Five Things You Need To Know When Buying A Digital Piano or Keyboard

July 7th, 2016 - 17 Comments

For years now, people have been coming up to me with a look of crazed confusion, dread and desperation on their faces. Did they just witness a murder? No, worse. These poor victims are falling prey to an age old problem. In a world cluttered with Yamahas and Casios, it can be nearly impossible to figure out which digital piano or keyboard will work best for you.

That is why I have crafted a special gift just for you, confused piano purchaser. I give you the five most important keyboard features to “check off your list” while out shopping for a new digital piano or keyboard. If you’re planning on using your keyboard to play all types of non-classical styles, here are a few points you’re going to want to keep in mind:

 

An 88 note keyboard is… key

Almost every modern acoustic piano has 52 white keys and 36 black keys for a grand total (pun intended) of 88 keys. If at all possible, I suggest trying to get a full sized keyboard.

When playing in the styles I teach, even though you will not be reading notes way above or below the middle staff, you will be playing much higher and lower on your piano than most beginning students who take classical lessons.

For the small increase in price, the extra notes are well worth it. At a very minimum, don’t buy a keyboard with less than five full octaves. It will likely end up in your closet in lieu of a larger keyboard.

 

5 Important Things To Know When Buying A Keyboard_korg-tinypiano-1

(Don’t do what this person did!)

 

Make sure the keys are standard width

One of the most fun things you will gain by learning to play the piano is the ability to sit down at any piano or keyboard and enjoy playing it. For this reason, you want to make sure the keys on your new digital piano or keyboard are standard size.

If your keys are standard size, you should have no trouble sitting down at any keyboard or piano and playing a tune. Beware of the very inexpensive “toy like” keyboards. They usually have narrower keys than a piano.

A standard piano key will be approximately 23 mm wide. I say “approximately” because every key on a piano is not exactly the same width (another topic for another article…). If it is around 23 mm you are good to go. If it is significantly narrower, move on to a better keyboard.

 

The keys should have some sort of “weighted” action

Another difference between traditional and digital pianos is the way it feels when you physically press down on the key. In a traditional piano, your key is attached to a lever which then causes a felt-covered hammer to strike the strings inside the piano. Again, in order to ensure you can play on any piano, you want the key press to feel similar on your digital piano even though there are no hammers or strings inside a digital instrument.

To imitate the feel of an acoustic piano, manufacturers use some variation of what is known as weighted action. It basically makes the keys feel more like the keys on a traditional piano.

A digital piano or keyboard will typically either have weighted action or not. Without weighted action, the keys on the keyboard will feel more like an organ. Try to find a digital piano or keyboard with weighted action keys. It’s easy to move to an organ when you’re used to weighted action keys. Not so much in reverse …

 

Pay for what you’ll actually use vs. more bells and whistles

When shopping for a digital piano or keyboard, you will be overloaded with a plethora of “bells and whistles” in the form of buttons, lights and often, hundreds of different instrument sounds.

In my experience, the vast majority of those “extras” will go unused throughout the life of the instrument. You will likely play your instrument on an acoustic piano setting about  95% of the time. The other 5% you will use 4-5 other commonly used tones I have listed below. In the real world, you just don’t use a piano with something like a tuba sound very often.  

  • Acoustic Piano
  • Electronic Piano (AKA a “Fender Rhodes” sound)
  • Jazz Organ (AKA Hammond B-3 sound)
  • Acoustic “Nylon String” guitar
  • Acoustic Bass
  • Electric Bass

If you do want to spend money on keyboard “extras,” here are a few features you can find on many digital pianos and keyboards which are actually very useful.

One, a built-in metronome can be very handy rather than having to keep a separate metronome around.

Two, the ability to “split” the keyboard into two halves, each with their own sound. This is a great feature because it lets you play a bass line with your left hand while playing chords and/or a melody in your right-hand with different sounds. You see a lot of solo piano players using this feature when out playing gigs and accompanying themselves singing.

 

Make sure it has pedal(s)

The last really important thing to look for when searching for a digital piano or keyboard is to make sure it comes with a pedal. At a minimum, you need a pedal called a sustain pedal. If it is a digital piano as opposed to a smaller keyboard, it will likely also have a second or third pedal. Just make sure you get the sustain pedal because it’s impossible to play in modern styles without one.

So there you have it! Those are the five minimum things I suggest for anyone looking to purchase a new digital piano or keyboard. These days, the technology behind digital pianos and keyboards has gotten so good that, in many cases, digital pianos are a better, more practical option rather than shelling out top dollar on a concert acoustic grand.

Keyboards and electric pianos typically take up less space, never go out of tune and in almost all cases, can be used with headphones so you will not drive others crazy while you’re practicing.

Most importantly, have fun and good luck on your future piano related purchases! Tell us about your favorite keyboard in the comments below!

 

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17 responses to “Five Things You Need To Know When Buying A Digital Piano or Keyboard”

  1. Regina from the Bronx says:

    When I started to take Piano in a Flash, I purchased a 66 key Casio CTK-4200. I still use the Casio on a regular to basis to “pound out” (or learn) a tune. When it I have learned the song, I “move” the song to the digital piano. After I started Course 4, my husband realized that I wanted to keep progressing with the piano. Therefore he bought me a digital piano as a Christmas present. It was a (Yamaha DGX-650 which has a 88 weighted key action). It makes me sound really good!!!! If I can play it, it must be easy.

    P.S. He paid for it but I helped to pick it out.

    Regina from the Bronx

  2. Moving says:

    Looks like a really cool program. I could bring this up with clients I work with. How long does it take to complete the course in it’s entirety? Thanks -Ryan

    • Hi Ryan! I am so sorry for the delay in responding … I just saw this post from a few weeks ago. Oops! Your question is kind of a trick question because everyone is so different regarding whether they have any skills whatsoever coming in, or like most, are starting absolutely at square 1. Having said that, in an attempt to tackle this question in the past, I really spent some time going through everything I cover in all 6 Courses (from a pedagogy standpoint) and compared that to covering an equivalent amount if you were taking traditional weekly lessons. I came up with a time span of my full Course being the equivalent to somewhere between 3 and 4 years for a pretty serious student plugging away consistently taking weekly lessons. But wait!! That is NOT how long it is taking most of my students in this program – most are forging ahead significantly faster than that. I think that is primarily due to the fact that I have completely removed the arbitrary “7 days” wait between lessons that always occurs in weekly lessons. Instead, my students are able to pace their progress through the lessons according to their natural ebbs and flows depending on what they are finding easy versus challenging. We are finding that students will go into kind of a “burst mode” and sometimes get on a roll moving through what would be a month or two of traditional lessons in a week or so. Then, you’ll see a slacking off of progress at times when someone bumps into something in a lesson that really seems to be giving them fits where they just keep plugging away on the same thing for a while until they finally are ready to move on. I’m just crazy excited about how well all this is working. The two concepts that A) whenever a student is ready for more information I am ready and available 24/7 to give it to them, coupled with B) the reality that never again will students be forced to, in essence, “waste” a lesson by showing up once a week whether you are prepared or not are working out better than I could have ever imagined. People are having a ball and playing up a storm!

  3. Is a Lowrey EZP3 Digital Piano by Kawai good for beginners? I need to know.

  4. Jimi Bradfield says:

    I have a beautiful digital piano & an organ that has all the
    instruments & backgrounds. They are both Thomas brand. I inherited them & took some lessons a few times but never stuck with it. I always seemed to be so busy, but now am retired. I know how to read the notes
    & some chords. Do you think I could learn being a
    Senior? But, I’m in great health & very active. I do
    Love it. Do you think the piano or organ would be best to learn on? Thanks, Jimi

    • For fear of sounding like I’m telling you what you want to know, I absolutely think you can play piano. We have TONS of students that are seniors … As to whether a piano or an organ is better to learn on, I have designed this program specifically for piano.On a completely personal note, I like to be able to go anywhere there is a regular piano and know that I can sit down and play it and there are a lot more pianos out in this world and there are organs:-)

  5. Carol Lea says:

    My new digital Arius periodically makes sputtering sounds. What should I do to fix it? I’m wondering if it’s a problem with the assembly or does it react to Wi-Fi or ???

  6. O like your blog. I’m considering on learning piano. I’m checking out digital pianos. Does your course have a fee?

  7. Celia says:

    I don’t read music at all but always wanted to learn piano so I would be a real beginner. Does your course work for those of us that are music illiterate?

    • Celia – It does. The Courses pretty much assume zero reading ability at the start. We have a ton of students were in exactly your situation as they began and are now having a ball. 🙂

  8. AJ says:

    Hi Scott,

    I’m considering learning to play piano, but can probably only really afford a 61 key beginner keyboard at this time. Will there be a significant difference in the learning process because there are fewer keys? I am instrument-illiterate, but it seems like it’d be harder for me to learn if your courses are teaching chords/keys/patterns that I can’t replicate on a 61 key keyboard. It might be a dumb question — like I said, instrument illiterate!

    Thanks in advance.

  9. Kathy says:

    How many pedals should a digital piano have? Thinking about buying one.

    • Ryan Eldridge says:

      Kathy,

      The only pedal that is really necessary is the sustain pedal, which allows you to hold, or sustain, a note after you have lifted your finger.

      Ryan
      Piano In A Flash

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