What to look for in a keyboard

You’ve decided to invest in a keyboard for you or your student?!? Congratulations! Now what?

I’m approaching this conversation as if you are looking for the keyboard to be your primary instrument and that you do not already own a different instrument. If you own a piano, and the keyboard is a second instrument, then this conversation will not apply to you!

Keyboards sometimes get a bad wrap because so many of them are toys. If a principle sound setting on the instrument is a “meow” feature, then we can safely assume it fits in the toy category.

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Yeah, but have you heard it play Cat Stevens

Just like pianos have categories, so do keyboards.

  • Stage pianos/digital pianos — See description below.
  • Synthesizers/keyboards — Keyboard features many different sounds and sound manipulation settings. Can be weighted keys (or not) and full-sized-keys (or not.)
  • Midi controllers – designed to be plugged into a computer to manipulate computer programs and sounds. Usually not weighted.

If you are looking for an instrument to be a primary instrument for private piano lessons, you are best off looking for a stage piano or a digital piano.

Julia B. Andrews

“Weighted, full-sized, 88-Keys”

A stage piano or a digital piano will usually have 88, weighted, touch senstive, full-sized keys just like a usual piano. Weighted keys “feel” like an acoustic piano and mimic the resistance you encounter when pushing down an acoustic piano key. Playing unweighted keys feels akin to driving on ice. Sure you can move fast but often without control! Worse than that, unweighted keyboards make it difficult for beginning students to develop their piano technique.

Touch sensitive keys adjust the velocity of the key stroke to mimic playing loudly and softly. Nowadays, almost all keyboards are touch sensitive. (In the way back, consumers had to seek out whether the keys were touch sensitive. We had to walk uphill in the snow too!) The easiest way to test if a keyboard is touch-sensitive is to play loudly and softly on the same notes without adjusting the volume. Was there a difference? The keyboard is touch sensitive!

Full-sized keys are imperative and non-negotiable. If you like tiny keys, might I suggest the accordion?

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“Oh no you didn’t!”

If you had to compromise on a standard, compromise on 88 keys. Yes, an 88 key keyboard is the gold standard. Yes, you should try to find a keyboard with all 88 keys. But realistically, if you had 76 keys (a keyboard minus one complete octave including the black keys), you would still be able to play most beginning piano music.

Interested in keyboard brand recommendations? Click here for a complete list

Other considerations

You will need a keyboard stand, a bench or appropriate-height chair, a music stand to hold your book, and a pedal. Depending on the type of keyboard you obtain, you may need an external speaker. If you plug the piano in, turn it on, turn-up the volume and hear no sound, chances are it needs an external speaker. Look for a keyboard with built-in speakers, or prepare to purchase an amplifier. Click here for an entire list of piano accessories.

Keyboards are a real alternative to acoustic pianos. Stage pianos and digital keyboards allow consumer to have a”one-and-done” instrument with no tuning or maintenance necessary. However, it’s the nature of a one-and-done purchase that makes keyboard shopping and selection so…… er….selective. Take the time, with a pianist or piano teacher, to ensure you are making a selection that will last the lifetime of the instrument.

Interested in piano lessons? Click here to contact the studio

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