Having the knowledge to make the right choice for you…
OK, so that headline might seem like a bold statement, but it is true. The first instrument that you buy can dictate whether you stick with it or leave it to gather dust. There are so many options to choose from ranging from the affordable to eye-wateringly expensive, with brands incorporating similar features but using different names to describe them, it can be overwhelming: which is best when it comes to choosing between keyboard vs piano, and as many of you ask, what is the difference between piano and keyboard?
Before making a purchase…
Whether you’re buying an instrument for yourself or a loved one, having a clear understanding of what your needs are and how to identify which instrument best suits your needs is the top priority.
- Are you picking up an instrument for the first time?
- Do you already have some experience in music from playing other instruments and fancy trying something different?
- Will others be using the instrument i.e. in a student/teacher capacity?
- Do you want something to play on for fun or will you need something that you can grow with through intermediate to advanced playing?
There are many things to consider but hopefully, we can clear everything up for you.
Keyboard vs Digital Piano vs Acoustic Piano
Initially, the question as to whether you pick a keyboard or a piano can seem odd, as surely there are vast differences between them? Of course, there’s a huge difference between a concert grand piano and a children’s toy keyboard.
However, with so many options to choose from including acoustic and digital pianos, beginner’s keyboards with weighted and non-weighted keys, digital stage pianos, auto-accompaniment features, built-in song recording, music theory software, etc., it can be a minefield to navigate.
Looking back at the initial questions asked above, “are you picking up an instrument for the first time?“, we’ll assume that the instrument is for a child.
When it comes to keyboards they are often the entry-point for younger players and those looking to get off the ground with regard to a key-based instrument.
Features of a Keyboard
- Easy to play keys with little to no resistance (non-weighted)
- Built-in instrument sounds, tones, and effects
- Educational aids designed to promote learning
- Lightweight and portable to be easily transported between home and school
One of the standard features of a keyboard compared to a digital piano is that the keys are non-weighted. Therefore, when the keys are pressed they offer little to no resistance, which makes the keys easier to play for younger players.
Pretty much all keyboards feature built-in speakers, a dizzying array of built-in sounds and tones to play, and educational aids that are designed to encourage players along their learning journey.
Keyboards are often used by schoolchildren in their early years. Therefore, they are generally lightweight and portable by design, which makes it easier for them to be carried between home and school.
1. Casio Casiotone CT-S100
For youngsters who are just starting out on the instrument, we often recommend something like the Casio CT-S100 Casiotone Keyboard. Based on the ever-popular model from the early 1980s that helped so many get into the world of keyboards, the CT-S100 boasts updated features that make it better than ever before.
For example, the rounded edges make it less prone to damage if knocked or dropped, whilst the built-in carry handle also allows the sheet music stand to slot in perfectly. Not only that but when not in use you can easily stack or hang the CT-S100 out of harm’s way.
There are 61-keys for eager hands to explore, which feature a full-depth piano-shape design to prevent fingers from getting underneath them and prying them loose accidentally.
A smorgasbord of built-in sounds and rhythms await, with a whopping 122 tones, 61 accompaniment rhythms, and 60 preset songs to play with. Each one is cleverly designed to encourage learning whilst fostering a fun and playful approach. Casio understands that to stick with the instrument, the player must first and foremost derive enjoyment from their experience.
By equipping the CT-S100 with a USB Connector (micro B) the CT-S100 extends itself as a multi-faceted USB controller for your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) making it so much more than a mere beginner keyboard. You can connect to your laptop or tablet via USB and compose arrangements using software-based instruments and plugins.
2. Casio Casiotone CT-S200
The Casio Casiotone CT-S200 is – as you may have already guessed – the next step up in the Casiotone line-up from the CT-S100. However, that doesn’t detract from the already impressive CT-S100, you simply get even more for your money.
Equally as well designed, equally as lightweight, portable and practical, the CT-S200 features 61-keys with 48-key polyphony. Therefore, the keyboard can play up to 48 keys simultaneously.
Wait…what is polyphony?
Polyphony is the amount of keys/notes/sounds that an instrument can play simultaneously. Think if you were to lean on the keys with your forearm and that hellish dissonant cacophony you might have heard in memes.
Why does polyphony matter?
Factor in metronome, accompaniment such as rhythms or songs, and the keys that you’re playing, and then polyphony starts to add up. However, 48-keys max polyphony should be more than any to keep things ticking over quite comfortably.
The CT-S200 boasts a whopping 400 built-in tones, 77 built-in rhythms, 60 built-in songs, Lesson functions, and Casio’s unique Dance Music Mode. In Dance Music Mode, you can create amazing dance tracks and remix them on the spot simply by pressing different key combinations. There are 50 modern dance music styles to choose from, including House, Hip-Hop and EDM.
The LCD screen and jog wheel offer access to a myriad of complex features via a highly intuitive interface. Getting to the heart of the instrument need not be a chore. As well as an easy to use control layout, the CT-S200 boasts an improved speaker system. You can even connect an external audio source via the audio input jack to play your own music through the speakers.
Our highly popular Best Beginner Keyboard article is definitely worth a look if you’ve got your heart set on one.
2. Digital Piano
For those who want something less feature-packed and with greater emphasis on matching the playability of an acoustic piano – but not necessarily the footprint -, there are many digital and stage pianos. For example, the Casio CDP-S100 slimline digital piano is an exquisite instrument that outstrips the competition.
Boasting a generous 88-keys with Scaled Hammer-Action II technology, the CDP-S100 has a playability that makes it easier for pianists to transition between this and an acoustic grand, whilst occupying significantly less floor space. Therefore, pianists can hone their skills at home before a concert with minimal fuss.
FAQ: what are weighted keys?
In short, weighted keys on a digital piano aim to mirror the response of an acoustic piano. Each manufacturer uses proprietary technology to achieve this, using many different names in the process (i.e. Graded Hammer Standard, Hammer Action-II, etc.).
The idea behind it is that on an acoustic piano a hammer hits the string at the stroke of a key, which then vibrates and creates the piano sound. Keys feel heavier as you move from right to left on an acoustic piano keyboard, hence the term graded hammer action.
Feature set differs from portable keyboards
So, a digital piano like the CDP-S100 may not have 100s of sounds to choose from and a myriad of accompaniment styles like the CT-S100. However, it does boast a playing feel that is significantly closer to that of an acoustic piano but it is ultra-slim, lightweight and portable, which makes it an excellent proposition for professional performing musicians.
Some digital pianos include features such as Duo Mode, which allows the keyboard to split into two sections. Therefore, student and teacher can sit side-by-side in lessons making it much easier for the student to follow and copy the teacher’s hands perfectly.
Digital pianos offer more with regard to live performance, including features such as transpose functions for accompanying singers, as well as recording with USB outputs for easy connection to your computer or audio interface.
To help you out we’ve put together an article on the Beginner’s Guide to Stage Pianos, which has plenty of useful information to get you up and running.
3. Acoustic Piano
Whether you’re opting for a modest upright or a grand piano, choosing an acoustic piano is a much bolder statement of intent. You need an appropriate amount of space, forgiving neighbours, and good deep pockets. However, here is a reason why people elect to stump up for an acoustic piano, they are the standard that all digital pianos aim for.
Plus, performing on a finely tuned, high-quality acoustic piano is the stuff of dreams. The feel, the sound, the connection between you and the instrument. It is indescribable.
Budget, budget, budget
We appreciate that as much as anything else, the budget is going to be near to if not at the top of the list. For those with youngsters then something that will inspire creativity and fun need not cost the earth.
We offer a wide range to choose from in our Portable Keyboards section, ranging from single instruments to beginner packs such as the Casio Casiotone CT-S100 bundle, which includes the excellent 61-note CT-S100 with X-frame keyboard stand, padded bench, and a pair of headphones.
When it comes to digital pianos there are offerings from a wide range of manufacturers such as Casio, Kawai, Roland and Yamaha. For example, the Dawsons’ exclusive Casio CDP-S100 digital piano bundle offers the superb slimline 88-note digital piano along with sturdy X-frame keyboard stand, padded bench, and headphones.
Things to bear in mind…
You can spend anywhere from hundreds to thousands of pounds, but the crucial questions that you need to ask yourself are still the same:
- What are your aims with regard to playing the piano?
- Do you want lots of features or a more realistic playing feel?
- Do you want a fixed stand or something more portable – will you use it to gig with?
- Will you eventually upgrade, or will you keep it forever?
The truth is, thanks to huge advances in technology, you don’t have to spend a small fortune to get a solidly-built, joyful-to-play instrument that produces heavenly sounds. However, as with an acoustic piano, the more money that you do drop does buy you a better instrument.
Remember, as your skill set progresses, so will your desire for bigger and better. But for those who are just starting out, we would encourage you to go and try a few out in your local store. Ask your piano teacher for advice. And don’t be afraid to ask questions, there’s no such thing as a stupid question!
Get in touch
For those who want to dive straight in and check out our selection online, head to our Keyboards & Pianos section on the Dawsons Website.
For those who’d prefer to try some out in person, then head to your nearest Dawsons Store where our in-store specialists will be more than happy to help you out.
If you liked that then you might like this
If you want to know what the experts think about upright pianos, then check out our article, “Get the Expert’s View: The Best Upright Piano“.
Not quite ready for an upright but still want to get started on the keys, check out our guide “Best Beginner Keyboard” and our top 5 picks.
Fancy something between keys and an all-out upright? Our “Beginners Guide to Stage Piano” provides further info to equip yourself with.
Jon has a passion for inspiring others to get involved in making music. After spending many years playing here, there and – pretty much – everywhere, he joined the Dawsons Music Web Team before progressing into his current role as Content Manager. Favourite things: My LTD MH-400NT, a decent brew, and Ron Swanson.