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Buying your first electronic piano or keyboard

piano keyboard

Thinking about learning the piano but don’t yet own one? Today it’s possible to find an incredible variety of digital pianos that allow you to get started without all of the expense, space, tuning maintenance and other considerations required for a conventional (acoustic) piano. They’re less expensive, more compact, portable, and often have features that enhance the learning experience - not to mention volume control, which can make practice time more family-friendly!

Prices for smaller starter keyboards begin at about $100 and range to several hundred or even thousands of dollars for digital stage pianos. These are available at music and big-box stores or through many online businesses.

Here are some important features to look for.

1. Number of keys: Keyboards for student or casual use can have 61 keys, but fewer than 61 make learning difficult. A keyboard with 88 keys is better for playing Chopin or Beethoven, and also will make it easier to eventually switch to a piano. Key width should equal that of an acoustic piano. (Lower cost/smaller keyboards sometimes have smaller/ thinner keys, but switching key sizes can hamper a student’s learning.)

Bottom line: If you aren’t sure your child will play for many years, a 61 key instrument is a modest investment you can trade up or sell used if you upgrade.

2. Weighted and/or touch-sensitive keys measure finger power as well as speed of playing and give the experience of playing a real piano. Not having these features is a main reason students switch from digital keyboards to pianos. With weighted keys, the harder you hit the key, the louder the sound, as with a piano, which has weight inside its keys.

Bottom line: This is an important feature. Choose touch/weight sensitive keys if possible so the student can practice volume dynamics.

3. Polyphony. This is a fancy word for the number of individual notes the keyboard can produce at the same time. The number of simultaneous notes on an electronic piano can range all the way up to 264, but on starter keyboards is far fewer.

Bottom line: This feature is often easily overlooked by a first time buyer. Choose a keyboard with a minimum of 32-note polyphony for your starter electronic piano, or more if you think your learner will be sticking with this keyboard for several years.

4. Learning tools. This is a potentially big advantage of the digital keyboards over the acoustic piano. Many starter electronic pianos come with pre-programmed lessons, practice music, note displays, and metronomes, among other features. The quality of these instructional materials has improved in recent years along with general technological progress but can vary widely from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Bottom line: These types of features are nice to have, but unless your learner is very disciplined the learning tools are likely to be ignored without the guidance of instructor.

5. Number of voices or tones. Last AND least, today’s electronic pianos are capable of producing hundreds of different tones. While the novelty and funny sounds can bring younger players to the bench, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that they’ll actually learn anything from doing so. Similarly, splashy demo songs are the norm but don’t mean much compared to the other features on this list.

Bottom line: The number of voices, sounds and samples will probably be loudly trumpeted by the manufacturer; ignore it. Pretty much any electronic keyboard will have enough of these to add a little bit of fun to practice when needed, so don’t give extra consideration to those with a huge number of choices. The novelty is ultimately going to wear off, anyway.

There are other cool features you can find on an electronic keyboard that might make sense for more advanced players who want to record or mix music. If this appeals to you, be prepared to spend some more and do a bit more research; this article is really intended for beginner to intermediate level players.

Finally, you’ll want to make sure you can adjust the keyboard to use with a stool or chair if it doesn’t come with a bench. (A bench also can be handy for storing music.) If the student is a young child, make sure the keyboard can be adjusted low enough for the child to reach the keys and maintain correct hand positions. If the keyboard does not have a built-in stand, purchase a sturdy one for easy display of music while playing or practicing.

For more information, contact us and we'd be happy to put you in touch with one of our expert teachers who can provide guidance more specific to your personal needs!


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