Connect your iPad to an Electronic Piano with a USB Midi Adapter

Casio electronic piano connected to a iPad

Casio electronic piano connected to a iPad

Believe me I'm not a musician and I don't play one on TV. In fact if you heard me play you would definitely know I have no musical talent at all. I do however have an old electronic piano  that my sisters (who both can play) once used. With a new USB Midi adapter this article will show you how to connect the iPad to the keyboard music instrument. By mating these two devices the iPad will be able to play music available from the internet on the instrument. Music played on the electronic piano can be recorded on the iPad. And finally you will be able to use the electronic keyboard to input music into apps like Garageband to compose your own music.

To start with the electronic piano I have is a Casio CTK-551. My sister tells me that it is an okay general purpose keyboard. It isn't the most realistic piano I have heard, but it is more portable and space efficient than a real piano. The Casio doesn't have all the keys—61 out of a full 88. You trade the ability to play some classical music pieces for the portability. As the person who had to move this keyboard versus a real piano, you do notice the size and weight. My sister says what she really misses are the pedals that control how the notes should sound. (I think you can buy pedals that attach to the keyboard.)

I bought the Casio at a Pawn shop quite a few years ago, when I got rid of the real piano, and my other sister took the Yamaha keyboard we had perviously. I don't think I paid more than a $100 for it so my younger sister can still play. The CTK-551 comes with MIDI ports so you can connect it to a computer, and I have previously connected it to my Mac (this was before OS X). Unfortunately computer ports have changed allot since then, so I'll need a new MIDI adapter cable. However the iPad should be more than powerful enough to do what I want.

MIDI Ports

MIDI Ports

Above are the old round MIDI port of the Casio. Most older keyboards I have seen have them. One handles data in and the other data out. You connect cables just like a VCR (I'm old—some of you may not have even used a VCR!) In connects to Out, and Out connects to In on labeled cables. If your keyboard only has one port then either you won't be able to use it as a keyboard or you won't be able to send music to the instrument. I have seen fabric/rubber keyboards that were like this. They didn't have speakers so sending music to them is point less. My old adapter  had MIDI connects on one end and a old Mac serial connecter on the other. Those old style serial ports have long been replaced by USB, so USB it is. I did some basic research and the Creative Xmidi 1x1 adapter for about $30 looked good. There are cheaper adapters out there, but since I plan to connect the iPad with it. I went with a more name brand adapter hoping someone at Apple used one to test when they created the APIs.

Obviously we'll need a iPad USB adapter as well. I have a iPad Camera Connector Kit, which I use for many other things. I'm pretty confident about that, but I also got a Chinese USB Connector Cable from DealExtreme to test too.

Cheap Chinese USB Adapter

Cheap Chinese USB Adapter

It is about a third the cost, so if it can do the job. It might be a good option for you. I'll buy and test one to see if it will work—your welcome.


On the software side the main app I'll use is Pianist Pro ($4.99) from MooCowMusic. If you remember this company demonstrated the first musical instrument app at the iPhone app launch. It supports a bunch of MIDI connection options (specialized hardware, network interface with your computer, and the Camera Kit). Since I want to use the iPad mostly—and already have the Camera Kit, the Camera Kit is portably the best option for most folks.

Casio electronic piano connected to a iPad

Casio electronic piano connected to a iPad

The setup is pretty easy. Turn on the piano. Plug in the Xmidi into the keyboard (In to Out). then connect the Xmidi to the Apple Camera Kit USB Adapter (The kit gives you two adapter—one SD Card and one USB). When you are in Pianist Pro, attach the Camera Kit to your iPad. A white LED on the Xmidi should light and a dialog in Pianist Pro should inform you a MIDI device has been attached.

Pianist Pro Screen Shots

Pianist Pro Screen Shots

If the LED fails to light try disconnecting and reattaching the adapter to the iPad. Also look to see if Pianist Pro is set to use the Xmidi. Tap the gear icon in the upper right of the main screen, then tap the midi icon (the fourth icon on the upper part of the settings screen).

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Tap the two Interface fields until Xmidi appear in both. Make sure  the On button is lit.

Lets us load in a demo song. Tap outside the MIDI dialog to dismiss it, then tap the Back arrow on the bottom to get back to the main screen. Tap the Folder icon, select a song, and tap Retrieve. If you tap the Play icon your keyboard should play the song. Make sure the volume of the keyboard is set high enough to hear.

To record yourself playing, tap the Folder icon again and hit New. When you tap the Record button it will now record to the new song. Rename it under the same Folder icon. You can also save the song under three different formats here. Song is the Pianist Pro format, Midi is cross platform (you can use it with other music apps and instruments), and Audio is a WAV audio file.

Unfortunately you can only access these songs with the iTunes File Sharing feature, so you will need your iTunes computer to share or work with the songs. Hopefully future updates will add the "Open In..." feature and/or cut & paste. Without these updates Pianist Pro can't work with the other great music apps the iPad has available (like Garageband!).

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star inputed into the Symphony Pro app.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star inputed into the Symphony Pro app.

One such app is Symphony Pro ($14.99). You can use this app to add notes to a music score. But this isn't just a musical notation app. If you hit Play the music plays. It's a fun way to see how to read music. You can also output the music into a Midi file for Pianist Pro to play on your keyboard. If only you didn't have to use a computer to move the Midi from Symphony Pro to Pianist Pro.

PianoTutor Screen Shot

PianoTutor Screen Shot

For more structured practice in reading music, try PianoTutor ($0.99). This app will allow you to use your midi keyboard to take the lessons. Even I can tell that using the iPad as a keyboard is very different than a real piano, kinda like a touch typist typing on the iPad but worse. Using the midi keyboard to interface with iPad music apps is the best of both worlds.

GarageBand Screen Shot

GarageBand Screen Shot

Garageband for the iPad uses a Midi keyboard, no problem. In fact the music from the iPad sounds a little more like a real piano than the Casio to my ears. I imagine real musicians would be more comfortable using the Casio to input music than the iPad's touch screen. The size and weight of the iPad is allot easier to work with when you are using the piano too. I put the iPad right were the music sheets go. (Music sheets still fit.)

So what about the cheap Chinese USB iPad Adapter? At first the cable seemed to work well. The LED light on the Xmidi turned on and Pianist Pro recognized the Casio Keyboard. Music played on the keyboard and music played on the keyboard could be recorded. One problem the connection was more erratic than the Apple adapter. Periodically the connection would just drop off requiring a unplug/replug-in. Recording seemed fine but playback died randomly. It was fine for playing around, but if performance was important to me I would go for the Apple adapter. Since the Apple kit also includes the SD Reader I still recommend the more expensive unit. Apple's kit isn't that expensive ($39).

Update on 2011-11-01 22:35 by James Chi

Can You Connect a MIDI Piano to Garageband on the iPhone?

Today Apple made Garageband a universal app, bringing it to the iPhone and iPod Touch. So will it connect to a MIDI keyboard? Not using the Apple Camera Kit and my USB MIDI cable. When you plug it the camera kit dongle the "not supported" dialog appears, and the power LED on the MIDI adapter is dead. Maybe Line 6's MIDI Mobilizer will work.

Update on 2012-11-04 23:07 by James Chi

iPad mini and Lightning to USB Camera Adapter Works with MIDI Piano

Just got the iPad mini and the Lightning USB Camera adapter today. Unplugged my iPad 3, popped in the new new iPad and voila! The Pianist Pro app is outputting music to my casio keyboard just like the article above. The app also records from the keyboard too. So both MIDI IN/Out is good.

A commenter asked if the iPad mini works with the Garageband app. It does playing from the keyboard records into Garageband, no problem. I love the new light weight iPad, but it does feel a bit undersized in the sheet music holder of the keyboard.

While I had the USB Camera adapter attached I tested out a couple USB devices that worked with the previous Camera Kit. My Samson Meteor USB Mic worked fine as before. I also plugged in a USB keyboard from one of my PCs. At first it complained that the USB device wasn't supported, but I think it was because of the embedded trackball in the keyboard because typing on the keyboard worked fine.

Overall the new Lightning connector hasn't removed any functionality from the old 30 pin connector. It just costs double since we use to get both the SD card and USB adapters in one package.

Update on 2013-07-01 16:06 by James Chi

Symphony Pro is Gone, New Version Coming

The current app is no longer available, but the developers are promising a complete rewrite with new features this Spring. The website previews a bit of Symphony Pro 3. Since they pulled the old version, I think we're going to have to purchase the app again.