Connecting your Yamaha keyboard to your PC so that you can use recording software seems like a no-brainer, but, in fact, it can be surprisingly difficult. However, once you understand how to do it, it all makes sense. In this post, I don’t try to explain how to connect every type of Yamaha keyboard, but just one as an example, and I explain some of the key ideas. My example uses a Yamaha PSR E363.
Recording software- Audacity
The first thing to do is to install some recording software on your computer. Audacity is free and relatively easy to use. The next step is the connection. Turn off your keyboard before making any connections.
The keyboard output port
The back side of the keyboard has a number of ports. For purposes of recording, you can ignore the USB Type B port. The most important port is the one marked Phones/Output. If nothing is connected to this port, then, when you play the keyboard, you will hear the sound through the keyboard’s speakers. However, if you connect anything to this port, then all the sound will be directed, instead, to come out of this port. This means that once you have inserted a cable in this port, you will no longer hear the sound of pressing a key – even if that cable is not connected to anything. On the example model, this port takes a 1/4 inch (6.35mm) jack.
The audio interfaced
The keyboard output port cannot be directly connected to your computer, but instead needs to go through a third piece of equipment, called an audio interface. You can purchase an audio interface on Amazon or elsewhere. So the next step is to connect your keyboard to the audio interface. Remember that you are connecting output on the keyboard to input on the interface. My example audio interface has an XLR input port. So, I connect using a cable with an XLR jack for the interface side. Check your interface for the type of port marked input. This is the only cable you need from the keyboard to the interface.
Use the correct USB port
Next you want to connect the interface to the PC. Your interface will be sold with a cable to connect it to your computer. Mine has a type B USB 2 port that needs to connect to a Type A USB 2 on my computer. Your computer probably has both USB 2 and USB 3 ports. If your interface calls for a USB 2 port, don’t plug into a USB 3 port. In my case, the interface partially functions when plugged into a USB 3 port, but not completely. Check the specs of your interface. If you need help identifying which is a USB 2 and which is a USB 3 port, it helps to know that USB 3 ports are sometimes blue and, for some computer brands, are sometimes marked SS for super speed.
Hear yourself while you play
Now your keyboard is connected to your computer for purposes of recording. However, you need to take an additional step. As it stands, you won’t be able to hear anything as you play and record. To hear yourself as you record, you need to plug some headphones or an external speaker into the interface headphones port . My interface has an 1/8 inch (3.5mm) jack port for headphones. You may have a different type port on your interface, but it is probably marked with a little headphones icon. Now you will be able to hear yourself as you record.
Ready to record
Next turn on your keyboard. Open up Audacity and you will see an option to set the microphone and the speakers. For both, choose the ones corresponding to your interface. Now click the red record button and play the keyboard to record. To listen to your recording when finished recording, disconnect the interface or change the speaker option on Audacity to your computer’s onboard speakers.
Adjust the gain
The interface basically functions as an external sound card to replace the sound card built into your computer. But this sound card will be much higher quality and will have ports to make the connections. Your interface will also have knobs and indicators so that you can watch what is going on and make adjustments. Adjust the “gain” knob to find the sweet spot for the best recording result. If the headphones are not loud enough, adjust the volume knob for headphones on the interface. Remember that the volume controls on your computer no long apply.
Using you keyboard speakers as computer speakers
When not recording, if your keyboard has super nice speakers and your computer is situated close by, you can use the speakers on the keyboard to play music from your computer. Unplug your interface and connect the speaker 1/8 jack port on your computer to the input port on the keyboard. My example model has an input port marked Aux in. Note that, in this case, you are using an output port on your computer and connecting to an input port on your keyboard, exactly the opposite of recording. No interface needed here.
What about that USB port on your keyboard? This is used to transfer data, not audio. For example, you can transfer midi files directly to your keyboard and play them with the “song” option or similar option. Yamaha has software you can download to do this.