How to record digital piano and keyboard, part 1: Connecting to the computer

This is the first article in a series on recording the sounds from your digital piano or electronic keyboard on the computer, and how to make MP3 files of your performances for sharing with friends or on the web.

Even though these articles mainly talk about recording on your computer, the same principles apply to other digital recording devices. So if you have an MP3 player with recording capability, or a MiniDisc, or any other device with an audio input, you can use that instead and then transfer the files to your computer.

NOTE: These articles are written with Windows in mind. If you use another operating system such as Mac OS X, the hardware directions are similar, but the software will be different.

These are general instructions that should work with any instrument. Because details tend to differ between brands and models, I’ll often tell you to refer to your instrument’s manual.

Always check with your manual first which options apply to your instrument. You can often download the latest version of these manuals in PDF format for free from the manufacturer’s website. The same goes for any additional software you may need, such as device drivers.

Inputs and outputs

All digital instruments have at least one audio output. The more expensive the instrument, the more output options it has. Recording is simply a matter of connecting an audio output from your digital piano or keyboard to an audio input on the computer, and then using a software program to capture your performance.

Typically available outputs on your instrument are:

  • Line Out
  • Aux Out
  • (Head)phones Out

On your computer, possible available inputs are:

  • Line In
  • Mic In
  • External recording device

NOTE: Although many laptop computers also have a built-in microphone, we won’t discuss that here. If all else fails, recording with this built-in mic is an option… but don’t expect it to sound very good.

You will get the best recording quality with a connection from Line Out to Line In. Different types of outputs have different “impedance levels” and ideally you will connect an output to an input with matching impedance. Line Out and Line In are a perfect match.

It is possible to make connections where the impedance does not match, such as Line Out to Mic In, but they are not ideal. The sound will easily distort, and you will have to lower the output volume on the instrument and the input volume on the computer as much as possible in order to avoid “clipping” (loud cracks in the recording where the maximum volume is exceeded).

Unfortunately, you do not always have a choice. Most desktop computers will have a Line In option (the blue input on your soundcard) but most laptops have only a Mic In. If that is all you have, then that will have to do.

NOTE: Mic In will record in mono only, but Line In is full stereo sound and therefore preferable.

Some of the less expensive digital keyboards only have Phones Out to connect headphones, but not Line Out or Aux Out. Use whatever is available and try to make the best of it.

If your computer has no Line In and you can spare the money ($50 and up), it is worth buying a special recording device called an “external sound card”. This is a unit that plugs into your computer’s USB or Firewire port and gives you one or more Line In sockets.

TIP: If you only have a Mic In, it is still possible to make stereo recordings. First, you record your performance as MIDI. Then you let the piano play that MIDI and capture the left channel on the computer. If you’re using Audacity, set the track from “Mono” to “Left Channel”. Repeat, but now capture the right channel. Align it with the first track, and set it to “Right Channel”. Finally, export as WAV or MP3.

Cables and plugs

Now we have chosen the input and output, we will have to connect them with a cable. Which cable depends on the types of sockets your machines have.

At the computer end we will most likely have a small (3.5mm or 1/8″) stereo jack:

Big and small stereo jack plugs

Remember that Mic In is always mono, so you could use a mono jack here. You can tell the difference by the number of rings they have:

Mono and stereo jack plugs

At the digital piano, Line Out is typically split into two sockets labeled L/L+R (or in my case L/Mono) and R. They take two big (6.3mm or 1/4″) mono jacks:

Line Out sockets

If you plug just one jack into L, you’ll get mono sound. For stereo sound, one jack goes into L and the other goes into R.

To use Line Out, you’ll want to use a stereo cable with two big mono jacks on one end and a small stereo jack on the other. The cable that I use actually has two RCA plugs on the source end, and I used two converter plugs to make them big mono jacks:

RCA cable with jack converter plugs

To use Aux Out, you need a cable with two RCA plugs (red and white) on one end and a small stereo jack on the other. There shouldn’t be much difference between Line Out and Aux Out as far as sound quality is concerned.

Phones Out is typically a stereo jack (could be big or small). Use a stereo cable, and if necessary a small-to-big converter plug on the source end:

Stereo cable with converter plug

Get shielded cables if possible. You can get these cables at any electronics or audio store.

You should now be able to hook up your instrument to your computer. The next article will explain how to record the sounds that are transmitted across these cables.

Read more articles on Piano Clues:

Basic Theory


Chords and Harmony


The Circle of Fifths


Arrangement, Improvisation and Composition


Reading Music and Sheet Music


How to Record Piano


Software and Virtual Instruments


Scales and Exercises


Digital Pianos


Links and Other Stuff


Comments

  1. Graham Stow says:

    This is a great website! Initially it has helped me quickly source all I need to connect my digi piano to my laptop by both Midi/USB and 2×6.3mmjack to 1×3.5mm jack, and I am sure it will help me much further in the future. I have left $8 in the tip jar!

  2. admin says:

    Thanks, Graham! :-)

  3. Melissa Ramsaur says:

    I own a yamaha ypg-625 keyboard and an iBook. I have connected the two together with an audio cable, using a portable big jack to plug into the headphone jack of the piano and a stereo miniplug to go into my mac’s headphone jack. But when ever I go to the input options the only thing that comes up is my built-in internal mic (which I do not plan to use to record music). Also no sound comes out of the keyboard when played. Can you help me?

  4. admin says:

    I don’t have an iBook, but it seems to me the headphone jack is an output, not an input. So you probably cannot record from that. Try the microphone input or the Line In input.

  5. Scott says:

    I would like to use Audacity to record from my Roland FP8 keyboard. I actually have tried making rehearsal recordings for church use on my acoustic Kawai Piano, but I’m having some “noise” issues and don’t know if it is the microphone or the settings, I’m a greenhorn at this stuff. I’ve played piano for years and watched engineers in studios, but never “pushed” buttons myself until this endeavor. Well, I thought about MIDI but it sounds too complicated to me, although your articles about it are very helpful.
    I was wondering if I purchase a Y-cable with 2- 1/4″ male ends (to come out of the L&R outputs of the keyboard), with the other end having a male stereo 1/8″ jack (to plug into a “USB 6 Channel 5.1 PCI External Sound Card PC Laptop A14″ that I have found on Ebay for $22.95 plus shipping), will I get a stereo recording without having to go back and align, etc., as you mentioned in the article? I’ll assume I plug the external card’s USB cord into the laptop, then plug the 1/8″ stereo jack into the “Line IN” receiver on the external sound card adapter?
    Please let me know if this will work.
    Thanks,
    Scott

  6. Devendra Vyas says:

    Thanks, your website is useful…even with the explosion of the internet and so many digital vendors no where did i find the useful info that you have posted here. People like you are the salt of the internet earth.

  7. Clayton says:

    Well. I got my Keyboard ~ Yamaha PSR-170.
    I found a Big Jack(Amp Cord) and a small thing that changes one side of the cord to a smaller jack to fit into the Computer.
    My computer has: Blue-Green-Pink Slots.
    Which one do i insert the small jack thingy which is actually the big jack, but i put it into that thing that makes it smaller into?
    I have Audacity, had it for a while actually.
    I know to record you have to change some recording settings on the computer in the Sound Settings. But i don’t know which ones to change.
    And how can i record me playing, if there is an amp cord connected, thus making no sound coming out until i finish recording and hear the playback.

  8. Clayton says:

    Never mind.
    I figured it out.
    Keyboard – Amp Cord – Thingy that changes big jack into small jack – Into Pink Slot.
    Double Click Volume icon next to the time in the taskbar.
    Click Options – Playback & Recording make it to the C-Media Device/Speakers.
    Check ALL of the boxes shown.
    While still in Recording Options. Click OK
    Check that Line In Box at the Volume Control Panel thing.
    Go to audacity and record><
    Thats an easier Way!

  9. Greg baker says:

    Thank you so much for the information. This is exactly what I was looking for.
    Thanks again, Greg

  10. Ben says:

    I received a generous gift of a Yahama CP300 stage piano from someone who loves to hear me play. I borrowed a Tascam CD recorder from a friend to make a CD for that generous person. I found that the dual XLR outputs from my keyboard produced the best quality recordings with Tascam recorder. Since I cannot borrow the CD recorder all the time, what is the best interface that I can use to connect directly to my computer (XLR to USB) and still maintain CD or better quality? Is it feasible on a $200 budget? Thanks!

  11. Bob Pawsey says:

    I want to play background music on my Yamaha. I don’t really want to have to use my laptop & midi files – is there a gadget that will act instead of a laptop to store and send the music to the piano?

  12. Joyful says:

    Hallelujah! This worked!! I was trying to figure out how to record my DGX-200 into Audacity – I remembered I had a male to male cable AND found my adapter!! Yay! Now I can work on a Christmas recording project for my grandma!! Thanks for posting this info.!!

  13. USB.Question says:

    Can you record with a USB port? I have a Yamaha Portable Grand DGX-505 and you can plug it in directly with a USB port cable (the type they use on printers). I have everything else needed though.

  14. Thanks for the wonderful help pages! I just ordered my first digital piano (Yamaha P-155) the other day and was trying to figure out before it gets here how I can record directly to my PC. I was completely clueless but your tutorials here really filled me in, I’ve even ordered the appropriate audio cables and got Audacity all set up. Just waiting for the piano and cables to arrive in mail now, should be here by the 19th. Thanks a million! =)

  15. Kelly says:

    hi, thx for your complete guideline, im glad that i found this website.but the only thing that i want to clarify is, if im using a phone out to mic in and using a male to male stereo cable, do i need to attach a converter with mono jack at one end of the cable? so to make it as stereo phone out to mono mic in.

    • admin says:

      You don’t need a converter to go from stereo to mono, because the stereo cable also works as a mono cable.

  16. Andrew says:

    Where do you get the adapter for the RCA-to-large headphone jack? I have the male small headphone-to-RCA, but I can’t find the adapter anywhere.

  17. Janice says:

    As you’ve suggested I think I ought to buy an external sound card since my laptop has no line in. What brand of external sound card would you suggest buying if I want to make a video and audio recording for an electric piano? I think some audio interfaces would not allow use of my laptop’s video cam at the same time.

  18. Harvelle says:

    Thank you so much for this. I only have one question though… is it possible to get a full L/R sound from a digital piano that has only one output/line-out jack?

  19. ravi kant singh says:

    i want information for sound card with input and output with recording with laptop

  20. Atheriel says:

    Wow! This is such valuable info. Been trying to record some of my music for a while now, but have been held back by the cost of recording, buying expensive equipment and software and yet it’s so easy! Thanks!

    Atheriel

  21. Hey would you mind letting me know which web host you’re working with? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different internet browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot quicker then most. Can you recommend a good hosting provider at a reasonable price? Kudos, I appreciate it!

    • Matthijs says:

      This blog runs on a Linode VPS. It’s not as cheap as shared hosting but you get a lot more for it. Linode just gives you a bare installation of Linux, so you’ll have to learn a bit about setting up a web server and so on.

  22. Frank Janda says:

    When I play back the midi file from my digital piano I get several pings during the playback. Sounds like a bong or ping. Ruins the recording. I turned off all sound in the computer. Still get it. Any ideas where it is coming from?

  23. Frank Janda says:

    My midi files have a beep in fact during a 1-1.5 minute song there are 3 or 4 beeps. Not piano tones. Sounds like a telephone dialing beep. I turned off the sound in my computer, disconnected the out midi plug so the computer can’t send anything to the digital piano. I have a Kawai PN The beep only occurs when I use the sustain pedal, but it is quite random – doesn’t happen on every pedal action. Tried to examine the midi file in Anvil, but couldn’t see anything unusual.
    Anyone have any ideas? I used Red Dot and Anvil, and got the same results. This ruins a recording.

  24. EDWARD A BARNES says:

    I have Yamaha YDP131 and wish to record on a device and then to take upstairs to my computer.

  25. Emily says:

    Some people recommend using balanced 1/4″ TRS >XLR cables — Do you know what these are and how they differ from the cables you recommended? Thank you!

    • Matthijs says:

      @Emily I’m not sure but I don’t think using balanced cables is useful if your piano doesn’t have balanced outputs already.

  26. Dominik says:

    fantastic article, helped me a lot ! thanks !

  27. Corey says:

    Wat do I need to use my digital keyboard with fl studio? Using the MIDI ports…an audio interface??

  28. Pokorinz says:

    I realized that someone asked this before, but I haven’t seen anyone reply to the problem. I have a Casio PRIVIA PX-130 and am trying to transfer my recorded song to my PC.
    Is there any way for me to record using Audacity by USB connection? because it does work when I am using Red Dot Forever (great software btw.. Props to you), the thing is the final result is a MIDI and the final result is different than what I expected and I am hoping that if I use Audacity, the final result will be different or sound closer to the original sound.
    Thanks a lot

    • Matthijs says:

      @Pokorinz You cannot record in Audacity from USB. The USB connection only sends MIDI data. If you want to record the actual sound you’ll have to use the Line Out jacks or the headphone jack.

  29. ashutosh says:

    hi,
    very good information for home recording.
    thanks

  30. Marily Rodriguez says:

    I just came across this page. Thank you so much! I hope to contribute cause I got shitloads of lead sheets.

  31. william doran says:

    Have only just discovered !!! Looks very useful to me .

    I can play ( Tyros 2 ) and I have a stage piano ( Casio ) and would like to make
    some .mp3 songs to put on a stick to send to someone who has just lost a loved one . I would very much appreciate some advice – i do have SOME knowledge butitis a bit limited . Sincere thanks for any help. Bill Doran

  32. jj says:

    I am trying to record using the USB from my instrument to connect to my computer. I have a Casio Privia 330 going to a Gateway laptop. When connected I get loud static, and nothing else. I know the cable is OK because it works with my printer. Any suggestions please?

    • Matthijs says:

      @jj It’s unlikely that your Casio allows you to record audio using the USB cable. The USB cable is usually for MIDI only and that doesn’t produce static. You might just be recording using your built-in microphone and hearing the static from that.

  33. josh says:

    Wow very helpful but I want to know if I need any special settins and if yes how to go about them,what kidda softwares magix,cubase or fl or what???

  34. Jonathan says:

    I have a Yamaha P95, and would like to record my piano performances to put onto my computer. Can anyone please tell me which specific type of cord I would need for my specific digital piano? I have heard of RCA to mic, RCA to USB, etc., but don’t know which one I need. I just want to plug one end into my piano’s outlet and one into my laptop’s microphone jacks.

    Thanks ;)

  35. Derek says:

    Where would I buy one of these 6.3mm (line out) to 3.5mm (line in) cables?

    • Matthijs says:

      @Derek They should have them at any hardware or electronics store.

  36. Ivan says:

    My yamaha digital piano only has the phone jack option and and midi in/out. I already have the converter so I just need to buy the stereo cable and connect it to my computer’s headphone port and I can start recording with garageband/logic studio? D:

  37. Ivan says:

    Also can it be any stereo cable? Becuase I’m thinking to buy one from walmart, will this work?

    http://www.walmart.com/ip/Cables-To-Go-40413-Cables-To-Go-6-Stereo-Audio-Cable/15172652

  38. Anna says:

    I have Yamaha p 95. It has only phones out and midi in out. Can I ask you to help me what to buy for recording audio disk. For example, shall I buy external sound card because my computer doesn’t have line in + stereo jack? Is it all or there is something else?

  39. Ivan says:

    I have the same digital piano as you Anna and I’m wondering the same thing. I hope we can get help!

  40. Cathe says:

    Hello. I need your help.
    I’ve already done what you wrote at this site..
    I’ve tried to connect headphone to Yamaha P-35 using that stereo converter plug. But why it still had mono sound on headphone?
    Do you have any solution to make it stereo?
    Thank you

  41. Pao says:

    Hello everyone. !
    i just want to ask if there’s a application that will make the sound of my piano better after recording it to computer with audacity.
    I got an old model of casio and the quality was not that good.
    I like the sound of new keyboards now especially the grandpiano tone.
    unfortunately , my keyboard doesnt support that on e :( .

  42. Mirandi says:

    Would using a Dual 1/4 inch jack to usb be usable to record my keyboards audio to my laptop? (i.e. http://www.amazon.com/Alesis-LineLink-AudioLink-4-inch—USB-Cable/dp/B001T9O5V6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1406690397&sr=8-1&keywords=1%2F4+to+usb )

    • Matthijs says:

      @Mirandi That looks like an interesting cable. It should work to record the audio from your keyboard on your computer.

  43. Steve Kleeman says:

    I have a Casio WK-225 and I want to transfer my music from my piano to my computer. I have a USB input to my computer. My computer has Microsoft XP.
    What software do I need to be able to do this? Please help…..

  44. james sherrill says:

    i am trying to record directly from my roland rd300sx keyboard. this is a new process for me. what equipment will work best with my keyboard. thank you for you help. jim

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