[BLOG] MTTK #002: Thundercat grooves with the STARRYKEYS

The Music Therapy Test Kitchen (MTTK) is a blog by the therapists and interns behind the University of Louisville Music Therapy Clinic (UofL MTC) sharing ideas, interventions, and musical technology tips and tricks to support music therapists. We run gear through its paces to see how it holds up in music therapy spaces.

[BLOG] MTTK #002: Thundercat grooves with the STARRYKEYS [MIDI CONTROLLER]

Posted 08/12/2022 by Andrew Chapman, MT-BC


Related Links:
About the UofL MT Clinic
- Other tech resources: The TECHNook
- Other MT Resource: Make More Music

 Welcome to another installment of the Music Therapy Test Kitchen (MTTK), where we try out music technology in the therapeutic setting and give you a run-down of what we liked, what we didn’t, and how we applied it in therapy. This time around, we focused on the Donner STARRYKEY 25 MIDI Keyboard!

The good folks at Donner graciously sent us this keyboard to review, and we’ve been using it to good success over the past several weeks. We often use tech like this in sessions, specifically when we’re looking at music recording, but have limited live resources. Typically, recording MIDI for us has looked like carrying a large keyboard with MIDI capabilities, or in a pinch using a feature like musical typing with a computer keyboard.

Setup: Without MIDI, it’s often difficult to prepare for recording on the fly – what happens if a client discharging before the next session wants to record an extra bass part, but you don’t have an electric bass, 1/4” cable, and audio interface on hand? Out of the box, the STARRYKEY is immediately usable – Donner sent along a USB-MIDI cable that connects directly to any laptop, thanks to the USB-C adapter they sent as well! Open any DAW (I used GarageBand for this first test), select a Virtual Studio Instrument, and you’re ready to go! Also check out the fun startup sequence!

MTTK Review 

After using the STARRYKEY for MIDI recording and live music experiences, here’s our takeaways:

What we liked:

  • Portability: The keyboard easily fits in a backpack at ~ 21” x 9” (and 25 keys) and the associated gear needed to operate is minimal – just a USB MIDI cable (provided) and a DAW on a laptop or desktop. I use GarageBand on a MacBook Air for maximum portability!

  • Physical features: In addition to convenience, the keyboard feels great to play! The wood-textured keys are slightly weighted and spaced as per usual keyboard spacing. This is helpful for our clinic artists who are used to playing on a full-size keyboard. The drum pads are also visually pleasing, with lights corresponding to the velocity that they’re hit.

  • Responsiveness : The weighted keys and sensitive drum pads are very responsive, effectively communicating velocity (loud / soft), making it possible to diversify & personalize performances. The STARRYKEY also features a pitch and modulation wheel that have had noticeable effects on almost every VST I’ve tried, and they’re super fun to play with too.

  • Ease of recording: Transposition features (transpose +/- and octave +/- buttons), drum pads, and a reduced scale of keys also makes it much less daunting to track live MIDI performances. For recording short melodic motives, it works great – for both simple and complex beat patterns, the pads do the trick.

Quick Snapshot of programming in GarageBand via MIDI

What we didn't like as much:

  • Small size may be frustrating: While the size is a plus in portability and works great for simple performances, you might run into some frustration if you’re looking to record parts that cover more than two octaves. While the 8 beat pads cover the basics (typically bass, snare, crash, and hi hat – depending on the VST), you may find yourself using the piano keys for a sound that’s not easily assignable to a beat pad.

  • More setup required for live interaction: The STARRYKEY shines in recording and is possible to utilize in a live setting, but since it doesn’t have onboard speakers or a direct 1/4” / XLR out, this would require a speaker / amp connected directly to your computer or to an additional audio interface.

Where it shines for therapy:

  • Endless sound possibilities: Our clinic artists often use the STARRYKEY to explore different VSTs, which allow them to create full recordings with percussion / keyboard / guitar / etc. with only the knowledge of one instrument. This allows them to express themselves and inspires confidence that they do have the abilities to make something meaningful for themselves and do it independently.

  • Space and time-saving for recording: Because this keyboard is easily portable, it’s a great option for on-the-fly recording or demo-ing, allowing clinic artists to realize their ideas quickly when they might only be in therapy for a short time.

Overall, this is a great piece of equipment that is definitely affordable either with advanced planning or using approved budget. Get details on overall specs and links below.

Test Kitchen Results: We're Cookin' with the STARRYKEY Controller

Thanks for checking out the inaugural MTTK! Reach out to me () if you have any questions on this kit or suggestions for future MTTK topics. Below we'll have the specs, links, and other resources for the tech-savvy MT.

Specs: Donner STARRYKEY Keyboard MIDI Controller

  • Retail: $119.99 US via donnerdeal.com | Found on Amazon.com for $89.99 US
  • Hardware features: multiple size and key count options (price range varies). 25-keys, 8-velocity sensitive backlit pads, 4 assignable knobs, transposition / octave buttons, pitch wheel and modulation wheel, MIDI USB connection, MIDI out, and pedal interface
  • Link to learn more: Donner STARRYKEY 25 Keyboard MIDI Controller