Historically, there’s been a fairly big gap between traditional pianos and their electronic counterparts. Thankfully, times have changed, and many of today’s digital keyboards can hold their own against practically any set of keys, from a concert piano to a baby grand.
Digital keyboards also offer a lot of other advantages that modern players will love, like a line out for direct recording without a microphone, or the ability to adjust the sensitivity levels of the keys. There’s truly never been a better time to be a piano player — today’s digital keyboards offer the best of both worlds, so you can easily find one that sounds lush and professional while still being able to adapt to your personal playing style.
Whether you’re an accomplished pianist or you’re taking your first lessons, there’s a worthwhile digital keyboard for every skill level and budget. Here’s everything you need to know about digital keyboards: how to tell them apart, which features to hold out for, and how to find the one that’s perfect for your next performance.
Traditional or experimental use: you decide
When shopping for a digital keyboard, there are essentially two paths you can take.
Some people seek an instrument that duplicates the performance of a traditional keyboard, such as a piano or organ. Others seek a multifunctional synthesizer primarily for personal entertainment.
A digital keyboard with 88 weighted keys and sustain pedals is ideal for student rehearsal.
A small synthesizer with fewer spring-loaded keys is generally better for recreational use.
The idea is to match the user with the right type of instrument.
Digital synthesizer advantages
Modern digital synthesizers have removed much of the “work” from musical performance. Here are a few examples:
With the press of a button, you can launch a sophisticated rhythm track complete with bass variations, drum fills, and intro/outro options.
On some keyboards, you can press a button that automatically adds the appropriate chords to a single-note performance.
- Keyboards often include digitally sampled voices that can mimic a saxophone, string orchestra, or horn section instantly.
Traditional keyboard advantages
Other digital keyboards may not be as flashy or versatile as synthesizers, but they serve a different purpose.
Many music students do not enjoy easy access to traditional pianos or other keyboard instruments. One affordable solution is to purchase a digital keyboard that duplicates the action and touch of a real piano, including weighted keys and all three sustain pedals.
Some models have additional voices, such as “organ,” “strings,” and “brass.” A few incorporate the same digital voices as synthesizers.
- These instruments may not include rhythm tracks or automatic chord programs, but they work well as in-home rehearsal instruments for both students and those interested in pursuing music at the professional level.
Missy holds degrees in music education and psychology. She is a certified K-12 music teacher with 18 years of experience in Michigan public schools. In her spare time, Missy performs with an eclectic mid-Michigan band called The Honeybadgers.
Music Teacher, Musician
Hands on: digital keyboards
Traditional piano keys are mechanical levers. The performer depresses a key that engages an internal hinge and hammer. The hammer strikes the piano's tuned wires, creating a note. A cloth damper then presses on the string and ends the vibration. This design puts weight on the keys, and piano students eventually develop a performance technique based on that weight.
A digital piano doesn't have hammers, so it relies on internal technology to simulate the action of an acoustic instrument. Poor action can cause a player to use heavy finger force just to get a sound out. Good action feels and sounds like an acoustic instrument without excessive finger force.
Touch sensitivity takes the concept of “action” one step further. A touch-sensitive keyboard allows the player to convey the emotion of the music by depressing keys with varying amounts of pressure and velocity. Many digital keyboards have special sensors that measure the amount of pressure and speed performers place on each key. A lighter touch often results in a softer tone, while a heavy or fast touch creates a louder note with a faster “attack.” This is a useful feature during performance, since part of what makes music interesting to the listener is a change in dynamics.
Did you know?
A keyboard is not designed to duplicate the mechanics of a saxophone or trumpet or strings. However, a keyboard with touch-sensitive keys is better able to allow a string section to build slowly or a trumpet to belt out quick, sharp notes.
Some digital keyboard manufacturers like to pack as many additional features as possible into their high-end models, but shoppers should avoid the temptation to upgrade without cause.
There are additional features that enhance or improve performance, but there are also add-ons that casual users don’t need. Composers may want to create and store original tracks, for example, but most players, rehearsing the work of others, will not.
Below are some additional features student musicians and casual players should look for when shopping for a digital keyboard.
An important element of performance is the ability to sustain a note or chord for a long time or close it off immediately.
Traditional pianos accomplish this through the use of several foot-operated sustain pedals. These pedals move the dampening board closer or further from the piano's strings.
Many digital keyboards designed for rehearsal offer all three sustain pedals, but others offer only one pedal as an add-on feature.
Digital keyboards should have the capability to communicate with the outside world through external ports. The two most important features to look for are an external headphone/amplifier jack and a MIDI connector.
The onboard speakers on most digital keyboards, even on the higher end, can only produce a limited amount of sound, so the synthesizer needs the ability to connect with a mixing board or powered amplifier rated for keyboards.
Pitch bend controller
One very useful addition, especially in terms of performance, is a pitch bend controller. Usually found on the left side of the keyboard, a pitch bend wheel is a spring-loaded switch that can “bend” a note several tones above or below its original setting.
Using a pitch bend wheel on an electronic keyboard often improves the authenticity of a voice’s sound.
Weighted keys are an important feature for performers, but they’re not essential for the casual player. However, rehearsing with weighted keys makes the transition to a traditional piano much easier.
A keyboard's polyphonic capacity reflects the number of pitches that can be held and/or sustained at the same time. Once a keyboard reaches its polyphonic maximum, the pitches begin to cancel each other out. In general, the higher the polyphony, the better.
Digital pianos range in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Higher-priced models claim to have better action and touch sensitivity and are targeted at serious and professional musicians.
Did you know?
Sometimes the difference between a $500 practice keyboard and a $1,500 digital piano is largely cosmetic. But other times, the differences really do affect performance quality.
Notes on amplification
When used as an in-home rehearsal instrument or recreational synthesizer, volume is not usually a major consideration. The onboard speakers should deliver enough power to fill a small room with sound.
However, there are times when a home digital keyboard may have to fill some much larger shoes. Under these conditions, even the most expensive synthesizer speakers could be drowned out by other instruments or lost in the expanse of an auditorium. This calls for serious amplification.
Below are some ways to get it.
Use a wireless lavalier microphone
There are times when a wired instrument can be a safety hazard to others or a small sound system has no available channels. One low-tech solution is to attach a wireless lavalier microphone to one of the keyboard's external speakers and mix it into an existing channel with a wireless receiver. The keyboard and player can be positioned anywhere within the microphone's range, and the sound can be balanced through the mixing board.
Feed the keyboard into a mixing board or pre-amp
A safer solution for keyboard amplification is to plug the synthesizer into a mixing board first and then adjust the channel to the proper balance. This is a workable solution for church and performance halls where the player can hear other musicians and the keyboard through monitors or PA speakers. An experienced sound mixer should be able to monitor the keyboard's channel and keep everything in balance.
Plug into a powered bass or keyboard amplifier
It is important to remember that an electronic keyboard is a charged instrument, which means it already has electrical power running through it. An electric guitar, on the other hand, has no power of its own until it’s plugged into an amp
A charged instrument can easily overpower an amplifier designed for an electric guitar. A bass amplifier or a special keyboard amplifier is designed to handle a much more powerful load, so a keyboard player needs to make sure the keyboard's volume output is reduced to avoid a blow-out.
Having the option of 500+ digital voices may be enticing, but it is not always worth the upgrade from the standard 100+ voices found on most synthesizers today.
Pros and cons of digital keyboards
Digital keyboards run anywhere from less than $100 for an entry-level Casiotone to $3,000+ for a professional-grade Korg synthesizer. As such, it’s important for shoppers to understand the pros and the cons of digital keyboards at all price points.
- A digital keyboard is easier to transport than a traditional piano or organ. Even the lightest practice pianos weigh several hundred pounds and are not designed for portability. A music student can install a digital keyboard in a small apartment or bedroom with minimal assistance.
- Digital keyboards rarely require maintenance. The electronic components of a synthesizer are not designed to go out of tune due to atmospheric conditions or rough handling.
If a digital keyboard does need to be tuned to another instrument, it's only a matter of turning one knob or adjusting a setting.
- Synthesizers can make amateur musicians sound nearly professional. Traditional piano or organ lessons stress the fundamentals of music along with performance, which some may find frustratingly slow.
Modern synthesizers, on the other hand, encourage beginners to experiment with rhythm tracks and voices first. Chords can be added automatically, as well as bass accompaniments and other advanced musical support.
Many digital keyboards do not duplicate the action or touch of an actual piano or organ. A lot of smaller synthesizers use lightweight plastic keys that are spring-loaded for easier playing.The keys themselves may be smaller in size than traditional keys, and there may not be 88 of them.
Making the transition from a lightweight digital keyboard to a traditional instrument is often a challenge.
Most digital keyboards only synthesize the voices of instruments; they don’t fully recreate them. Although the original sound source may have been a real instrument, digitizing and synthesizing that sound for a keyboard affects its characteristics.
Listeners are not necessarily going to mistake a digital saxophone or trumpet for the real thing.
If you’re an adult looking to take beginning piano lessons, you can easily find age-appropriate material from the likes of Faber, Bastien, and other popular sheet music publishers.
Q. My son just started taking piano lessons. Do I need to buy a practice keyboard with 88 weighted keys?
A. Ordinarily, you would want to match the rehearsal instrument with the performance instrument as much as possible. If your son’s instructor uses a traditional piano with weighted keys, then investing in a similar digital keyboard would be ideal. However, these instruments can be very expensive. For the short term, a younger player just learning the fundamentals of music can practice scales and basic melodies on a smaller keyboard with fewer keys.
Q. How do digital keyboards duplicate the sounds of so many instruments so well? If I close my eyes, I swear there's a real sax player in the room.
A. Synthesizing authentic instrumental voices was a major problem with earlier generations of digital keyboards. The few voices featured on these instruments sounded very little like the real thing. But the invention of digital-sampling software revolutionized the industry. Sound engineers recorded real musicians performing on real instruments under laboratory conditions.
Q. Why does my new electronic keyboard sound so tinny? I like to play it for fun, but the sound isn't very good.
A. This is a common problem with entry-level digital keyboards. The low cost of a voice-sampling chip makes it possible for manufacturers to include hundreds of decent instrumental sounds, but the onboard speakers haven't been upgraded as well. The top synthesized sound generator is still going to sound tinny or distorted when played through a low-quality speaker.
The best solution is to look for an outgoing RCA or headphone jack and run the keyboard through an auxiliary input in a home stereo system, or use a bass or keyboard amplifier.
What digital piano do professionals use? ›
Yamaha Arius YDP-181 – Customers' Choice
This digital piano is quite popular among advanced musicians.
Both models are great for beginners to get familiar with digital pianos and start to learn to play. While Yamaha offers more sonic versatility, Roland's model has the full scale along with better-feeling keys. However, Roland's model is slightly more pricey in this comparison.How do I choose an electronic keyboard? ›
Most keyboards come with 66, 72, or 88 keys. For a beginner, 66 keys are sufficient for learning to play, and you can play most music on a 72-key instrument. For anyone interested in playing classical piano, however, a full 88 keys are recommended, especially if you plan on one day playing a traditional piano.How good is Roland keyboard? ›
Roland makes some of the very best key-beds and they are also known for some of the most iconic synthesizers in the keyboard world.What keyboards do professionals use? ›
- 1.1 1) Arturia Keylab MKII 61 Key – Great Controller.
- 1.2 2) Novation 61SL MkIII.
- 1.3 3) Akai Professional MPK249.
- 1.4 4) Roland JUNO-DS88.
- 1.5 5) Yamaha MX61.
- 1.6 6) Roland FA 08.
- 1.7 7) Casio CT-X700 – Budget Pick.
If you're still wondering if you can learn piano on a keyboard, there are keyboards that are designed to be as similar to an acoustic piano as possible. These keyboards are called digital pianos, and the feel and sound of playing these instruments is very similar to that of an acoustic piano.What is the loudest keyboard? ›
1. CORSAIR K70 RGB Gaming Keyboard – Best Overall. Our best overall pick for the best loudest mechanical keyboard is the Corsair RGM MK 2 K70 Mechanical Gaming keyboard.Are 61 keys enough? ›
a keyboard/digital piano with 61 keys should be enough most of the time. Since the majority of the contemporary songs do not use more than 5 octaves, it should get you covered. In case your primary focus is going to be classical music, then I would recommend considering a traditional 88-key keyboard.What makes a good keyboard? ›
Metal backplates provide high durability, rigidity, and a solid feel, but also make keyboards heavier, and not spill resistant. If you want the best possible durability from your keyboard, you should choose one that has durable mechanical switches, as well as a metal backplate.Which digital piano feels most like an acoustic? ›
Console digital pianos are the second most popular type of digital pianos. They come closest to an acoustic piano in terms of the main elements such as sound, touch, and look.
Which digital piano is most like an acoustic piano? ›
The Casio CDP-S150 is an excellent keyboard for anyone in search of a light, compact, 88-key option for their home. The action feels similar to that of an acoustic piano, and the included sounds are very good—in particular, we love the grand piano sounds.How much does a decent electric keyboard cost? ›
The typical range is from $100 to $1,000. The costs increase as the features and the number of keys increase. Usually, for 61 keys or less, the MIDI keyboard will cost about $100-$400. The ones with more than 61 keys will cost anywhere from $250 - $1,000.What is the best music keyboard 2022? ›
- Kawai KDP120.
- Roland RD-88.
- Casio AP-710.
- Roland F701.
- Korg D1.
- Alesis Recital Pro.
- Korg LP-380U.
- Yamaha YDP-103.
- Kawai CA49 - Best Overall.
- Roland RP102 - Easiest On Budget.
- Yamaha YDP 184 Arius Series - Best Sound Resonance.
- Korg G1 - Most Realistic Sound and Feel.
- Kurzweil KAG100 - Most Versatile.
- Suzuki MDG400 - Best Looking.
Casio is the best option for beginners and then the options divide. Those who are looking for a modern sound, synthesizer specs, and unique features, should definitely choose Roland.Is Kawai or Yamaha piano better? ›
Kawai pianos offer a warmer, fuller quality of tone when compared to a normal piano built by Yamaha. This has made them the preferred choice of many classical pianists. The stereotypical sound of a Kawai is broad with a rich fullness which is quite pleasant and lacking unwanted harshness.Is Yamaha PSR SX900 worth buying? ›
Top notch voices and styles.
I've been playing guitar and keyboard for many years and have owned many synths and arranger keyboards from Yamaha, Roland, Korg, and Casio. This Yamaha OSR SX900 is up there with the best of them. The sounds are incredibly well designed. The styles are outstanding.
A 61 key piano only has 5 octaves which are not always enough for some repertoire. This may require musicians to transpose and adjust the sheet music to fit the instrument. For this reason, 88 key pianos are the preference as there are no limitations on what music someone can play.How long does a digital piano last? ›
Digital pianos last between 20 – 50 years. High-end digital pianos are built better structurally. They use better electrical parts, solid plastic, tougher metal, and piano keys that can withstand heavy wear and tear. Low-end digital pianos do not have the same lifespan, but with average care can last for many years.What is the difference between a 61 key and 88 key? ›
One of the many choices you'll be confronted with is key, or note, configuration. A full-size keyboard has 88 keys, but 76- and 61-note keyboards are popular. They have the same notes as an 88-key keyboard, just a shorter range (five octaves instead of seven with 88 keys.
What is the price of Roland piano? ›
Wooden Roland V Piano Grand Piano at Rs 990000 in Delhi | ID: 19665068955.Who owns Roland? ›
Roland Corporation (ローランド株式会社, Rōrando Kabushiki Kaisha) is a Japanese manufacturer of electronic musical instruments, electronic equipment, and software. It was founded by Ikutaro Kakehashi in Osaka on 18 April 1972. In 2005, Roland's headquarters relocated to Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture.Where is Roland keyboards made? ›
Roland's first fully digital synthesizer became a worldwide sensation for its stunning sound and ease of use. Advocates “ism” as a new way of music education with electronic musical instruments. Production company is established in Italy.Is there a keyboard that sounds like a piano? ›
If you're still wondering if you can learn piano on a keyboard, there are keyboards that are designed to be as similar to an acoustic piano as possible. These keyboards are called digital pianos, and the feel and sound of playing these instruments is very similar to that of an acoustic piano.Which digital piano feels most like an acoustic? ›
Console digital pianos are the second most popular type of digital pianos. They come closest to an acoustic piano in terms of the main elements such as sound, touch, and look.Is a digital piano as good as a real piano? ›
' – the answer is yes! Instead of using hammers and strings to produce notes, pressing a key on an electric piano will play a recorded sample of a real piano. You'll find that most older digital pianos can't offer as much of a genuine tone, as there wasn't the technology or processing power available at the time.Is a digital piano the same as a keyboard? ›
Digital Pianos. Digital pianos, as their name implies, are designed specifically to have the sound and feel of acoustic pianos — and sometimes to look like them as well. Digital keyboards, on the other hand, typically offer a wider range of sounds, but rarely have the feel or look of an acoustic piano.Do more expensive keyboards sound better? ›
Best Keyboard Brands for Beginners
The cheapest keyboard brands (those found in big-box retailers) often have smaller keys than their higher-quality counterparts. Their sound quality isn't as good as higher-end keyboards, and they're usually made from cheaper parts that can break easily.
One of the many choices you'll be confronted with is key, or note, configuration. A full-size keyboard has 88 keys, but 76- and 61-note keyboards are popular. They have the same notes as an 88-key keyboard, just a shorter range (five octaves instead of seven with 88 keys.Should I get a keyboard or a piano? ›
If your main focus is creating beautiful music, well, then there's no question — you should pick a piano over a keyboard. The sound quality can't be matched, and the feel of playing a piano is better than that of a keyboard. That's not to say that you can't get high-quality sound and feel from a keyboard.
Is Roland better than Yamaha? ›
Both models are great for beginners to get familiar with digital pianos and start to learn to play. While Yamaha offers more sonic versatility, Roland's model has the full scale along with better-feeling keys. However, Roland's model is slightly more pricey in this comparison.How much does a good digital piano cost? ›
The prices cover such a range however, it can be very difficult to decide how much you should spend on a digital piano. As a general rule, you should spend between $400 and $1000 on a digital piano for an instrument suitable for beginners to intermediate players to learn and practice on.How long will a digital piano last? ›
Digital pianos last between 20 – 50 years. High-end digital pianos are built better structurally. They use better electrical parts, solid plastic, tougher metal, and piano keys that can withstand heavy wear and tear. Low-end digital pianos do not have the same lifespan, but with average care can last for many years.How much is a decent piano? ›
An upright piano costs between $3000 – $6500 on average. High-end upright pianos average around $10,000 – $25,000. Entry level grand pianos costs between $7000 – 30,000. High-end grand pianos such as Steinway, Bosendorfer, and Yamaha can cost between $65,000 – $190,000.Do digital pianos hold their value? ›
The fact is, digital pianos over a few or many years can depreciate in a big way and they can also wear out and deteriorate. Also, older digital pianos just don't hold high values and in fact may be almost worthless especially in comparison to many of the newest lower price digital pianos.Do you need to tune a digital piano? ›
A digital piano is maintenance free – there are no hammers and strings to produce sound so there's no tuning required.Should I get a digital piano or MIDI keyboard? ›
If you are a pianist who isn't looking to create beats or produce music, a digital piano is what you will need. If you are someone who has an interest in producing music more so than just learning to play the piano, a MIDI controller is the pick.Should I get a keyboard with weighted keys? ›
WHY ARE WEIGHTED KEYS BETTER FOR BEGINNERS THAN THOSE OF A KEYBOARD? Weighted keys will bring the beginner pianist closer to that of an acoustic piano, helping them feel the sensitivity required to push down the keys with different levels of control, as opposed to those on most keyboards that are unweighted.