To the untrained ear, most student line keyboards all sound the same. So how can you find the perfect keyboard for your purposes? Do you just buy the most affordable one you see on Gumtree, or is looking around for something better in your best interests? This Keyboard Buyers Guide hopes to guide you along your way!
The first and most important element to consider when buying a keyboard is what you will be using it for. If you are looking for a cost effective way to not buy a piano, that’s fine. Just know that in a few years you will need to replace the keyboard.
Keyboards and pianos are very similar, but they considered to be different instruments. If you’re looking for awesome synth sounds to write trance or mellow organ sounds for your church band, then a keyboard it the right choice.
If, however, you want to play Beethoven in a symphony hall one day, then a piano is what you need. This is because the piano has a greater range as well as weighted keys.
Range refers to how many keys your instrument has. Most keyboards typically have 61 keys, whereas pianos usually have 88 keys.
As a beginner pianist, you can still play most exercises on a 61 key keyboard. So if an 88 key piano is out of your price range, you can still learn to play. You must, however, remember that the keys on a 61 key keyboard are usually not weighted. This means that when you play on a real piano, the feel will be completely different.
Weighted vs Unweighted Keys
Real pianos use hammers. When you press down on a key, the hammer swings and hits strings inside the piano. This hammer action adds weight to the keyboard.
Companies like Roland use weighted keys on their digital pianos to simulate this feel. Roland even has a progressive hammer action feel; so that the bass keys are slightly heavier than the treble keys. Weighted keys add a huge range of dynamics to your playing.
Keyboards usually don’t have weighted keys. Some players claim that this makes them faster when playing. A keyboard sound is triggered when the key presses down on a pad, similar to how a computer keyboard works. Some keyboards still offer dynamic playing, by offering velocity sensitive keys. So the harder you press a key down, the louder the sound will be.
Many of the very basic keyboards, however, do not offer this feature. So if you want to learn to play dynamically, you will need to ensure that your keyboard offers velocity sensitive keys.
Polyphony is how many sounds a keyboard can play at once. If the keyboard has a polyphony of 28 notes (a fairly low number), once you play note 29, note one will stop playing.
A small Polyphony won’t affect things like scales or basic songs, but it will prevent you from being able to sustain a few notes while playing other notes over them. It will also severely affect your ability to make big layered synth sounds.
As mentioned in the purpose section, there are different keyboards for different applications. As a student, you would want a very basic keyboard with piano sounds. These will usually include drum samples and some basic synth sounds.
If you are however wanting something more specialized, here is a list of the basic keyboard types:
Synthesizer (Synth) – for production of sounds (think trance music)
Workstation – for composing, recording and production. Most studios will have one of these
Digital Piano – for students of classical music and piano inspired jazz
Arranger Keyboards – The perfect option for songwriters
Portable Keyboard – Ideal for students
Midi Keyboards – these keyboards have no built in sounds, and instead trigger sounds from a PC.
This keyboard buyers guide is trying to keep information to the most important topics you need to make your selection. If you, however, would like a more detailed explanation of each type of keyboard, go here.
Does your keyboard allow you to plug it into a PC? This is important if you want to record your playing.
Some portable keyboards can also be used as MIDI controllers. This is a great option if you are learning to play, and want to try your hand at recording. With the use of MIDI, you can download and buy virtual sound packs. This means that you can use better or different sounds that what came stock on the keyboard.
Regardless of the quality of your keyboard, things can go wrong. if that happens, you need to be sure that your board can be fixed.
When buying a keyboard, ask the salesman what the backup service on the keyboard is like. Even some big brands can have really poor backup service.