Modern Worship Keyboards: Laptop/Controller Vs. Traditional Synth Keyboard


Thanks to Rich Kirkpatrick for sharing these thoughts for modern worship keyboardists today. Republished with permission. Originally published at:

There are so many choices these days when addressing your keyboard needs for modern worship. Shell out say $3,000 for a synth by Nord, Yamaha, or Roland. Or, use your laptop and a controller like Axiom Pro or Studio Logic. I get a lot of questions about this topic, so I thought I would give you my thinking in hopes that it will aid you in deciding your best option.

When an acoustic guitarist can spend $3,000 simply on a nice professional Taylor or Martin to lead worship with, the range in price is such that $500 might sound terrible while $5,000 terrific when you talk about wood, manufacturing, and the pickup electronics. I am here to say that you might feel less cool using a controller, but the geeky-ness of a laptop/iPad setup means for about $1,500 you can sound as good as a $3,300 workstation. If you already own a laptop, it might be less than that!

I currently have chosen to use this kind of setup. Here’s the equipment list:

  • Laptop – 13” MacBook Pro ($1,100)
  • Sounds – MainStage by Apple ($30)
  • Controller – M-Audio Axiom Pro61 ($500)
  • Bottom Line – NEW all of these equal $1,630 (I bought a used laptop).

Advantages of a laptop/controller setup:

  • Flexibility. You can download sounds, adding as you go.
  • Economics. Overall, it is a cheaper option for the same sonic quality.
  • Interface. Use of products like MainStage make your setup a breeze.
  • Upgradable. You can add software, such as Ableton Live, or others to perform with. Add a fancy interface to improve sound output.

Like a said, I said, if you own a laptop, this can be cheaper, or you can look at other options such as a larger keyboard with 88 keys. If you already own an older synth, it is likely you can re-utilize it, especially if it has a USB interface for MIDI built in. Most musicians have a Mac. So, I apologize as I am not reviewing options right now for PC laptops. (If you have this info, please share with us.)

Advantages of a traditional synth setup.

  • Portability. Anyone can use it as is, while a laptop is usually person-specific.
  • Feel. It is likely that you are going to get a better keyboard control surface.
  • Durability. Laptops are fragile! Some of these can be dropped…sort of.
  • Plug-and-play. A laptop setup needs more cables and software setup may complicate things. Synth only needs power and audio cable to work.

If you have multiple players on your team, training them to use the same keyboard might be worth the extra cast. If you are in a church-in-the-box, portability and durability rule. Frugality makes sense, except when the headaches cost more than the gear. So, pay more for what you need if the synth makes sense for you.

Obviously, it is not a clear decision that all should use traditional synths. Add the use of iPads for sound generation and the options get even more diverse. Technology in this case helps the one willing to do a bit extra work. But, not all of us are wired this way. And, not all situations make it practical to use a computer and control surface for live modern worship. I hope this helps you evaluate your situation.

Rich Kirkpatrick is a Writer/Musician/Strategist. The third item is the catch-all for his work in consulting, teaching, and new media development. Family man, writer, blogger, musician, worship leader, pastor who loves espresso, social media & life-changing conversation. Rich writes on (Rich Kirkpatrick’s Blog) and hosts and produces a podcast titled Worship Mythbusters.

Rich’s latest Ep Drink The Divine is available at iTunes: