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Portable Keyboards

Many may have fond memories of receiving a Casio or Yamaha keyboard as a Birthday or Christmas present when they were a youngster. However, portable keyboards are not just for children taking their first steps on a lifelong musical journey, they are suitable for players of all ages from amateur to professional.


Much like digital and stage pianos, portable keyboards have come a long way in the modern era to cover a wide range of applications from home studio controller to professional keyboard workstations such as Yamaha’s Genos, Portable Grand series, and many more. Portable keyboards of today are packed with features that aid and promote music education whilst providing endless hours of entertainment.


What are Portable Keyboards?


Portable Keyboards are electronic instruments that are designed – as the name implies – to be easily transported from A to B. The benefit here is that students, teachers, performers, amateurs and/or professionals, can take their instrument from home to school and back again, without any fuss.


Models range from 25-key to 88-key layouts with options suitable for producers who need a compact yet versatile production controller, performers who need a full-size keyboard and an arsenal of sounds to play with, songwriters who want a mobile band to write with, and the list goes on.


Portable keyboards boast impressive built-in sound libraries that can offer anything from a few instrument voices to hundreds of instruments, effects, EQ settings, and much more. They offer vast resources to create and inspire you before giving the option to integrate external hardware.


The range of connectivity options runs from modest headphone output for silent practise to speaker outputs for connecting to keyboard amps, PA systems, mixing desks, etc. Some also come with USB connectivity for plugging directly into a computer for recording into your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) of choice.


Many, if not all, portable keyboards can be battery and/or mains operated, making them perfect in terms of flexibility. As long as you have juice in the batteries you are always good to go.


Beginners’ vs Advanced Portable Keyboards


Beginners’ models such as the Casiotone CT-S100 has everything needed for students to hit the ground running, boasting 61 full-size keys, built-in tones, accompaniment rhythms, and songs, headphone connector, USB connector, and can run on batteries or mains power. It even has a built-in carry handle and smooth edges to make it easy to transport and less likely to cause damage.


Buskers, street performers, and gigging professionals alike rely on more advanced portable keyboards such as the PSR-SX600 when they are taking to the stage or the streets. They pack in greater power output and increased connectivity options for connecting to external speakers and PA systems, they offer considerably more in terms of built-in sounds, rhythms, accompaniment styles, and even EQ for tweaking individual sounds. The level of control is truly extraordinary for such compact and affordable instruments.


Why Choose a Portable Keyboard over a Digital Piano?


In terms of introducing beginners to the world of musical instruments, portable keyboards offer outstanding features and benefits regardless of budget, playing ability or previous musical experience, when compared to a digital piano.


Firstly, let us look at key action, which refers to how keys across the keyboard respond when they are pressed down. Digital pianos are designed to mirror the key action of their acoustic counterparts, with firmness increasing toward the lower notes. For some beginners or youngsters, this will prove to be challenging. For others it is essential to become accustomed to the feel of weighted keys, as transferring between these and an acoustic piano will be significantly smoother. There are pros and cons to both.


More advanced portable keyboards – sometimes referred to as workstations -, feature velocity-sensitive keys, which mimic the dynamic response of a keystroke relative to how hard the key is pressed. Though this does not represent the same tactile response as a graded hammer action keyboard, it still offers an impression of relative dynamic control in terms of volume.


Digital pianos tend to err on the side of less is more in terms of the range of voices – or instruments – that can be played. For example, the Yamaha CLP-725 offer stunning simulations of the Yamaha CFX Concert Grand and the Bosendorfer Imperial. On the other hand, portable keyboards such as the Yamaha DGX-660 over 150 voices including drum kits, and 388 XG Lite sounds covering a vast array of genres. It also features a 6-track sequencer, auto-accompaniment, access to the Yamaha Education Suite software, and much more. Plus, it is portable.


If you are seeking a lightweight, easy to move, easy to play, a feature-packed electronic instrument that is affordable and can grow with the player, then a portable keyboard is a fine choice.


What is the best portable keyboard?


This is a loaded question because there is not a “best portable keyboard” in terms of a one-size-fits-all option. A better way of phrasing this would be to say, ‘what is the best portable keyboard to match my needs and requirements?’, as there are plenty to choose from.


At one end of the scale – no pun intended – we could look at the Yamaha PSS Series, which includes the F30 and A50. Both models feature 37 keys, built-in instrument voices to play with, auto-accompaniment for players to perform along to, built-in speakers as well as a headphone jack for silent practice, etc. However, the A50 also boasts a Phrase Recorder that allows musical pieces to be recorded, played back, and looped. Not only that, but it also features a USB-MIDI output that allows the A50 to be connected to a computer or tablet for easy recording. Impressive features for such compact instrument.


The Yamaha PSR Series takes things up a few levels by upping the keyboard to 61 velocity-sensitive keys, which respond to the force applied to each keystroke, promoting correct playing technique for those developing their chops on the keys. Models such as the PSR-E463 add the ability to record phrases and music directly to the keyboard, which can then be looped, played along with, and edited to your heart’s content.


There is no best overall portable keyboard, but if you are looking for the best model for beginners then check out our article on the topic over on our blog platform at Studio D.

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