Keyboard Shopping for GarageBand

by Derrick Story

One of my favorite moments during the recent Steve Jobs keynote at Macworld SF was when John Mayer first came on stage to help demo GarageBand. Just like last year, he had to nail a few chords on the keyboard before Steve would let him play the guitar. John sang as he pounded away, "I didn't win a Grammy for playing the keyboard."

I can relate. In my musical moments, I much prefer the guitar too. Although unlike John Mayer, I'm lousy at it. But I'm even worse on the piano. For years I've shied away from the black and whites. But now, because of great software like GarageBand, I've reconsidered.

MIDI keyboards enable you to create tracks using any virtual instrument in GarageBand. Yes, you can tap out tunes on the software keyboard that comes with the application, but this isn't so hot for playing chords or for other more complicated moves.

So I started looking for an affordable, stylish MIDI board, and I discovered GarageKey by the folks at DVForge. Even though it's just a shade over 20" long, it has 37 full-sized keys that play like a serious instrument. Plus it has octave-up and octave-down buttons to extend the range of sound without increasing its size.

One of GarageKey's clever features include its detachable riser legs that allow you to slide your regular Mac typing keyboard beneath the MIDI unit. Perfect for the musician with limited desk space. (Or for the writer who likes to dabble in music now and then.)

The upshot is, I've never enjoyed playing an instrument with keys as much as I do the MIDI plugged into my Mac. Choose an instrument in GarageBand, strike a few chords, and marvel at how good it sounds... even me!

GarageKey sells for $120, but I've learned that a couple of them will be offered as prizes at the upcoming O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, March 14-17, in San Diego, CA. Early bird discount registration for ETech ends on Monday, Jan. 31. So, not only will you have a great time at this event (and save $$$ thanks to early bird), but who knows, you might win a GarageKey too.

Aside from all of that, what's clear to me now is that a MIDI keyboard is to music software what a typing keyboard is to word processing. You just gotta have one.