In our last outing, we showed you our 6 best headphones for the classroom, and this time round we’ve turned our attention to those mainstays of the music classroom – keyboards – with our top picks for all needs and budgets.
Keyboards and MIDI controllers are one of the first things to think about when kitting out the music department. Constantly being jabbed and prodded by musically enquiring young minds, they’re very often the hardware that schools find themselves needing to replace most frequently too, so we’ve taken durability and price into account, as well as the breadth of features on offer.
Size is another very important factor. Most keyboards come in 25, 49, 61 or 88-key variations, so you have to decide what’s right for how you’re going to be using them. 49 keys are most common in the classroom, as you get four octaves to play with, but they still don’t take up too much desk space, and you can physically fit more in the classroom.
The smallest 25-key size is useful if you’re teaching basic composition in software like Sibelius, but are not doing much playing. For students who are learning playing more, a 61 key keyboard gives a better playing experience, with more octaves and more room for hands, while 88 keys are ideal for teaching piano, with a full octave range, and often better feel and more weighty feedback.
The entry-level, durable option – Alesis Q49
One of our all-time best-selling keyboards for schools is the Alesis Q49. And you can put that popularity down to its low price, great feature set and durability. This tough keyboard features 49 keys and four octaves, making it a great space-saving option for the classroom, and it’s completely bus-powered too (runs off your computer’s power) meaning there are no bulky power adapters getting in the way.
The Alesis Q49 works with any music software so is ideal for pretty much any music application, from notation in Sibelius to performing, recording and sequencing in Ableton Live Lite, which comes bundled in for free. There’s also a full compliment of controls, including pitch and modulation wheels, octave up and down buttons, an assignable data slider, and the ability to send program changes from the keys. 25, 61 and 88 key versions are also available.
– Find out more about the Alesis Q49 keyboard here.
The advanced, automated option – Novation Launchkey 61
At the other end of the scale is Jigsaw24 favourite the Novation Launchkey 61, a more advanced 61-key MIDI controller that packs in more features and a better feel than the Alesis Q49, but is still very affordable. Featuring more controls including nine sliders, eight rotary knobs, 16 trigger pads and transport controls, which are quickly mappable to software functions, it’s ideal for working with music production software such as Logic and Cubase.
Plenty of keyboards have keys for launching software, but the Launchkey 61 programs controls automatically and instantly, which saves a bit of lesson time. It can then be used to trigger drum samples and clips in whatever audio plug-in you’re using. Interestingly, it’s also compatible with iPad, letting you work directly with Novation’s synthesiser apps.
– Find out more about the Novation Launchkey 61 keyboard here.
And an honourable mention for the M-Audio Oxygen
While we would say that the Alesis is the ideal keyboard in terms of durability and affordability, and the Launchkey is our favourite when it comes to features, we’re also rather keen on the M-Audio Oxygen. This keyboard has the same functionality as the Alesis Q49, with the addition of more faders and transport controls, however you don’t get the pads that come with the Launchkey. A good middle ground, then.
Want to know more about keyboards and MIDI controllers for the classroom? Get in touch for full pricing and payment options, including our 30 day credit account for schools!