digital piano vs keyboard
Guide

Digital piano vs keyboard -Buying Guide for Beginners

July 22, 2019

Choosing a digital piano or a keyboard could be a thing that people really struggle with, especially for beginners. Perhaps you are not sure the difference between these two and which one suit your needs better.

For beginners, each one of them comes with great features and can help you to learn on. But then, which one should you pick? Digital piano or keyboard?

The main difference between digital pianos and keyboards will be explained. Have a look at digital piano vs keyboard and then choose your favorite one!

Digital piano

Basically, digital pianos are designed to be an alternative instrument to a real piano.  It’s for the people who are on a tight budget to buy a real piano. Most of them come with a full set of 88 weighted keys, and some digital pianos have 76 keys.

Digital pianos tend to produce features, feelings, and appearances that are the same as an acoustic piano. They also offer lots of features that you can’t find on an acoustic piano. A useful feature compared with acoustic pianos could be that digital pianos do not need tuning as they don’t have any mechanical part. Therefore,  it’s convenient for all the players because you don’t need to spend any maintenance fee on it.

Keyboard

As for keyboards, it’s mainly designed to be a very portable model whereas not made to replicate a real piano, so the keys on keyboards are non-weighted as they need to keep lightweight. You can easily take it to travel with you or bring it if you need to commute a lot.

However, you may not expect that the feel, touch and the sound of keyboards can be close to a real piano. It trades off some functions and features of an acoustic piano to make it easier to play and operate. But keyboards also come up with loads of features that allow players to play and have fun.

Difference between digital piano and keyboard

Difference between digital pianos and keyboards

1. Price

Buying a digital piano is a cost-effective way if you’re working on a tight budget to buy an acoustic piano. The best affordable digital piano could be Alesis Recital digital piano with semi-weighted keys. But for those who want to have more proper practices, you should go for more expensive models such as Yamaha P-125 which offers better key action and sound quality.

On the other hand, keyboards are the most inexpensive instrument. The prices on some decent keyboards from famous manufacturers are even under $100, such as Casio CTK-2550 offering built-in lessons and other powerful functions. Additionally, keyboards allow you to learn music basics and feel the music. Generally, the expense of keyboards usually at the price range from 60 to 300 bucks (not including toy keyboards).

2. Keys

When it comes to keys, the differences between digital pianos and keyboards are mainly classified into the number of keys, the feel and the touch of the keys.

Number

A standard acoustic piano has 88 keys, including 55 white keys and 36 black keys. Most keyboards narrow down to 61 keys, 73 keys or 76 keys, which don’t affect you playing some casual music like pop music. On the other hand, most digital pianos are equipped with 88 fully-sized keys and few digital pianos have 76 keys. If you want to play classical pieces and complex songs, a digital piano with 88 keys is your choice.

Weighted Keys & Touch-sensitive Keys

keyboard vs digital piano a

The biggest difference between digital pianos and keyboards are whether the keys are weighted or non-weighted and whether the keys are touch-sensitive or not.

The keys of keyboards are normally non-weighted because a keyboard needs to keep lightweight and portable. Part of keyboards has touch-sensitive keys, which allow you to decide how hard or soft you press the keys to get the sound you want and play tunes with dynamics.

Whereas a digital piano is designed to be alternative to a real piano, so basically all of the digital pianos come with weighted and touch-sensitive keys.

FAQ

What are weighted keys?

Weighted keys wouldn’t be a word that you’re unfamiliar with when you’re researching buying a digital piano. It’s a vital feature if you want to practice your finger techniques properly instead of only playing for fun.

Hammer Action

Basically, weighted keys are that when you press the keys, there is some resistance responding to your finger and you can feel some natural weight while pressing. Weighted action is a technique that is built to imitate the key action of an acoustic piano.

So, how does it work and how does it make the sound?

In a real piano, there is a mechanical part built-in, including hammers, strings and a lever system. The musical sound is produced by a hammer hitting the strings and then vibrate to create sound. The hammer is connected to a lever system that has weight and resistance. So that’s why you can feel the keys are weighted while playing the piano.

You may have played the keyboards before, normally the keys on a keyboard are very light and you can find it’s super easy to press the keys down.

But on a weighted digital piano, it’s different. If you don’t press it properly, the piano won’t generate sound due to the weighted action. It’s an important way for you to practice finger strength. Additionally, compared with playing on a keyboard, playing on a digital piano with weighted keys gives you a way more realistic feel.

Plus, the quality of the key actions determines how authentic the keys are. It depends on what key action technique the manufacturers use.

Why do weighted keys matter?

The main purposes of his feature are to strengthen your fingers and let you play the pieces of any genre expressively. As a beginner, finger techniques should be a primary thing you should consider if you are serious about learning piano.

So weighted keys are a truly essential feature at the initial stage if you’re looking for a piano to build your finger skills and eventually to be a transition to a real piano.

Otherwise, if you are not used to the weight of the keys, you may struggle with how to control your fingers. You’ll have some difficulty like how hard or soft I should press the key to get the sound I want. Why the notes I played too week or too loud.

Weighted digital pianos allow you to practice finger technique and prepare for playing on a real piano. Anyone who take it up seriously, pick a digital piano with weighted keys!

What are touch-sensitive keys?

Touch-sensitive keys, as known as velocity sensitivity or pressure sensitivity, are not an uncommon feature. It appears to some keyboards and almost all of digital pianos yet with different levels. Keys with touch sensitivity means the keys are not volume-controlled. Put it simply, if you press harder, you can get louder sound and vice versa.

What does it do?

Basically, every piece of music has weak tones and strong tones for expressing certain kinds of emotion. So, when you’re playing, being able to feel the dynamics are necessary for any players. If a piano doesn’t have touch-sensitive keys, you’ll feel the tunes you play are boring, just like you’re speaking in the same pitch without any changes.

Three levels of touch sensitivity are an average (including a level off). Roland FP-30 has 5 levels of touch sensitivity, offering more room for you to play.

Ideally, a digital piano or a keyboard with touch-sensitive keys is something you should consider if you’re working on a tight budget. If you are serious about learning piano and want to enhance your finger technique, get a digital piano with both weighted and touch-sensitive keys.

3. Sound

The sound quality of a digital piano is designed to emulate real pianos, along with built-in speakers, the sound is often richer, more resonant and more spacious than keyboards.

Digital pianos often use high-end sound engines to recreate the sound of a grand piano. For example, Yamaha p71 uses Advanced Wave Memory sampling to record the sound of an acoustic piano. Yamaha p125 uses the greater version of the sound engine (Pure CF Sound Engine) to recreate the sound of the Yamaha CFIIIS, which is a concert grand piano. For beginners, a digital piano with realistic sound can help you to be a sensitive musician.

On the contrary, the sound quality of keyboards is not as high-quality as digital pianos. Most of the keyboards are in tune well but less realistic. It doesn’t mean keyboards aren’t pleasant instrument as they come with impressive features in learning and composing.

piano sound

 

4. Portability

Keyboards are designed to be portable and compact for you to take it to gigs or travel. The weight of keyboards usually goes from 7 pounds to 15 pounds.

If home space and weight are not one of your considerations, then it’s good to go for digital pianos.

Luckily, some digital pianos are designed to be the best portable keyboards such as Yamaha p71 (25 pounds) and Roland fp10 (20 pounds). If you want to enjoy the features of digital pianos while you do not have enough space, consider these two!

5. Educational functionality

It’s a great thing that keyboards offer for beginners. Keyboards usually come with many learning aids, including built-in lessons and learning apps which you can learn how to play your favorite songs and music basics.  Also, you can learn figure placement and notes on the staff on the LCD display. It’s the choice that fits for you if you’re an absolute beginner.

Most digital pianos do not have LCD display because mostly a digital piano focuses on its traditional features, such as the sound quality, key action and other tech features instead of extras. But surely if you need them, you can buy lessons online.

6. Voice & Rhythms

The number of voices and rhythms range from 5 to hundreds based on the piano model.

Normally, keyboards have way more voices and rhythms compared with digital pianos. It’s great for the players in terms of composing. Along with its portable design, when the inspiration strikes, you can just put it wherever you want and create your tunes by using different voices and rhythms. Plus, you can explore different instrument combinations as well. It gives you a huge variety of musical exploration.

Digital pianos often come with few voices. However, some of them are designed to be a mix of digital pianos and keyboards (aka hybrid piano). Hundreds of voices and rhythm are available in this kind of piano, such as Yamaha DGX-660 which comes with 554 voices. But unsurprisingly, the prices on this type is higher than others. So, purchase your favorite one depending on your budget.

Conclusion

Generally, keyboards are satisfactory for casual players and if you’re looking for an instrument to play for fun, learn music basics and create tunes.

Digital pianos are an excellent option for both beginners to advanced players who want to practice piano skills seriously and want to be able to play on an acoustic piano in the future.

If you’re a beginner looking for a digital piano or a keyboard to learn on and practice, check the list of Top 10 Best Keyboards for Beginners or Top 8 Best Digital Pianos for Beginners.