MIDI Keyboard in REAPER (Setup & Usage)

MIDI keyboards are awesome tools! I really like them because I don’t have to draw one note at a time in the MIDI editor with a mouse. It’s so much easier to let the music in my head flow into REAPER. However, setting up a MIDI keyboard can sometimes get a little tricky. I’ve had various friends turn to me and ask for help. When you connect a MIDI device to their PC or Mac, sometimes it doesn’t automatically show in the track input options. So in this article, I will show you how to setup a MIDI keyboard for recording in REAPER.

Setting up a MIDI Keyboard in REAPER

You can start you by connecting your MIDI device or keyboard to your system.

Once your OS recognizes it as a USB device, head over to the MIDI Device tab in the REAPER Preferences.

MIDI devices REAPER preferences

If you have connected any MIDI devices before, you’ll see them in Preferences. In my case, I have the MIDI Input and output of my Focusrite audio and MIDI interface, as well as other MIDI USB devices I own.

All connected MIDI devices that are not active for recording will appear as <disabled>, both on the MIDI Inputs and on the MIDI Outputs.

configure MIDI input REAPER

To activate a MIDI device for recording, double-click the register of the device on the MIDI Input list and check the options ‘Enable input from this device’ and ‘Enable input for control messages’, then click OK on the small window and Apply on the Preferences window.

Next, create a track and assign the input by right-clicking on the Rec arm button. You will find your MIDI device as an option inside Input: MIDI.


Here, you need to select which MIDI channel the track should listen to. If you’re not sure or don’t care, then you can just select the All channels option, it will work for most applications.

Make sure to activate your track’s Rec arm button and enable the Input monitoring option (The small speaker icon beside the Rec arm button).

It looks like this:

Input monitoring option REAPER

Using a MIDI Keyboard in REAPER

Now, every time you play a note, you should see a small yellow bar on the right side of your track’s Peak meter, and if you move a knob or fader (MIDI CC), it should appear as a small block on the bottom-right corner.

This is an excellent time to load a Virtual instrument into the track. In my case, I will load Vital with a lead synth preset, but the possibilities are endless. Kontakt libraries, Slate drums, Arturia Analog Lab, MODO Bass, etc. There are a lot of free and paid VSTi’s out there.

VSTs for REAPER MIDI keyboard

Now that you have a track that inputs MIDI and a Virtual instrument to interpret that MIDI as sound, you can start recording. The most basic way to start a recording is to click the Record button on the transport bar.

MIDI Recording Tips

You can set up a Pre-roll in the Metronome settings. Activating this setting gives you a couple of bars of playback before recording. REAPER can also be set up to record audio on the Pre-roll bars but not MIDI

metronome and pre-roll settings REAPER

Time selection Auto-punch allows you to start recording from the position of the Edit cursor, but only ‘write’ the item on the space inside the Time selection (you can later drag the MIDI item to expose the whole recording).

This is useful for punching-in determined parts of a song without having to create a new track altogether. It can be activated by right-clicking on the Record button in the Transport bar

record mode time selection auto punch REAPER

It’s a common practice to overdub the MIDI performances so that they all get recorded into just one MIDI item. You can prevent REAPER from overwriting your MIDI items by changing the record mode to MIDI Overdub on each track by right-clicking the Rec Arm button.

Record MIDI overdub REAPER


Recording MIDI performances is a liberating process. You can completely edit the performance and fundamentally change the sound source by changing the Virtual instrument, even without having to re-record. I highly recommend that if you’re working with any MIDI at all in REAPER, you read this article to help you better set up your MIDI Editor and supercharge your workflow.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is my MIDI keyboard not working in REAPER?

If your MIDI keyboard doesn’t appear in the MIDI device list on the Preferences then your MIDI or USB cable may be damaged. But if it does appear and you can’t find it among the MIDI input options, it may be because there’s another program using the MIDI keyboard. Other DAWs, Music notation software, or other software like Synthesia can take hold of your MIDI devices, so make sure they aren’t or that they are closed before setting up your MIDI keyboard inside REAPER.

How do I set up MIDI outputs in REAPER?

You must enable the MIDI output device in the Preferences. enable MIDI in REAPER preferences Then, once you open any track routing window, you will find the MIDI output devices on the top right. MIDI hardware output REAPER Keep in mind that not all of the USB MIDI devices that appear on the output section can properly interpret the MIDI.

Can I use my computer’s keyboard as a MIDI keyboard in REAPER?

Yes, REAPER has a feature called Virtual MIDI Keyboard that appears on the track MIDI inputs at all times. The default shortcut to open it is Alt+B and when focused, will interpret your key presses as MIDI notes. If you want to know more, take a read at this Virtual MIDI Keyboard article.

Does REAPER come with built-in Virtual Instruments?

Yes, REAPER comes with three built-in Virtual instruments:
  • ReaSamplOmatic5000 is a quite powerful sampler that has multi-velocity and multi-layer capabilities.
  • ReaSynth is a very simple additive synthesizer.
  • ReaSynthDr is an extremely bare-bones, 4-piece drum sampler that can be set on one track or as a multi-out instrument.
You can also browse through the ReaPack repositories and find a few interesting and powerful JS FX instruments like the Super8 MIDI looper.
Jose M.
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