Digital Piano vs Keyboard: Which Should I Buy?

Yamaha PSR423 Keyboard

Buying a keyboard for a beginner can seem something of a ‘minefield’. If this is an area with which you are unfamiliar, there appears to be endless models and options, with no clear indicator as to which is going to suit your needs best. This guide will explain what you need to look for, and guide towards the best beginner keyboard for you.

Does the beginner want to play keyboard, or play piano?

This may seem like a strange question when picking a beginners keyboard, but it can have a big influence on which instrument is the right one. The instruments commonly described as home keyboards generally feature ‘auto accompaniment’, and ‘one touch chords’. What this means in practice is that the keyboard has functions that enable it to play accompaniment patterns in different styles when a chord is pressed just once by the players left hand, giving the impression of a whole band playing at once. Still confused? When a piano is played, the music consists of two separate ‘parts’, one for the left hand and one for the right hand, which are read and played simultaneously. A piece of keyboard music generally consists of a melody line, played with the right hand, with chord names written above at the point that they occur- the auto accompaniment on the keyboard will take care of creating musical parts in the correct key for the chord played. Learning to play the keyboard is more instantly gratifying for the beginner as a result. It could be said that it takes a little more discipline, therefore, to learn how to play the piano, as it takes a little longer to learn how to ‘accompany yourself’.

Yamaha-YPT-230

When choosing a beginner keyboard for a child, then, the more ‘traditional’ keyboards (such as the Yamaha PSR-Range) with accompaniment styles are a very good option. The learner can achieve impressive results in a very short space of time, being able to sound like they are performing with other musicians. This is a great motivator for young players. On the other hand, a learner who is aiming to ultimately play the piano may have no interest in accompaniment features, and would require a very different style of instrument (such as those sometimes termed ‘practice pianos’). These tend have less features, in favour of a smaller but more realistic set of sounds, and more authentic piano keyboard ‘feel’ (see the Yamaha NP31 for a good example of this style of keyboard).

Yamaha NP31 Keyboard

Velocity Sensitivity

Whilst this might sound like something from an engineer’s design notes, this is a feature that is very important when picking a beginner keyboard. The easiest way to explain is to consider a real, acoustic piano. When a key on a piano is played hard, the resulting sound is loud, and when the keys are played softly, the sound is quiet. This allows the instrument to be played expressively. Dramatic moments can be emphasised by playing with more volume, or made delicate and intimate by playing softly. These are known as ‘dynamics’ in a piece of music. Velocity sensitivity on a keyboard means that it mimics a real piano keyboard in this way. Playing hard = loud, and playing softly = quiet.

If the player is very much ‘dipping a toe in the water’, then a keyboard without velocity sensitivity (such as the Yamaha YPT230) may suffice. They are a less expensive option, and so financially, present a smaller outlay if a child loses interest, for example. However, if they continue to play, eventually, dynamics will be an essential part of their playing. This will require a velocity sensitive keyboard.

In a nutshell, then, a non-velocity sensitive keyboard is fine only for an absolute beginner, and only where it isn’t clear whether the learner will ‘stick with it’.

Other Features

There are other features that may be considered useful when choosing a beginners keyboard. Some feature a recorder, enabling you to record your performance, or create songs. Others have built in ‘lessons’ or practice features. Some even have microphone inputs with vocal effects. You may even want something with a weighted, hammer action keyboard (in essence like a real piano keyboard). The options really are endless. The first, key decisions (no pun intended…) you should make, however, are those above.

To see the range of keyboards available, see our online store, or visit our stores to try them out. Alternatively, give our customer service team a call for more information (01925 582420). To stay up to date with the latest news and product information, subscribe to our newsletter.

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  1. I am a mature lady looking for a keyboard could you advise me which one is best and I will need online lessons, for beginners

    • Hi,

      There are some great suggestions here. As to which is best, it’s difficult to say without discussing your needs, budget etc. In this regard, it’s probably worth giving our customer service team a call on 01925 582420.

      I hope that this is some help.

      Joe