Buying Keyboards or Digital Pianos: How & Why?

Learn about the various Types of Electric Keyboards, and whether you should consider buying a portable keyboard or a digital piano. Read this before reading reviews of the the best electronic piano keyboards.

buying piano, buying electronic keyboard When choosing digital products, you should have some basic understanding of the various jargon/specs so that you can select the right one for your needs.

Most of the time, these two terms (‘portable keyboards’ and ‘digital pianos’) are used interchangeably, and the term ‘electric keyboard’ can be used to describe both, there are some definite differences between portable keyboards and digital pianos. The more notable differences being size, number of keys, type of touch, features, and cost.

  • Portable keyboards are lightweight, have about 61 keys or lesser, can be packed in a gig bag and carried around. The cheaper ones are extremely light and plasticy, but suitable for learning.
  • Digital pianos have 76/88 keys, have weighted keys (semi-weighted options are also available). It may look portable (minus the cabinet) but its still heavy. Though musicians who play the piano don’t mind lugging around a 88-key digital piano to gigs.

You also have the option of choosing the best of all the worlds, a product with fully-weighted piano like keys, combined with a wide range of features (Voices, Song Banks, etc.)

Here are some more indicators to help you out with buying a piano or a music keyboard.

Whether a digital piano or a portable keyboard will suit your needs better would depend on various factors, most important ones being:

  • your inclination towards technology
  • your liking for a particular style of music
  • your budget
  • whether you have learnt before
  • what kind of keyboard player you are or want to become

buying piano, buying electronic keyboard

Should You Be Buying Piano?

If you are a person who likes the piano because:

  • You like its beautiful piano sounds
  • You like its great looks
  • You are just content with playing the music you like on the piano (classical, jazz, blues etc.) without being bothered if there are hundreds of effects or other instrument sounds

This gives an indication that you should be buying piano. If your interests are mostly geared towards piano, then a Digital Piano is your choice.

A digital piano can be a cost effective solution to your need, and some of the electric piano models will also give you all the arranging features which you may start using later on.

Read more on different types & looks of digital pianos here…

Should You Buy An Arranger Keyboard?

On the other hand:

  • You are a beginner who wants to take his first step towards playing
  • You are excited by the various sounds, styles, and effects which a keyboard offers
  • You want to play with a group of friends or for a band
  • You like creating your own music, and arranging it

This tells that you should be buying keyboard – a musical keyboard or a synthesizer workstation.

For onstage performances or using backing tracks, learning to play, or for songwriting, an Arranger Keyboard will be a better instrument and will serve you well.

Does the Keyboard Sound Very Different to a Piano?

This is a common question that most beginners have when they set out to buy a new piano. So does a music keyboard sound very different to a Piano?

Here’s some basic differences between keyboards and pianos (though there are more similarities between these two music instruments).

keyboard vs piano

  • An acoustic piano is built differently than a digital piano, the acoustic one has a mechanism where hammers strike strings to create sounds.
  • Digital pianos & keyboards are similar, where the sounds are created using the electronics inside.
  • A music keyboard is usually smaller (fewer octaves) than a digital piano.

So if you buy a digital piano, it may or may not sound a lot different from an acoustic one, depending on the quality of the digital piano (which impacts its price).

A good music keyboard can also have good piano sounds (in addition to many more instrument sounds & rhythms/backing tracks). These instruments are usually used as a one-man band or as part of a musical group.

However, if you intend to play a lot of piano on a keyboard, you need one with weighted keys and preferably a keyboard with more than 61 keys.

Also read: Buying Keyboards or Digital Pianos: How & Why?

Most arrangers / digital pianos (with styles) have an amazing collection of sounds & styles. They usually have hundreds of voices to choose from, they have drum kits then there are acoustic instruments such as the piano, guitars, brass and other synth sounds.

In such musical instruments, you need to make sure that the polyphony is sufficient so that the notes don’t drop-off when you play complex passages with chords, string different voices and accompaniments together.

Here are some of the common features found on digital pianos / arranger keyboards.

  • Hundreds of Digitally Sampled Voices
  • Some have Virtual Drawbars
  • Microphone Input and Vocal Harmony Feature
  • Large LCD Screen Display
  • Downloadable Music data
  • One Touch Setting
  • Mixing Console Button, and more

Must Read: Complete guide on Pianos & Keyboards

Music keyboards are usually very affordable and that is why most use it, to begin with, to learn to play keyboards/piano. But then the piano sounds on a cheap keyboard are just about okay, not really close to any good quality piano. However, keyboards are a lot cheaper, serves the purpose for beginners, and that’s why they are so popular.

Music keyboards, also known as arranger keyboards can be of various types with the better ones known as arranger workstation that are loaded with several features. Any keyboardist looking for variety in their playing experience usually go for arranger workstations.

Some say that having a long list of features is actually a downside as you don’t actually use all the features. However, if you take some efforts to go through the various features, its actually quite fun to use them and they do help yo make the overall playing sound better. Fortunately, there are several forums also where you can find useful tips on how to use the music keyboard.

Many Choices in Electric Piano Keyboards

Now that you have an understanding of the basic features that are available on keyboards, you have several options that you may consider, if you have decided to go for a digital piano.

  • Go for a 76 or 88 key grand keyboard, the one that comes with arranger features. You may choose semi-synth style keys if you are used to playing keyboards
  • Go for an 88 key digital piano with authentic weighted keys. You have options to choose a model with arranger features or you may choose one without all those extras
  • If you are more into computer music production, you may consider an 88 key keyboard controller with weighted keys
  • For those, who intend to perform, some cool synth pianos with cutting edge features are available.

How to Select a Digital Piano Keyboard?

There are several things that you would need to bear in mind when you look for a new keyboard instruments, depending on your budget, skills and intended use.

For most beginners it would be either a piano or a keyboard at an affordable price. For intermediate and experienced players the instrument will need specific features depending on whether the board is going to be used for performance or in the studio.

In any case, you are encouraged to get a feel of all shortlisted piano keyboards by visiting a local store.

  • Go and lay your hands on every piano keyboard that fits in your budget.
  • Play the keys and check if you are comfortable with the feel (more for the piano guys)
  • If you have never owned an arranger before, ask for a demo of all the important functions, if that’s what you’re interest in.
  • Always keep an eye for bundled packages. You may get some surprise piano accessories.

Need advice on buying a Piano keyboard…
For all members who have the tenacity to read through a post this long – I will give a great review of your next performance.

I’m a performing classical and flamenco guitarist, and though I love my instrument, it has one serious shortcoming – it is not a sustaining instrument, and so it cannot carry a long legato line. This has been a source of frustration for me, because it precludes playing a lot of music that I would like to play, music that really needs to be played legato to do it justice.

Music such as the “Albinoni” Adagio, Samuel Barber’s Adagio For Strings, or something like “Oblivion” by Astor Piazzolla, simply don’t work on classical guitar. So lately I have been thinking of getting a keyboard that simulates the various solo instruments – violin, cello, sax, clarinet, oboe, etc. Of course my keyboard skills are mediocre at best, though I hope to improve.

My problem is that with performing, practicing, teaching, and running my business selling classical and flamenco guitars, I simply don’t have the time right now to take piano lessons. So since it’s not my instrument, I’m not too proud to accept auto-accompaniment where I can’t do it properly myself.

I have a lot of questions about keyboards that I hope some members here can help me with.

  • The first is about volume control. I have a Yamaha Clavinova CLP-123 digital piano, with “touch sensitive” keys. That’s fine for piano, but when I play “Strings” or “Organ” the volume remains the same throughout a long sustained line. That’s no good, because you cannot do a crescendo or diminuendo, and there’s no dynamic range, and no chance for expression. I have seen something called a “Volume Pedal” that can be plugged into a keyboard, that I presume would do the trick.

    But what I would really like, and there seems to be confusion about this – at least on my part – is volume control on the keys as you hold them down in a sustained note or line. So that way I could alter the volume of the note as I am holding it by increasing or decreasing the pressure. This would be ideal for me, and more natural than using a pedal. Is there a keyboard with that precise function, or do they merely add vibrato or some special effect. I have heard this called “aftertouch,” but then I have seen “aftertouch” defined as something different from what I have described.

    • Many digital pianos and keyboards have a traditional three pedal setup. In lieu of a regular volume control pedal, would it be possible to rewire the usual pedals to make say the right pedal into a volume control pedal and the left into a sustain?
    • I understand how a split keyboard works, but is there any way of having separate volume control for each part of the split? Including the auto-accompaniment if used.
    • Next I am wondering about changing the selected instrument in the middle of a piece. Sometimes you get the statement of an opening theme, followed by a repeat. In an ensemble frequently the repeat will be taken by a different instrument. On an organ, you can just flip down a large tab in a fraction of a second to change instruments. Do any keyboards have say big buttons that you can hit real quick to change instruments?
    • I know about weighted hammer action, and it seems like most decent instruments have it – I presume some better and some worse.
    • In what little exploring I’ve done, it’s clear that some keyboards simulate the various instruments a lot better than other keyboards do. I begin to suspect it’s a function of cost, and so possibly a question of finding a happy medium between cost and sound. I played a Casio 330 at Sam Ash, and the sounds could best be described as more or less vaguely suggesting the purported instrument. The very next day I went to the home of one of my classical guitar students, and he had a Roland KR-977. Well, I played that and it knocked me out. Of course I would have to wait for some unknown relative to bequeath me a small fortune in order to buy something like the Roland.
    • So here is what I would like – LOL. A keyboard, preferably 88 keys, though if it had everything else I want I would take 76 – with decent weighted hammer action – with volume control keys as described above, or if not, then an input for one or two volume control pedals – with all or most of the main solo instrument sounds, possibly including voices, and chamber or full orchestra – with really good simulation of those sounds – with auto accompaniment – and with a quick way of changing instruments on the fly. And for less than five hundred dollars. JUST KIDDING!!! Is there such an instrument, and if there is, what cost would I realistically be looking at?

    Many thanks to everyone for any help or advice (other than sticking to classical guitar) you can give me. – Ramon

    Ramon, Most of your assumptions are correct:

    • The more expensive the piano, the better is the sound
    • You can use a volume pedal if you’re going to play a lot of non-piano sounds
    • Most keyboards will not let you change the volume of the split instruments. Although you can change the volume of the accompaniments
    • You can store the various voices you need for your performance and assign it to buttons before starting the performance, so you can actually change voices in the middle of a performance by selecting the buttons…so its possible

    You do get good options for five hundred bucks, but a budget of around 1000 dollars will give you better options, with better sounds and lots of features. Some may also throw in a stand instead. (At this price you may not get a good looking upright piano with the classic design). You may start your search here… – keytarhq

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