Choosing a Keyboard to Learn how to Play Piano
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This is our guide to finding the perfect keyboard to start your piano-learning journey.
PianoCub's Top Keyboard Choice
We've prepared a thorough guide about how to find the perfect keyboard. But if you're short on time, our top choice is the Yamaha P71, which you can find on Amazon for about $420.
Complete Keyboard Purchasing Guide
As an adult who wants to learn how to play piano, you may find that the trickiest part of the journey is the very first step: choosing and buying a piano or keyboard. If you’re interested in getting started soon but don’t have the space and/or money for an acoustic piano, you need a piano keyboard. Since there's such a wide range of keyboards out there, we at PianoCub have decided to do the research for you and make you a cheat sheet.
The keyboard you choose will largely come down to your personal preference of how closely you want your keyboard to feel like an acoustic piano as well as what tasks you’re using it for. The two main factors that affect this “real” feeling are the number of keys and the action of the keys on your keyboard. In addition to your personal preference, the price ranges of keyboards also align with these two factors.
The word, ‘action’ is used to describe how difficult it is to push individual keys on a piano or keyboard. It may seem like a silly concept if you’ve never thought about it before. On a very cheap keyboard with flimsy plastic keys, you might be able to make those keys depress just by blowing on them. On the other hand, the action of a Steinway piano, which is considered one of the best (and most expensive!) piano brands in the world, is very heavy. Each finger gets a mini workout as it pushes each individual key into the piano.
So why does action mater? Imagine you were to run a lap around a track. Now imagine making that same lap, but while wearing ankle weights. Lastly, imagine making that same lap, but on the moon, where gravity is only about 17% of what it is here on earth. Each experience would be quite different. The ankle weights would give you the best workout, but you’d also run slower than running a lap without weights. On the moon, you’d have far less control and your feet would touch the ground much less frequently than on earth.
Likewise, your keyboard experience will be vastly different depending on what type of action you practice with. Heavy action, like on a Steinway, is likely to train your fingers the best, but you may also have a harder time learning difficult passages of piano music with heavy action. Action that is too light will make it easy to play pieces at first, but won’t develop the fine muscles in your fingers that will take you to the next level.
When we look at keyboards, we’ll find three main types of action (listed from lightest to heaviest): not weighted or synth, semi-weighted or touch sensitive, and graded hammer weighted. If you’re mostly interested in playing electronic or pop music, you can do so with a smaller and less weighted keyboard, but that will essentially just be a mini-synthesizer. If you want to learn how to play masterpieces on the piano, you should look for keyboards with heavier action.
Number of Keys
An acoustic piano has 88 keys from top to bottom. How often are the extremities of those 88 keys used? Not a whole lot, but still often enough to be annoying if you find out that your keyboard doesn’t have enough keys to play your favorite piece of music on. Most piano music sticks to around the middle 60 keys. That means you’re unlikely to play the very highest or lowest notes in any given piece of music.
If you’re learning how to play piano online with PianoCub, you’ll find that all of our step-by-step beginner lessons can be played with a 61-key keyboard.
If you’re aspiring to play very advanced repertoire like Rachmaninoff piano concerti, then you’re going to want to invest in the best instrument you can afford. But if you’re a beginner, you’ve got a while until you get to that skill level anyhow, so a smaller keyboard should do fine for now.
What if you’re mostly interested in learning how to play pop or electronic music on the piano? In that case, you’ll do fine with a smaller keyboard range because in the recording studio, you can overdub and use your computer to get those extreme registers if you ever want them.
To sum up, our advice: make sure your keyboard has at least 61 keys and you should be fine. If it’s in the budget, go for the full 88 keys.
Additional Tips for Finding the Ideal Keyboard
· Many keyboards come with electronic features such as samplers, sequencers, computer compatibility etc. If you’re interested in that, check the keyboard’s compatibility with any specific technology you want to use.
· Some keyboards come with a bench, but most do not. Be sure to order and provide yourself the proper seating for your keyboard so your wrists remain straight while you play.
· Some keyboards also come with a pedal, headphones and other accessories, but again be sure to read the fine print before placing an order.
· The luxury of shopping on Amazon is that you can choose to purchase a keyboard or a bundle. Bundles can include some of the items listed above such as pedals, headphones, and cases.
PianoCub's Keyboard Recommendations
To make things easy, here are our top four keyboard recommendations as well as a chart to simplify this process for you.
First on the list is the Yamaha P115. This is a top of the line keyboard, complete with 88 hammer-weighted keys. This piano is higher in price than our other choices, but only because it’s considered one of the top keyboards on the market. Yamaha has mastered feel and keyboard action on their line of keyboards so that they’re pretty similar to acoustic pianos. This keyboard is ideal for someone who wants to learn piano seriously but also wants to save money and space associated with an acoustic piano, not to mention saving on the costs of tuning and maintenance that would normally come with an acoustic piano.
Our top choice and runner up in quality is another Yamaha: the P71. P71 is the way to go if you’re looking for the most bang for your buck. This model Yamaha also has 88 hammer grade weighted keys, but is approximately $200 less than the P115. Why is it less expensive? The P71 is branded by both Yamaha and Amazon. Its sale is 100% exclusive to Amazon, which means that you won’t be able to find it at a local store. Our guess is that Amazon negotiated with Yamaha to create a low-cost version of the P115. The P115 internal speakers are a little better and the keys have a nicer matte finish, but P71 gets you a whole lot of value for $200 less.
Third is the Artesia PA- 88W. This keyboard has 88 keys but they are only semi-weighted. This compromise leads to a massive drop in price. Don’t expect the most amazing internal sound choices. There are only eight and while the piano sound is realistic, the other sounds aren’t. But if you have an iPad, you can connect it to your keyboard and take advantage of instrument sounds in GarageBand.
Lastly is the Casio CTK 2400 PPk. This keyboard is an extreme budget keyboard and includes a nice bundle of items. However, we should note that it's the only non-weighted keyboard on our list. This keyboard isn’t designed to do any one thing particularly well. From action to sound choices, this keyboard is the lowest quality of all our options. But you may find it to be the perfect starting keyboard if you want to dip your toes in the water and try some beginner piano learning without investing too much money. The CTK 2400 PPk includes a plethora of features that many other, more expensive keyboards don’t, like recorded sampling for instance, which you can see in the video below. Just keep in mind that all of these features are at a very basic introductory level and when you’re ready to move on, you’ll have to get a new instrument.
Below is your official cheat sheet and the links to buy the keyboard of your dreams.