Beginners Guide To Buying Electronic Keyboards
Although to look at, some people might think that electronic keyboards and pianos are quite similar, they do in fact differ in quite a few ways.
The first thing you notice is that they are normally much smaller, most of them only having 61 keys as opposed to a full set of 88. These keys also feel much lighter when you press them, whereas a piano feels much heavier. This is often referred to as the ‘action’, and is the reason why piano students are advised not to learn on an electronic keyboard.
A keyboard will produce a range of different sounds, from pianos to organs, guitars to flutes and strings to drums etc. Most will have in excess of 100 different sounds, or voices as they are often called. They also feature collections of rhythms or drum patterns to play along with, and these are sometimes called styles.
Many keyboards come loaded with other features, for example, the facility to record what you play, the ability to play more than one voice at the same time, and special connections that allow you to plug your instrument into a computer.
If you are beginning to take lessons on the keyboard we would recommend that you buy one that features touch sensitive keys. This simply means that the sound responds to how hard you press the keys, and as a result, your playing will become far more expressive. Although Roland keyboards and Korg keyboards are all popular, Yamaha and Casio keyboards continue to dominate the market for beginners.
Despite being arguably better known for producing timepieces and calculators, Casio actually has great heritage in the music keyboard field. Operating at the entry-level end predominantly, the company has a reputation for producing great quality starter keyboards which have given plenty of players their first step on the ladder.
The Casio CTK-1500 is a great example. Coming in under £100, this keyboard offers 61 full-size keys, with over a hundred inbuilt sounds to choose from. As well as that, it comes with teaching functionality, offering things like exercises to strengthen both hands, along with a great selection of backing tracks from a range of genres so you can get a feel for playing along with a band.
If the 100 included sounds of the previous entry aren’t enough, we can wholeheartedly recommend the Yamaha YPT-260. This exceptional unit has 400 different sounds, tones and styles for you to choose from. With seconds you could be switching from piano sounds to synths, or from brass to bass.
Its compact form factor ensures it’s easy enough to transport around, while the selection of inbuilt effects, like reverb and delay, encourages experimentation and creativity.
Moving slightly up the range, we have the Yamaha PSR-E263. This keyboard is ideal for younger players who have indicated a willingness to commit to learning and need something above the very basic models.
While it shares some functionality with the YPT-260, what separates the Yamaha PSR-E263 is the ability to plug in an external device, like an iPod, so you can play along with your favourite songs. This method of learning adds a little fun and instant gratification over simply learning scales and chords, and can be rewarding for the learner to hear themselves playing along with their idols.
So far, the models we’ve suggested have all been ideal for anyone you’d call a total beginner. As in, never played a note in their lives. However, we know there is a distinct group of people who this doesn’t apply to, yet aren’t comfortable enough to call themselves intermediate yet. Perhaps you took lessons in school and lapsed in your playing. Perhaps life got in the way and you took a break. Whatever your reasons, you’ll be glad to know that the capability of modern keyboards – even so-called ‘learner’ models – has progressed significantly.
The Yamaha PSR-E463 is a great example of this, offering a clear step up from the very entry-level without packing in so many features to confuse or intimidate. Here you get 750 different sounds, covering the entire gamut of styles and genres. You get effects and an arpeggiator to provide some creative impetus. You get an inbuilt sampler, so you can record your playing to be produced into full tracks later. And, best of all, everything is delivered with the signature quality you expect from Yamaha.
We’ll round off this list with a solid ‘everyman’ choice. The Casio CTK-3500 is perfect for anyone who wants a good quality, expressive keyboard that ticks off all the boxes. A step up in quality from the budget options, yet not as potentially overwhelming as some of the more feature-filled efforts, this keyboard will comfortably guide the learner through their opening forays into playing.
With 61 piano-style keys and 400 included sounds, there’s plenty to be working with here. It also offers the ability to sync with smartphone app Chordana, which brings an innovative and fun way to enhance your learning.