There are quite literally thousands and thousands of different types of keyboards and acoustic pianos, ranging from toys for babies to giant grands and even 360 degree wraparounds!
Keyboards in particular offer an endless list of differing options that can make purchasing one for the first time an overwhelming experience. How many keys are necessary? What are weighted keys? What sounds are essential? Do I need a pedal?
If you’ve ever wondered the answers to these questions, this article is here to help!
Notice: Real pianos in relatively good condition are almost always superior to their keyboard counterparts. This is because notes are created with physical mechanics that can be fully felt and controlled by the musician. However, real pianos take up a lot of space and require annual tuning and maintenance, making them impractical for many homes and players. This guide will thus focus mainly on the digital world.
For the beginner student (especially if they are a child) a full size keyboard is not necessary. A traditional grand is built with 88 keys, covering 7 octaves! This massive range is what makes the piano such an expressive and dominant instrument, but these extended notes aren’t used in early level repertoire.
With this being said, keyboards come in various sizes and some can be too small! For the budding Mozart, we recommend a digital keyboard with 49 to 61 full size keys.
These types of keyboard can be purchased new for around the $150-$200 mark. Many also come with built-in educational features such as LCD screens that display the letter names and staff positions of notes being played, or keys that light up when a note is pressed to help orient the student.
- Low price is great for new students who aren’t sure if they will stick with the instrument.
- They often come with hundreds of sounds, from grand piano to string orchestra. Kids absolutely love to play around with these, and it is a great educational tool for exposing them to the massive variety of musical instruments that exist.
- Their small size and light weight make them portable and easy to move around the house, some even run on batteries.
- If the student is dedicated, they will outgrow one of these keyboards in a couple of years.
- Most are not velocity sensitive, meaning students can’t practice dynamics with them.
Here are a few keyboards in this range to take a look at:
This kit comes with a 61 key keyboard, a stand and a bench! It features hundreds of sounds, built in drum tracks and an LCD screen that displays the notes being played.
Casio makes tons of beginner keyboards that can be found in stores such as Walmart and Costco. They have been a major player in the keyboard market for a long time, and are a quality brand that can be trusted.
This instrument is pricier, but is also touch sensitive, a nice feature to have as it allows students to understand the dynamic differences of music.
For intermediate students who know they will be playing their instrument for at least the next few years, a higher level keyboard is a better investment. We recommended that this type of student look into purchasing a full size 88 key weighted action keyboard.
Weighted action keys emulate the heaviness of real ivory and wood keys on acoustic pianos, providing greater control and a more authentic musical touch than non-weighted models. Practicing with weighted keys also strengthens the fingers and prepares students to take on a true grand someday!
Intermediate keyboards tend to be more focused in their amount of sounds. They often have less sonic options than beginner keyboards, but each tone is more detailed and realistic. Piano sounds for instance often include noises such as the pedal releasing and the interior hammers falling back down; details like this create a much richer and realistic musical experience.
Beyond this, they provide the option for a sustain pedal to be used, a necessary component of the instrument for higher level repertoire.
- Their weighted keys, full-length keyboard and high quality internal speakers provide a realistic piano experience without the size and uncontrollable volume of a real acoustic.
- These keyboards, though bigger than the beginner models, are still portable and can be used for live performances.
- The lack of tone diversity isn’t ideal for multifaceted keyboardists.
- Require a keyboard stand or large table in order to setup and play them properly.
This type of instrument tends to fall somewhere around the $800 mark. Here are a few models to take a look at:
A classic intermediate keyboard, the Yamaha P-125 has been in production for years. It features 88 weighted keys, realistic sounds and USB and bluetooth capabilities.
Rolands take on a keyboard at the same price point. Both companies are fantastic and the choice really comes down to personal taste.
Casio’s take, coming in a sleek and stylish red!
It is important to note that while looking for a keyboard in this price range players should physically try multiple instruments before deciding which to go with. Every players touch is different, and it takes some exploring to find the right fit!
For students who are planning to stay with music as a lifelong pursuit this is the way to go. Professional keyboards have the best sounds, the most realistic touch and inspiring aesthetic designs!
Within this category there are two divisions, stage pianos and digital home pianos.
Stage pianos are portable and meant for the stage. They often feature multiple buttons or knobs on the front panel to change sounds on the fly, and come with tons of internal effects to achieve any tone a song may require.
- Realistic sound and feel in a portable container
- One keyboard covers all your sound needs
- They are still large and heavy for a single musician to cary. For a touring act they are great, but lighter, less professional feeling options may actually be better for a local performing musician.
Professional stage pianos can cost anywhere between $1200 and $5000. Here a few popular models:
A weighted digital piano that has beautiful piano tones. However, where it really shines is in its selection of electric keyboard sounds (Rhodes and Wurlitzer).
Lightweight and solid, the RD models by Roland are known for their high sound quality and stage readiness.
The famous red keyboard! Nords are extremely popular among touring keyboardists, as they provide top quality sound for piano, rhodes, wurlitzer, organ and others while still staying lightweight enough to haul around.
If looking for a professional keyboard that won’t be used for performing publicly, digital home pianos are they way to go. They are designed to look, sound and feel like real pianos, a perfect alternative to acoustic uprights in places where space or noise may be an issue.
- The closest digital can get to the real thing, while taking up less space and having controlled volume.
- Look great in the home
- Not portable
- Awesome for piano sounds, but most often the other tones are lacklustre
Here are a few digital home pianos available on the market:
Looks beautiful and boasts a graded hammer keyboard, meaning the lower keys are slightly heavier than the higher ones, just like on a real grand piano.
A Roland home piano that utifies their 4 speaker setup, providing the same vibrations of a true acoustic upright.
If you feel like making a grand gesture!
There is one other type of keyboard worth exploring here, MIDI!
MIDI keyboards don’t make their own sound, but connect via USB to a computer. These keyboards are then used to control sounds on a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).
The benefit of MIDI controllers is that you can play any sound you can think of, from piano to strings to wild synthesizers! Though not the greatest to practice actual piano on, they are a great option for students who want to be keyboardists (synthesizer, organ, electric piano).
- Allow for the ultimate control of digital synthesizers
- Users can play any musical sound in the world
- Do not make any sound on their own
- Keys are designed for synthesizers, meaning they are not weighted.
MIDI keyboards span a huge range in price depending on keys and features, costing anywhere from $100 all the way up to $1000.
A straight ahead keyboard controller, for those wishing to play around with sounds without needing much physical control.
The opposite, a keyboard with multiple pads, sliders and knobs to allow physical control over multiple parameters of virtual synthesizers.
A MIDI keyboard with piano hammer action, the Komplete Kontrol provides integrated connection between the physical and virtual computer worlds.
With so many types of keyboards, choosing one really depends on the players needs. We hope reading through the above helps with your instrument purchasing!
Good luck and happy practicing!