A BASIC COMPUTER MUSIC WORKSTATION typically consists of (1) a computer to run music software, (2) a keyboard controller or synthesizer for inputting or triggering musical events or data, (3) an interface for relaying and translating musical data between the keyboard and the computer (and visa versa), (4) an instrument source for realizing musical data triggered by the software (such as keyboard synth sounds or software instruments), and (5) a means of monitoring the sound output from components of the workstation (such as headphones or monitor speakers). Additional add-ons include a sustain pedal for the keyboard, a USB microphone for recording audio, and/or an audio interface with inputs for recording electronic instruments. While this may seem a bit complicated, it’s really not. The trend over the years with computers and peripherals has been toward standardization and “plug-and-play” simplification.
Fig. A1.1 shows the components and configuration of a basic computer music workstation. Let’s examine the components in the diagram first.
1. Computer: The desktop or laptop computer is the central hub of the workstation. Not only does it run software applications (music and otherwise) and web applications (in a browser), but it also has an on-board audio system (sound card) and various ports (USB, FireWire, etc.) and jacks (1/8-inch stereo in and out). It may have a built-in microphone, video camera, and/or built-in speakers, and its QWERTY keyboard can be used as an input device by many music applications.
2. MIDI keyboard: As described in chapter 12, MIDI keyboards have become the predominant input device for entering musical data (notes, durations, intensities, etc.) either in real time or step time. A MIDI keyboard may have on-board instrument sounds or just serve as a controller for entering or triggering musical events. If the former, some means of hearing the audio output of the keyboard must be employed (headphones, amplifier, etc.). The latter, using software instrument sounds involves only the audio output of the computer that “hosts” them.
3. Headphones: Stereo headphones allow a single user to monitor the audio output of the computer and/or a keyboard synthesizer. In most music education scenarios, with multiple workstations, this is preferred. A headphone splitter, which turns a single headphone jack into two, allows students to work in pairs.