Using MIDI Designer Pro in the Background

In this video I demonstrate how to use the midiLFOs app to automate the “Dictator” control in Turnado. In order to achieve more rhythmic CC modulation, I sync midiLFOs to the clock on my BeatStep Pro, while using MIDI Designer Pro in the background to constrain the CC values coming from midiLFOs to 8 values instead of 128. The result is that the position of the Dictator changes every 2 beats in time with the sequencer.

For more info on the “number of ticks” option, check out the Working with Controls chapter in the manual!


Making a Shared Layout Work for You

There are tons of great layouts shared by the community, but let’s face it: everyone’s setup and workflow is just different enough to keep things from working perfectly every time. While importing a layout is pretty easy, you’re likely to run into issues if you’ve made changes to the default midi settings in your software, apps or hardware synths. Things also get a bit complicated when you’re sending MIDI notes and messages on multiple channels to different programs or devices.

There are a couple of great features available in MIDI Designer Pro that make it easy to adapt layouts shared by other users to fit your own needs, or to repurpose your own layouts when needed.

Renumbering Controls and Changing Channels

This is the tool I’ve personally found most useful in making layouts my own. In design mode, you can tap on a page tab to open the Page Properties tab, and then click on the Controls icon at the bottom to display some useful control actions. The top button allows you to renumber controls and/or change the channel associated with that page. If you just need to assign a different MIDI channel, you can simply select the new channel number and tap the “Channel Only” button. If you need to reassign the CC numbers for the page’s controls, you can do that as well by choosing a starting number and clicking “Unused Only” to avoid numbers already assigned elsewhere in the layout, or “Sequential” if you want to ignore existing assignments.

Check out the section on Page-Wide Control Actions in the manual for more info.


If you are using multi-page layouts, choosing different colors to visually separate controls into groups can be useful or even necessary. Of course, a layout’s original creator may have sprinkled colors throughout a page’s controls that don’t really suit you, so luckily there’s the option to remove custom colors, also found on the Controls view of the Page Properties tab.

It’s easy to quickly define the look and feel of the controls in your layout using the Page Properties Pane, with options for choosing the background color and texture, LED color, and highlight color for each page.

Combining Layouts

When you open a layout from an external program or from the Config -> Actions panel, you are given the option to append the new layout to the one currently loaded. This is a great way to combine multiple shared layouts, or to build onto an existing layout. Just be sure to save the combined layout once you’ve made the necessary tweaks so that it can be recalled for later use.

One Knob to Rule Them All

When it comes to digital keyboards, increased portability almost always means less direct control over program parameters, which necessarily take second priority to performance controls. Even with heftier workstation synths, the sheer number of features and options makes it impossible to dedicate physical controls for everything.

The compromise for packing a ton of functionality into a tidy little package usually comes in the form of a tiny LED screen and an intricate array of menus and submenus, all controlled by a “data knob”, and maybe a couple of buttons. Creating new presets means twisting and tapping through dozens (or hundreds) of menu options. Crafting the perfect sound can be a frustrating exercise lasting hours, or even days.


MIDI Designer Pro takes a lot of the pain and frustration out of digital synth programming by giving you the controls you need, allowing you to discover the sounds hidden behind those layers of menus. A great example is the control layout created by André Noller for the Akai Miniak (pictured above).

As many know, this synth was nearly un-editable (at least for me) because of the missing controllers and the ‘calculator-styled’ display with one (!) endless knob and a few shortcuts to get to the menus faster (but not fast enough if you ask me).

As you can see from just one of the many screens included in the layout, André’s custom controller offers a massive improvement in the programming workflow for this synth. The good news is, layouts like this are possible for most modern digital synths, and many have already been created and shared by members of the MIDI Designer community.

So save yourself some scrolling and tapping by heading over to the community shares, where you may just find a ready-to-use layout for your synth.

Dream Bigger


Freightliner, maker of big trucks, went as big as it gets with a media event in May by using advanced projection mapping to turn Hoover Dam into one big projection screen. It took 60 high-powered projectors to cover the surface of the dam, which spans the area of about 9 football fields.

What does this have to do with MIDI Designer? Nothing directly, but when Dan shared it with me, it got me to thinking about dreaming bigger.

First, though, I’ll introduce myself for those of you who may not know me. My name is Clif Johnston, and I’m the founder/president of Apptronica, and author of a couple of books on iOS music making. I’ll be doing a bit of guest posting here on the MD blog to share some thoughts on using the iPad as a control interface using MIDI Designer Pro.

My main focus in life is making music on iOS devices. A few days ago someone asked why anyone would want to use an app like MIDI Designer to control other apps – why wouldn’t you just use an app’s existing controls? The answer lies in dreaming bigger: control more; control better; control differently.

Control More

Layouts for two Source Audio Pedals, the Manta Bass Filter and the Bass OFD

Custom control interfaces are helpful, and even necessary sometimes, if you’re using multiple apps, VST synths, hardware synths, or a combination of those. Beyond just having all of the necessary knobs and sliders within reach, combining controls into a single interface opens up interesting options for controlling multiple parameters across your setup at the exact same time.

For example, you might set up a single X/Y control to adjust the filter cutoff and resonance on 2 synths at once. You could also use a single set of program change controls to move seamlessly through a live set without trying to navigate a list of preset changes in the middle of a performance.

Control Better

Animoog for iPhone

Animoog for iPhone

If you’re using music apps on an iPhone or iPad mini, the controls can be so dense sometimes that they’re next to useless for live performance. This applies to software VSTs as well, especially when you’re running half a dozen at the same time. Creating your own control layouts allows you to enlarge and expand certain controls while removing those you don’t use.

The precision of controls can be improved using many of MIDI Designer’s features. For example, you can reduce the number of ticks on a knob, which in turn reduces the number of discrete values to be sent. This can be handy if you’re only interested in fractional increments (e.g. 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 4/4), making setting the desired values much easier.

There’s also a “Long Throw” option for sliders, knobs, and crossfaders which slows the movement of the controls, leading to smoother and more precise parameter changes. This is especially handy for things like volume or tempo where a quick change can lead to very undesirable results.

Control Differently

iPulsaret Performance Layout

You may find that a slider or X/Y control provides a better interface for you than the set of knobs provided by the developer. Perhaps a row of buttons with discrete values better fits your needs than a single continuous control.

MIDI Designer also allows you to create custom keyboards, opening up some interesting options not readily available in some apps or software. You could create a keyboard that operates vertically instead of horizontally. You could set up a keyboard to restrict notes to a certain scale. You can even use hex shaped buttons to create your own isomorphic keyboard layouts.

What’s Your Dream?

This is just a quick example of a handful of ways to use MIDI Designer layouts to improve your workflow or live performance setup. There are tons of possibilities, but it’s really the ability to create personalized layouts that do exactly what you need them to do that makes MIDI Designer such a valuable tool.

Let me know in the comments what you’d like to be able to do with a custom controller. If you’re already using MIDI Designer in an innovative way, please share so that your ideas can inspire others.