a blank screen that doesn’t look like it’ll be useful at all to you.
But this is where you can setup your virtual keyboard to your liking.
I’ll walk you through configuring it they way I think it’s most useful – a bunch of knobs on the top and a classic piano key layout on the bottom. This will be your main setup (called scenes in the app) and I’ll show you how to save it as a layout for fast loading in future. You won’t have to go through adding your keyboards in again, you just save your config as a layout and open it and BAM your keyboard/knob setup is ready to go.
Tap the orange “Add” button on the top menu row. This will add a huge looking keyboard to your screen with way too long keys. It’ll look like this:
Add A Second Keyboard To Your Scene (Layout)
Simply tap the “Add” button a second time and you’ll get another keyboard to appear like magic. We’re going to convert the top keyboard to knobs in the next steps.
Tap The Settings Icon (Gear) On The Top Keyboard
On the top keyboard (or bottom, if you prefer) we’re going to replace that with a bunch of knobs. Tap the gear/cog icon to open the settings menu. Each keyboard has it’s own settings, so be sure to choose the one that you want to actually convert to knobs.
Next To Keyboard Layout, Tap + Until “CC Control”
On this settings page, find “Keyboard Layout”, it should say “Classic” next to it. Tap + until you see “CC Control”.
Your screen should look like this:
Once you see CC Control, tap done.
Set The Correct Keyboard / Knobs Outputs
Now you have added the knob controls and keyboard, you have to tell your iPad to output both of those to the network session. Tap “Output” and then “Network Session 1” on both of them.
This is critical.
Your iPad won’t be able to communicate to your Mac if you don’t do this.
On Your Mac, Open Audio Midi Setup
There are two ways to do this:
Open a Finder window and type “Audio Midi Setup”. You can open a finder window by pressing shortcut Command ⌘ + Space
Alternatively, navigate here:
Macintosh HD > Applications > Utilities ….. Select “Audio Midi Setup”
Tap The Globe Icon
This is where we’ll tell your Mac to connect to your iPad. Tap the globe icon to bring up the “configure network driver” menu.
Connect Your iPad Midi To Your Mac
If your iPad is powered on and setup properly using the above steps, you should see your iPad listed in “Sessions and Directories”. Select it and then tap “connect”.
Test Your iPad’s Midi Connection
Open up Logic Pro and add any virtual instrument you want to test. You might want to load up an instrument you’re familiar with and know will make a sound when you press a key incase it’s not setup right and it’ll throw you off when no audio plays.
You can always look at the volume meters to see if audio is being generated by Logic and controlled with your iPad’s virtual keyboard.
If you aren’t getting any life out of Logic with your iPad, check that there’s a Network Session input for your iPad. Go to:
Logic Pro -> Settings -> Midi
And that’s all there is to it. You should be able to play your iPad’s virtual keyboard and control Logic Pro’s instruments with it.
How To Save Your Layout (Session) In KB-1 Keyboard Suite iPad App
Now that you’ve setup your KB-1 with control knobs on top and a classic piano layout on the bottom, it would be useful to save this so next time you want to use your iPad as a midi keyboard you only have to load the layout (or session, as KB1 calls it) and you’ll be ready to go fast.
Here’s how to save a KB-1 layout/session
When you have a layout (session) you want to save, tap the write button at the top.
Enter A Name And Tap Save
To load your layout, just tap the browse button and then tap that name you just saved. This will make setup the next time you want to use your iPad as a virtual midi keyboard super fast.
As you get more advanced you can assign midi controls to the knobs and change the type of piano notes to a scale, power chords or even XY pads for controlling effects.