How to Learn Apple’s MainStage Keyboard Programming Software

Apple’s MainStage keyboard programming software has become the industry standard for live performance on Broadway and in the pop world over the last several years, yet resources for learning how to use it are either scarce or difficult to find. In this post, we’ll explore several methods for learning how to use it.

What Exactly is Apple’s MainStage Software?

Apple’s MainStage keyboard programming software has been around for about twelve years, originally packaged as part of the Logic Pro digital audio workstation suite. The software serves as a host in which one can utilize many native plugins such as soft synths and FX, and it allows the user to organize the sounds in layers and splits, and to place them in the proper order for use in live performance. All of this can be controlled via a MIDI controller such as a keyboard, drum pad, or other device.

In addition, Apple’s MainStage software can play backing tracks, trigger external events, or be used to process audio such as a signal from an electric guitar or even vocals. Many users also use MainStage as a sort of hub to control their entire keyboard rigs. It’s this type of flexibility that makes MainStage so appealing for so many users. What’s even more appealing is that it can be purchased for only $29 from the Mac App store!

What is the Best Way to Learn MainStage Keyboard Programming?

The problem is that as convenient as Apple’s MainStage is, there are few resources for how to go about learning it. There are various YouTube videos, blogs, and online courses, but not all are well suited for beginners, and they all have various advantages and disadvantages. We’ll explore several of these options here.

Learning MainStage Through Blogs

There are several great blogs dedicated to learning MainStage keyboard programming via blog articles. One great series of blogs posts is from synthesizer programming guru Brian Li. His series of blog posts and YouTube videos are designed to teach the basics of MainStage programming as well as address various more advanced features of MainStage such as how to use MIDI scripts to perform specific functions and the best way to integrate Native Instruments Kontakt into your MainStage programming. In other posts, he also addresses ways to use MainStage as a front end for Ableton Live and he clearly details how he utilized all of these techniques in real world situations on actual productions.

Another amazing option is would be to visit mardermusic, inc, which is the website for Broadway synthesizer programming guru Jeff Marder. On this website, he writes general posts which address specific issues which tend to crop up when using MainStage. Some examples would include how to choose an audio interface or how to build a redundant rig for MainStage or Ableton. Best of all is that Jeff offers The Ultimate MainStage Programming Starter Kit, which consists of a MainStage template accompanied by a clearly written manual. The combination of the template and the manual are designed to take a new user with zero experience and get them up and running doing MainStage keyboard programming in a as short a period of time as possible. For $59, it’s a bargain. And for $149, one can add in a private Skype lesson directly with Jeff Marder in addition to the template and the manual, which is an extremely efficient way to learn.

Using Online Videos to Learn MainStage Programming

There are some, but not many, resources for learning MainStage keyboard programing online, and it can be difficult to ascertain which options are best for one’s learning style. One of the best videos I’ve ever seen was on by Bill Burgess. Bill is an excellent teacher, but his series hasn’t been updated in at least five years, and a lot has happened in the development of MainStage over that time. Therefore, I’d recommend two resources for learning MainStage through online videos.

My colleague Brian Li has made a series of great MainStage videos which are posted on YouTube. While his YouTube series won’t serve as a complete “how-to” guide, it does contain many useful tips and tricks for MainStage. In this video, he explains in great detail the new features in the recent version 3.4 of MainStage.

Another fantastic source for learning MainStage can be found in the worship community. The popularity of Hillsong Worship has created a huge demand for MainStage learning tools and recreations of popular MainStage patches for people who wish to bring this music to their churches. The most popular source for this material can be found on the website of David Pfaltzgraff’s brainchild Sunday Sounds, which is dedicated to the use of MainStage and Ableton in the worship community. For simply sharing your email address for their mailing list, you’ll gain access to a set of intro videos to get you up and running using MainStage. Even though you could unsubscribe from the email mailings at any time, there’s not reason to do so as David’s emails are always relevant, informative, and never spammy in any way.

Books for Learning Apple’s MainStage Software

Unfortunately, there are very few written resources for learning MainStage keyboard programming. The only one I’m aware of is available on the Amazon Kindle Bookstore, and it’s the book I wrote! Getting Started with Apple’s MainStage is the kindle form of my Ultimate MainStage Starter Kit. It presents all of the information in a clearly laid out Kindle book and includes a download link within the book to enable to ready to download the MainStage template I created.

There is a MainStage User Guide in the Apple iBooks store, though I found it to be somewhat limited in the degree of help it offers and knowledge it imparts.

MainStage Keyboard Programming Lessons

There are also limited resources taking MainStage keyboard programming lessons with an instructor one-on-one, though The Music Learning Hub offers private instruction with our world class team. Contact us to set up lessons in MainStage programming with Jeff Marder or any of our other world class instructors.


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