So, you have chosen electronic keyboard as the instrument of choice to learn for you or your child. Excellent decision! Now let’s move to the next and most important question – what is the best electronic keyboard to learn playing on?
Before I start, I should talk a little about terminology. Most people say “keyboard” meaning any instrument with black and white keys, most of the time a synthesizer. But there are so many electronic keyboards, what is the difference between them and which one is the ideal for beginners?
The world of keyboard instruments could be devided into two big parts:
- Electronic keyboards (synthesizers)
- Digital pianos
Digital pianos are more like acoustic pianos, and their piano sounds are more realistic. The other differences between electronic keyboard and digital piano are:
- number of keys (digital piano usually has 88 keys like the acoustic piano, synthesizer has 61 or 76)
- size of the keys (synthesizers’ keys are often a little smaller)
- keyboard action (piano has weighted keys, synthesizer – non-weighted – easier to press)
- number of sounds (piano often has just piano sounds and a couple of others, synthesizer has many more)
- portability (synthesizers are lighter and easier to transport)
So, first thing you should understand for yourself is what you need keyboard for. If you are planning to study playing piano seriously, then it is much better for you to choose digital piano, not synthesizer. There are nice beginner digital pianos, that are not very expensive, I will talk about them below. If you just want to try a keyboard instrument – then electronic keyboard is your choice. You can experiment with sounds, and play many instruments with one device. Beginner keyboards are usually cheap and allow you to try your skills without robbing a bank.
Anyway, synthesizers and digital pianos are a good choice compared to real acoustic pianos. Acoustic pianos are heavy and expensive whereas digital keyboards give the same sound as pianos without the aforementioned limitations.
Electronic keyboard for beginner
Ok, let’s suppose that you don’t want just to learn playing piano, you want to experiment with different sounds, have fun, or just want to try and spend little money on the instrument. Then a simple synthesizer will be ok for you. Choose it by the features you need. For example Yamaha has keyboards with Yamaha Education Suite (Y.E.S.) – it allows you to practice using the preset songs, play one or two hands while the keyboard shows you which note to play and accompanies you. Yamaha PSRE353 would be a great choice, but it is the most expensive in the class of beginner keyboards – it costs more then $150 without power adapter, keyboard stand, and sustain pedal – they are sold separatly.
Yamaha YPG-235 – this is a 76-key portable grand piano, and there are also 88-key versions. It has semi-weighted keys, which is better then light-weighted if you are planning to play real acoustic piano some day. It also comes with Y.E.S., 6-track recorder, USB connectivity. It is more expensive, but is a great keyboard for the money.
Casio has similar learning option called Step-up. Casio CTK2400 has also microphone input, you can sing along as you play. It is cheaper then Yamaha.
Rockjam 61-key electronic keyboard is one of the cheapest in the category, but it has full-size keys and you can find superkit on Amazon which includes this keyboard, stand, stool, headphones and power supply for the price a little more then $100. It has also an iPad app with 30 free songs, which makes learning as fun as playing a game. The app listens to the keyboard as you play, gives realtime feedback and awards you with stars:)
Alesis Melody is a 61-key keyboard and probably the cheapest one for beginners. It offers 200 built-in sounds, 128 accompaniment rhythms, 10 featured songs to learn. Stand, bench, microphone and headphones are also included – great choice for that price.
Digital piano for beginner
Most beginner keyboards have 61 light-weighted keys, which is ok for beginner or child. But if you are planning to learn playing piano seriously and play on a real acoustic piano some day, you should settle for at list semi-weighted or fully-weighted keyboard with 76 or 88 full size keys – that’s where digital pianos come in first place.
Importance of weighted keys
Digital piano manufacturers seek to emulate the feel of an acoustic piano. And acoustic pianos have weighted keys, because they have to – this is the technique they use: hammers strike one, two or three strings (depending on the pitch of the note), causing a string to vibrate and make a note. The hammer is connected to the key by a lever tape system, and it causes a natural weight in the key. Actually digital pianos don’t need this complex technique and could all have light-weighted keys. The problem is when you play a real acoustic piano or grand piano after several years of training on light-weighted keyboard, it will be very difficult for you to play, so all the professional pianist learn on acoustic or fully-weighted digital keyboards.
How many keys should the electronic keyboard have?
This comes down to who is learning to play the instrument. For children fewer keys make learning easier and less confusing. The best choice is to get them a 61 or 76 key keyboard. With one of these they will be able to learn all they need to in their first lessons. If it is an older person that is taking the classes and would like to learn to play classical music then the ideal keyboard is one that has all the 88 keys of the piano. The keys should also be the same size as those in the piano so one learns the right fingering and scales from the very start.
Is polyphony important?
Probably you may have heard the term polyphony. For those of you who don’t know polyphony determines the number of notes that can be played simultaneously. This is an essential feature for advanced pianists playing layered or sustained chordes, it determines the piano’s ability to reproduce complex pieces of music accurately. For beginners this feature is not so important since most of modern keyboards have enough polyphony for beginners (usually 32 or 64 voices), but you should bear it in mind if you plan to study seriously. Read more about polyphony on digital pianos here.
So, what are the best digital pianos for beginners?
The cheapest one I can recommend is Williams Legato. For it’s price it has 88 semi-weighted keys, includes 5 realistic voices (acoustic piano, electric piano, organ, synth, bass).
Then comes Alesis Recital. It is almost identical to Williams Legato, but has power supply included if you buy it on Amazon.
Please see other beginner digital pianos for under $300 and my personal rating of the most affordable electronic keyboards which are worth buying.
Williams Allegro 2 is extra $100 then Legato, but it definetly worth it. It has 88 fully-weighted keyboard, has new Williams sound library onboard with many sounds (such as grand piano, electric pianos, organs, strings, synths and basses) and other features
Yamaha P45 (or P71, which is the same) is almost two times more expensive then Recital, but it comes with 88 fully-weighted keys, 10 voices (including digitally sampled tones from real Yamaha acoustic grand pianos) and is much more like an acoustic piano. This is a really great choice to start with. I’ve listed other pianos under $500 here. Among them I can recommend Alesis Recital Pro, which is the updated version of Recital with full-weighted keys, and Korg B2.
If you need a compact portable piano with weighted keys, I recommend Yamaha P-121. It is a smaller brother of P-125 and has all it’s features, but is lighter and smaller.
One more thing I should notice: when buying electronic keyboard always check what is included in your chosen instrument price. Often you have to buy power adapter, keyboard stand, and sustain pedal separately. And of course don’t forget about good keyboard case and piano dust cover.
If you are looking for a gift for piano lover I’ve also got a list for you: I’ve selected some of the best gifts for pianists which I gave myself and which my friends gave me.