What Is Keyboard Aftertouch? | Complete Guide

In this post, we’ll answer the question, “what is keyboard aftertouch” and let you know if it’s a feature worth having.

Aftertouch MIDI controllers allow you to apply pressure to its keys after you’ve pressed them down.

This pressure can trigger additional MIDI events, manipulating how the notes you play sound in various ways.

For example, you can use pressure-sensitive keys to add vibrato, apply modulation, or increase the volume of a note as you’re playing it.

An aftertouch MIDI controller is nice but can be difficult to use if you’re inexperienced. 

Let’s go into more detail on aftertouch to help you decide if it’s a good fit.

What is Keyboard Aftertouch?

You can use keyboard aftertouch to trigger effects in real time.

It’s a feature that responds to pressure.

For example, if you hold down a C-note and apply additional pressure, you can program an aftertouch response to apply vibrato, modulation, or another effect to this note.

In other words, when you press a key on a traditional keyboard, the sound it makes stays consistent until fading.

But with keyboard aftertouch, you can continue to shape and manipulate the sound of that note in real time.

This ability makes an aftertouch keyboard a valuable tool for creating expressive and dynamic performances.

Aftertouch MIDI Controllers

In a MIDI keyboardaftertouch creates additional MIDI data.

Aftertouch MIDI data represents the additional pressure you apply to keys after pressing them.

An aftertouch MIDI keyboard generates and sends this data to your DAW to trigger effects that alter the sound of the notes you play.

By programming your keyboard’s aftertouch response of your MIDI keyboard, you can add a new level of expression and nuance to your performances, allowing you to create more dynamic and emotive music.

Not sure which MIDI controllers have aftertouch? Check out our list of the top 6 options.

How Does Aftertouch Work?

Aftertouch is a type of keyboard expression.

Unfamiliar with this term?

In short, it gives you the ability to alter the tonal qualities of a note based on how you play it.

In this case, keyboards with aftertouch respond to pressure.

Another type of keyboard expression is velocity sensitivity which responds to the speed at which you press down a key.

Here’s an example to help you understand pressure sensitivity.

Let’s say you play a C note on your MIDI keyboard.

You’ve programmed your keyboard’s aftertouch response to add vibrato to any notes you play with additional pressure.

Without aftertouch, this note will sound the same over time – as you continue to press down on it.

However, with aftertouch, applying additional pressure to this note will add vibrato.

You can also adjust the sensitivity and amount of aftertouch required to trigger the vibrato. Customizing allows you to tailor this effect to your playing style and preferences.

What Can You Do With Aftertouch?

You can use aftertouch to alter a note’s pitch, volume, filter, and other parameters in real time.

To do so, you’ll need to assign an effect to the aftertouch data through your DAW.

You can typically program aftertouch using the mapping function in your DAW’s MIDI editor.

Here you can customize the aftertouch response for each individual key or across the entire keyboard.

While you can apply these effects in post-production, the great thing about aftertouch is that you can apply these effects as you play.

This aspect of aftertouch gives you greater control over the dynamics and expression of your performance.

So, we recommend making sure your MIDI keyboard has aftertouch capabilities if you’re looking to spice up your performances.

What’s the Difference Between Channel Aftertouch vs Polyphonic Aftertouch

There are two types of aftertouch: Channel or mono and polyphonic.

Channel aftertouch, also known as mono aftertouch, applies a single effect or parameter across all notes you’re playing at once.

For example, you could use a channel aftertouch MIDI controller to add a volume fade to a group of notes in a chord progression.

On the other hand, polyphonic aftertouch senses the amount of pressure you apply to each key individually and sends a separate aftertouch response for each key. 

For example, you could apply a vibrato effect to the top note of the chord while adding a filter sweep to the middle notes and a volume fade to the bottom note – all in real-time as you play.

Is Aftertouch Necessary?

Aftertouch isn’t necessary, but it can enhance creativity.

Aftertouch can add a new dynamic to your productions and performances if you’re an experienced keyboardist.

You can use it to add variations to your sounds in real-time and spontaneously create interesting-sounding melodies.

While aftertouch has advantages for skilled keyboardists, it’s difficult for beginners to use. 

To use aftertouch, you’ll need to apply additional pressure to keys while still playing fluently – this is difficult without experience.

Aftertouch Alternatives

For non-keyboardist, you can add movement to your melodies and chord progressions using automation in your DAW.

While this technique doesn’t give you the real-time effect that aftertouch does, it’s an effective way to add variation to your patterns.

Is Aftertouch Worth it?

Aftertouch MIDI keyboards can be expensive.

However, they’re worth the expense if you’re looking for creative ways to spice up your music.

Today, it’s easier than ever to be a music producer – all you need is a computer and a DAW.

An aftertouch MIDI keyboard can help you create interesting and dynamic melodies, allowing you to stand out from other producers.

Aftertouch vs Velocity Sensitive

Aftertouch and velocity sensitivity are both forms of keyboard expression.

The main difference is aftertouch responds to pressure while velocity responds to how fast you press a key.

Each form of keyboard expression alters a note’s tonal qualities but through different actions.

Takeaway: What is Aftertouch in a Keyboard?

Aftertouch is a type of keyboard expression found in some MIDI keyboards that you can use to add effects to notes in real time.

The keys on an aftertouch MIDI keyboard are pressure-sensitive.

Since these keys respond to pressure, you can apply additional pressure to notes after striking them to apply effects as you play. 

What is the benefit of aftertouch?

It’s a valuable tool, as it offers a way for you to add nuance to your performances.

You can create more expressive and emotive music by carefully controlling the amount of aftertouch you apply to each note.

Overall, aftertouch is a great way to add more personality to your music.

So don’t be afraid to experiment with it and see what you can create!